John Joubert: An Appreciation
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 Above all, though, we remember early runs through of John’s own choral pieces, possibly newly published or as yet unpublished.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 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.
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