William Pearson: OBITUARY

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The Independent Online
William Pearson, the American baritone, spent most of his career in Europe, especially in Germany. He was notable for his amazing ability to sing avant-garde music as fluently and as well as he sang Bach and Handel. After a few years as an opera singer, he devoted himself to concert and recital work, in which his incredible musicianship and deeply expressive voice were of particular value. Several modern composers, including Gyorgi Ligeti, Sylvano Bussotti and Dieter Schnebel, wrote music for him, while he also recorded works by Hans Werner Henze and Mauricio Kagel.

Pearson was born in Tennessee and studied at the School of Music at the University of Louisville, Kentucky. In 1956 he came to Europe on a Fulbright Scholarship, the first black singer to be awarded the stipend. After further study at the Musikhochschule, Cologne, he sang at various German opera houses, and at Budapest and Helsinki where, in 1965, he scored a great success as Porgy in Gershwin's Porgy and Bess. From 1963 he was director of the singing class at the Robert Schumann Conservatory in Dusseldorf.

After leaving the opera house, Pearson gave concerts and recitals around Germany, as well as in Vienna, Prague, Salzburg, Milan, Paris and Copenhagen. His wide repertory extended from Bach through classic 19th-century Lieder to Spirituals and the modern works of which he was such a magnificent exponent. He wrote the text himself for Bussotti's "Pearson Piece" (1960) for baritone and piano, and was one of the soloists in Ligeti's Aventures (1962), a chamber work for three voices and seven instruments.

Another of Pearson's favourite pieces, and one which he recorded, was Henze's "El Cimarron", a recital for baritone, flute, guitar and percussion. The text was adapted from The Biography of a Runaway Slave by Esteban Montejo. Its freely notated scoring allows the performers considerable interpretive freedom.

William Pearson, singer: born 1934; died Cologne 18 June 1995.