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News - Joubert at 90

Monday, March 20, 2017
Today one of Novello’s longest serving composers, John Joubert celebrates his ninetieth birthday. He has composed over 160 works including two symphonies, four concertos and seven operas and has had a highly distinguished career as a choral composer. To mark the occasion, Novello has released a new brochure of Joubert’s choral works which is available to order or view online.


Joubert at 90: The Choral and Organ Music of John Joubert






John Joubert: Key Works



Symphony No. 2 (1970), 21 mins
Inspired by the tensions brought about by the Apartheid system of government in his native South Africa and the example of Alan Paton’s great novel Cry the Beloved Country, Joubert’s Symphony No 2 unfolds in a single, continuous movement divided into two main sections: one slow, one fast. Heart breaking, elegiac passages confront violent orchestral interjections - music drawn from traditional African melodies, most noticeably in the doleful Zulu lament for solo horn in the second section.

South of the Line (1985), 29 Mins
The five poems which constitute the text of South of the Line were written by Thomas Hardy at the turn of the century in response to the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War. They reflect the considerable body of opinion in this country which was against the war, and contain some of the most powerful expressions of anti-war sentiment to be found in English literature. This rewarding, substantial work is scored for SATB choir, timpani, percussion, two pianos and soprano and baritone soloists and is one of John's most important choral works. 

String Quartet No.2 (1977), 29 mins
This work draws upon an alternate spelling G-E-G sharp the three-note "Muss es sein?" motif from Beethoven's last quartet, Op. 135, creating an ambiguous E minor-major connotation throughout. Later the quartet quotes Shostakovich's motto ‘D-E flat-C-B’ in a movement dedicated to the composer and revisits material featured in Joubert first quartet. Both works are dedicated to his wife. String Quartet No.2 is a masterclass in the manipulation and development of themes.

Temps Perdu (1984), 22 mins
Jobert’s work for thirteen solo strings was inspired by Marcel Proust’s sequence of novels, À la recherche du Temps Perdu, particularly Swann’s Way, which deals with the narrator’s childhood and adolescence. Joubert did not wish to recreate Proust in terms of music, but explore the concept of memory in his own work. Delving into his own juvenilia, he reworked and extended an unnamed string piece which often quotes Saint-Saëns’ Violin Sonata in D minor.

An English Requiem (2010), 45 mins
An English Requiem unashamedly models itself on Brahm’s A German Requiem but rather than simply serving as liturgy it is more accurately described as a mediation on death itself. This six-movement work for boy choir, choir and orchestra set texts from both the Old and New Testaments and was commissioned by the Grimmitt Trust for the 2010 Gloucester Three Choirs Festival. The Times wrote the ‘one could easily imagine Elgar, VW, Howells, Britten and Walton nodding their heads in approval (and, perhaps, recognition) as Joubert’s majestic climaxes, astringent harmonies and poignant melodies echoed around the Gothic arches’.

St Mark Passion (2015), 45 mins
Joubert’s St Mark Passion for 2 tenors, 3 baritones, SATB chorus, cello and organ is the composer’s most recent choral work and was first performed in Wells Cathedral on Palm Sunday 2016 on the composers 89th birthday. Familiar English hymns take the place of chorales providing the opportunity for the congregation to join the performance.



John Joubert: An Appreciation


Howard Friend
Managing Editor, Chester Music Limited, Novello & Company Limited

As a student at Birmingham University in 1968, I had my first encounter with John Joubert, then Reader in the Music Department. Although a full participant in the departmental work, seminars and tutorials, lecturing perhaps on unexpected subjects like nineteenth-century Italian opera or perhaps more appropriately, Marenzio and Gesualdo, generations of musical alumni will chiefly remember his Motet Choir sessions, distinct from the University Choir: Wednesday afternoons, not quite obligatory… just the BMus students knocking out some tolerably advanced choral works to an impressive standard: Copland, Hindemith, Gordon Crosse, Kenneth Leighton, Peter Dickinson, Malcolm Williamson, Richard Rodney Bennett, not to mention more standard repertoire.

Once, when a rehearsal for Dixit Dominus overran into the lunch hour, John admonished us: “Who needs food when we have Handel?” Above all, though, we remember early runs through of John’s own choral pieces, possibly newly published or as yet unpublished. He told us “An occupational hazard of Motet Choir membership is the frequent performance of John Joubert”: Let there be light, The Beatitudes, How are my foes increased, O tristia secla… John was a fine orchestral conductor, too, certainly unconfined to choral works. I remember an intensely cultured, widely read opera-lover. He towered over us in intellect as well as stature; one of the girls remarked that, when he stood up at his desk, she thought he would go on growing forever.

It was therefore my good fortune to arrive at Novello some eighteen years ago to discover that not only did the publishing house handle most of his output but that he was still creating with the same fluency as in the 1960s, still widely admired, even loved, not just as the resident Ossian of the West Midlands but way beyond.

A composer whose professional composing career spans a remarkable seven decades, with an output of over 160 works across the whole range of genres, John Joubert continues to provide us with his recognisably intricate, lyrical and personal statements. Nowhere is this felt more than in his choral works. Though far from exclusively sacred, Eliot, Hopkins and Yeats figuring among the texts he has used, it is in his liturgical or more broadly Christian settings that he has reached the widest public: Torches!, There is no rose and O Lorde, the maker of al thing, heard around the world now for half a century. From such perfect miniatures to his recent larger-scale works, An English Requiem (2010), Northumbrian Triptych (settings of Bede, 2011) and the St Mark Passion (2015), every piece successfully combines direct spiritual statement with an almost Romantic immediate appeal: an exceptional voice still creating in the twenty-first century.


John Joubert



John Joubert was born in Cape Town in 1927. Aged 19 he won a scholarship to study at the Royal Academy of Music in London and has lived and worked in England ever since. Joubert's long composing career encompasses all genres from symphonic, operatic and chamber works to ever-popular choral miniatures, Torches! and There is no rose. The two symphonies, three string quartets, Oboe Concerto and Cello Concerto are recent additions to a growing catalogue of recordings from across his work list.

If you or your ensemble are planning a performance of Joubert's work in 2017, then do let us know via email or on Twitter, @MSClassical #Joubert90. 


Joubert on Spotify

Follow musicsalesclassical on Spotify to discover more of John Joubert's music with our composer playlists.



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