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John Joubert

Born: 1927

Nationality: British

Publisher: Novello & Co

Photo © Graham Boulton


John Joubert was born in Cape Town in 1927. His father was a descendant of Protestant refugees from France who had settled in the Cape – then a Dutch colony – in the seventeenth century. His mother’s forebears were Dutch. Despite this parentage he had the most English of upbringings, the Cape having been ceded to England after the fall of Napoleon. He received his earliest instruction in music at the hands of his mother who was an accomplished pianist, having studied for a time in London with Harriet Cohen.

His schooling took place at an Anglican foundation run on the lines of an English public school. The music master there had been an assistant to Ivor Atkins at Worcester Cathedral. Whilst at school Joubert started composing and was very fortunate to have been able to study composition with WH Bell, a distinguished English composer who had been the Principal of the South African College of Music and a pupil of Frederick Corder, the teacher of Bax, Bantock and Holbrooke. He was also fortunate to be given the opportunity to have his earliest works performed, not only at school but also by the Cape Town Municipal Orchestra.

In 1946 he was awarded a scholarship by the Performing Right Society to the Royal Academy of Music. Here his principal teachers in composition were Theodore Holland and Howard Ferguson, but he also spent a stimulating term with Alan Bush. Whilst still at the Academy he composed his String Quartet No 1 and the Divertimento for Piano Duet, which became his Op 1 and Op 2 respectively. He was awarded both the Frederick Corder and Royal Philharmonic Society prizes for composition.

Having graduated in 1950 with an external BMus degree from Durham University he was appointed later the same year to a lectureship at Hull University, and his music soon began to be widely performed, published and broadcast. Among the more ambitious works of this period were Symphony No 1, the Piano Concerto and the three-act opera Silas Marner. Some of his smaller choral works, notably the carol Torches, became popular and have remained in the repertoire ever since.

He continued his academic career at Birmingham where he was appointed Lecturer, later Senior Lecturer, and eventually Reader in Music, at the University. Commissions continued to come his way, and amongst the works he composed at Birmingham were Symphony No 2, the opera Under Western Eyes and the oratorio The Raising of Lazarus. In the early 1980s he began to feel that the increasing demands of his two professions were becoming too onerous for him and he took early retirement from the University in 1986 in order to devote his time exclusively to composition. In 1991 he was awarded an honorary doctorate in music by Durham University. In addition to numerous smaller works, recent years have seen the first performances of his opera Jane Eyre, the full-length oratorio Wings of Faith and An English Requiem for soloists, chorus and orchestra. The latter was the centrepiece of Joubert’s time as Composer in Residence at the 2010 Three Choirs Festival. Joubert's Cello Concerto, commissioned by Raphael Wallfisch, was premiered in March 2012. 2016 saw two major premieres: Joubert’s substantial St Mark Passion at Wells Cathedral and his opera Jane Eyre - recorded live for Somm as one of several new releases to mark his 90th birthday in 2017.
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