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John Joubert (composer)

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John Joubert
Joubert in 2007
Born(1927-03-20)20 March 1927
Died7 January 2019(2019-01-07) (aged 91)
Alma mater
Websitewww.johnjoubert.org.uk Edit this at Wikidata

John Pierre Herman Joubert (/ˈbɛər/ joo-BAIR;[1][2] 20 March 1927 – 7 January 2019) was a British composer of South African birth, particularly of choral works. He lived in Moseley, a suburb of Birmingham, England, for over 50 years.[3][4] A music academic in the universities of Hull and Birmingham for 36 years, Joubert took early retirement in 1986 to concentrate on composing and remained active into his eighties. Though perhaps best known for his choral music, particularly the carols Torches and There is No Rose of Such Virtue and the anthem O Lorde, the Maker of Al Thing, Joubert composed over 160 works including three symphonies, four concertos and seven operas.

Early life and education[edit]

Strubenholm, the home of the South African College of Music at the University of Cape Town, from which Joubert graduated in 1944 – photographed in June 2006.

Joubert was born on 20 March 1927 in Cape Town, South Africa.[5] His ancestors on his father's side were Huguenots, French Protestants from Provence who settled at the Cape in 1688. His mother's ancestry was Dutch.[6] Joubert was educated at Diocesan College in Rondebosch, South Africa, which was founded by the Anglican Church and maintained a high standard of music-making. He originally hoped to become a painter, and did a fair amount of art at school. However, at about the age of 15 years, he gradually became interested in music, though as a composer rather than a performer. "It was always going to be something creative. Oddly enough, the visual arts haven't been as great a stimulus as literature. I was also interested in writing. In fact, I was bored by everything at school except writing, art and music!"[3] In school, he came under the guidance of the musical director Claude Brown, whose teaching he regarded as "an indispensable foundation to my subsequent musical career". According to Joubert, "[t]hrough Brown, I learned all the Elgar choral works even before I heard them properly in full orchestral performance. Not only that idiom, but the idiom of Anglican church music generally. Parry and Stanford, and all the usual blokes."[3] Through his teacher's encouragement, Joubert was able to participate in choral performances with the Cape Town Municipal Orchestra under William J. Pickerill, and subsequently to hear his works featured in performance.

After graduating from the South African College of Music in 1944 he began studying musical composition privately with William Henry Bell, an Englishman well known locally as a composer of distinction. Bell exerted the greatest influence on his composition. In 1946 he was awarded a Performing Right Society Scholarship in composition at the Royal Academy of Music in London. Here, his principal teachers were Theodore Holland, Howard Ferguson and Alan Bush. During his four years at the Academy he won a number of prizes for composition, notably the Frederick Corder prize and the 1949 Royal Philharmonic Society prize.[7][8]

Professional career[edit]

In 1950 Joubert was appointed to a lectureship in music at the University of Hull,[9] having graduated in the same year with a Bachelor of Music (B.Mus.) degree from the University of Durham. His works soon began to be performed and to attract favourable attention. His carol Torches (Op. 7a, 1951) (written for his wife Mary's pupils and based on a Galician (Eastern Europe) carol, it was published in 1961 in the first volume of Carols for Choirs) and the anthem O Lorde, the Maker of Al Thing (Op. 7b, 1952) (which won the 1952 Novello Anthem Competition), achieved almost instant popularity. Concerning Torches, Joubert recalled, "I've even had carol-singers come to the door and singing it, without knowing the composer lives inside."[3] Together with the carol There is No Rose of Such Virtue (Op. 14, 1954), the three choral works have become classics of the Anglican repertoire. Works in other genres followed, mostly as the result of commissions from institutions such as the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, the Birmingham Festival Choral Society (named for the Birmingham Triennial Festival,[10] the Royal Philharmonic Society and the BBC, and from musical festivals such as the Three Choirs Festival. By the end of his 12 years at Hull Joubert had composed, in addition to choral music, his Violin concerto (Op. 13, 1954), Symphony No. 1 (Op. 20, 1955), piano concerto (Op. 25, 1958), the full-length opera Silas Marner (Op. 31, 1961) (after the novel by George Eliot), and a body of chamber music including String quartet No. 1 in A-Flat (Op. 1, 1950), a string trio (Op. 30, 1958) and an Octet (Op. 33, 1961).

Joubert moved to Moseley, Birmingham, in 1962 to take up a Senior Lectureship at the University of Birmingham; he was later made Reader in Music. In 1979 he was a visiting professor at the University of Otago in New Zealand.[11] The number and scope of his works increased, and among those composed during the following decades were two further full-length operas, Under Western Eyes (Op. 51, 1968) and Jane Eyre (Op. 134) (based on the novels by Joseph Conrad and Charlotte Brontë respectively), Symphony No. 2 (Op. 68, 1970), various large-scale choral works with orchestras including the oratorio The Raising of Lazarus (Op. 67, 1970) and Herefordshire Canticles (Op. 93, 1979), a second and third piano sonata (Op. 71, 1972; Op. 157), a second and third string quartet (Op. 91, 1977; Op. 112, 1986), song cycles with piano and/or instrumental ensembles, and accompanied and unaccompanied smaller-scale choral music. On the wide scope of his work, Joubert has commented: "I've never really wanted to be pigeonholed as a composer. I've always wanted to write anything that I was either asked to, or wanted to write. I've never wanted to specialise, although I have to a certain extent been pigeonholed already. I'd rather not be looked upon as sort of limited in that way."[3]

The Aston Webb Building of the University of Birmingham. Joubert lectured at the University between 1962 and 1986, and remained an Honorary Senior Research Fellow there. In July 2007, the University conferred on him an Honorary Doctorate of Music (D.Mus.).

In 1986 Joubert took early retirement from the University to concentrate on composition, although he maintained his ties by becoming an Honorary Senior Research Fellow there in 1997. He was conferred an Honorary Doctorate of Music (D.Mus.) by the University of Durham in 1991,[6][8] and received another from the University of Birmingham on 18 July 2007.[12] He was Composer in Residence at the Peterborough Cathedral Festival in 1990 (which also commissioned his Six Short Preludes on English Hymn Tunes, for chamber organ (Op. 125, 1990), and at the Presteigne Festival in 1997,[11] and served as the chairman of the Birmingham Chamber Music Society for 25 years.[3]

Joubert remained active as a composer. 2007 was the year of his 80th birthday, and was celebrated with a series of concerts, the "Joubertiade 2007",[13] throughout the United Kingdom. These included world premières of the complete version of the oratorio Wings of Faith (Op. 143, 2000, 2003) which was performed by the Ex Cathedra choir, soloists and Academy of Vocal Music, and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Jeffrey Skidmore on 22 March 2007 at The Oratory, Birmingham; and a new Oboe Concerto performed by oboist Adrian Wilson and the Orchestra of the Swan conducted by David Curtis on 12 July 2007 at Lichfield Cathedral. The celebrations culminated in the world première of Five Songs of Incarnation (Op. 163, 2007) for tenor and choir which was commissioned through Joubertiade 2007 and performed on 24 November 2007 at St. Philip's Cathedral, Birmingham.[14] In the same year, Lyrita released a celebratory CD of a recording (originally taped in 1994) of Joubert's Symphony No. 1 played by the London Philharmonic Orchestra under Vernon Handley.[15]

Personal life[edit]

Joubert and his wife Mary, a pianist,[16] had a daughter Anna, who is a cellist,[3] and a son Pierre, a violinist.[16] He had four grandchildren: Matthew, John, Naomi and Alexander.[17] He died on 7 January 2019, aged 91.[18] Both Birmingham Bach Choir and Ex Cathedra sang at his funeral.[19]

Major works[edit]

Joubert composed over 180 works including three symphonies; violin, piano, cello, oboe and bassoon concertos; and seven operas. He had a major choral output including Christmas carols. Some of his major works are listed below; a fuller list may be viewed on his website.

Anthems, carols, hymns and other choral works[edit]

  • Torches (Op. 7a, 1951), carol
  • O Lorde, the Maker of Al Thing (Op. 7b, 1952), anthem
  • There is No Rose of Such Virtue (Op. 14, 1954), carol
  • Let There Be Light (Op. 56, 1969), commissioned by the Collegiate Choir at Illinois Wesleyan University
  • How are my foes increased, Lord! (Op.61, 1969), Commissioned for David Patrick and the Choir of Barnet Parish Church.
  • Five Carols For Five Voices (1973) ("Of a Rose, a lovely Rose", "Make we joy now in this feast", "Jesu, son most sweet and dear", "When Christ was born of Mary", "Let us gather hand in hand") composed for The Scholars (Vocal Group)
  • Herefordshire Canticles (Op. 93, 1979), for chorus, boys' choir, solos and orchestra
  • A Hymne to God the Father (1987), hymn
  • Rochester Triptych (Op. 139, 1997: made up of Universal Nature (Op. 139, date unknown), Impartial Death (Op. 139, date unknown) and Blest Glorious Man (Op. 126, 1991)), for choir and organ
  • The Souls of the Righteous (Op. 142, 1999), anthem
  • Five Songs of Incarnation ("Of a Rose, a Lovely Rose", "Make We Joy Now in this Feast", "I Sing of a Maiden", "When Christ was Born of Mary", "Let Us Gather Hand in Hand") (Op. 163, 2007), for tenor and choir

Chamber music[edit]

  • String Quartet No. 1 in A-Flat (Op. 1, 1950)
  • Sonata for Viola and Piano (Op.6, 1952)
  • String Trio (Op. 30, 1958), for violin, viola and cello
  • Octet (Op. 33, 1961)
  • String Quartet No. 2 (Op. 91, 1977)
  • String Quartet No. 3 (Op. 112, 1986)


  • Violin Concerto (Op. 13, 1954)
  • Piano Concerto (Op. 25, 1958)
  • Bassoon Concerto (Op. 77, 1974; commissioned for Michael Chapman)
  • Cello Concerto ("Concerto in Two Movements for Cello and Chamber Orchestra") (Op. 171, 2011; commissioned by Raphael Wallfisch)


  • Silas Marner (Op. 31, 1961), opera in three acts after the dramatic novel by George Eliot
  • Under Western Eyes (Op. 51, 1968), opera in three acts, libretto by Cedric Cliffe after the novel by Joseph Conrad
  • The Prisoner (Op.75, 1973), opera in two acts, libretto by Stephen Tunnicliffe based on Tolstoy's short story "Too Dear!". Commissioned for the 400th. Anniversary of Queen Elizabeth I Grammar School for Boys, Barnet, North London. First performance March 1973 conducted by David Patrick.
  • Jane Eyre (Op. 134, 1987–1997), opera in three acts, libretto by Kenneth Birkin after the novel by Charlotte Brontë[1]


  • Urbs Beata (Op. 42, 1963) commissioned to celebrate the completion of St George's Cathedral, Cape Town. It received its first performance under the direction of organist and choirmaster Keith Jewell.[20]
  • The Raising of Lazarus (Op. 67, 1970)
  • Wings of Faith (Op. 143, Part 1 ("The Word Fulfilled"): 2000, Part 2 ("The Transforming Spirit"): 2003)
  • An English Requiem (op.166, 2010) commissioned for the Gloucester 2010 Three Choirs Festival, receiving its first performance at the festival on 9 August 2010.[21]


  • Symphony No. 1 (Op. 20, 1955, rev. 1956)
  • Symphony No. 2 (Op. 68, 1970)
  • Symphony No. 3 on themes from the opera "Jane Eyre" (Op. 178, 2014–17)

Other works[edit]

  • Sonata in One Movement (Sonata No. 1) (Op. 24, 1957), for piano
  • Passacaglia and Fugue (Op. 35, 1961), for organ
  • Prelude on "Picardy" (Op. unknown, date unknown) for organ
  • Sonata No. 2 (Op. 71, 1972), for piano
  • Tombeau (Op. 86, 1981), for unaccompanied viola da gamba
  • Six Short Preludes on English Hymn Tunes, for chamber organ (Op. 125, 1990) for organ
  • Sonata No. 3 (Op. 157, date unknown), for piano


  1. ^ Personal e-mail communication with Mr. Christopher Morley, lecturer at the UCE Birmingham Conservatoire and chief music critic of the Birmingham Post, on 13 July 2007.
  2. ^ BBC Pronunciation Unit, Speakeasy database, accessed 8 January 2019
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Christopher Morley, Just the Joubert, Orchestra of the Swan, archived from the original on 28 September 2007, retrieved 3 April 2007 ; also published as Christopher Morley (2007), "Just the Joubert", Birmingham Post, retrieved 25 January 2008.
  4. ^ Eyre, James. "Renowned Composer Celebrates 90th Birthday Year". B13 Magazine. No. August 2017. Archived from the original on 18 October 2017. Retrieved 17 October 2017.
  5. ^ Full name John Pierre Herman Joubert. See MusicSack and associated references.
  6. ^ a b Programme for Ex Cathedra's performance of John Joubert's Wings of Faith at The Oratory, Birmingham, on 22 March 2007.
  7. ^ Biography, 13 September 2008, archived from the original on 28 August 2008, retrieved 29 September 2008.
  8. ^ a b John Morris, John Joubert, ChesterNovello, retrieved 29 September 2008.
  9. ^ In Hull, John and Mary Joubert lived in a flat in a fine Victorian house, later to become the residence of the University of Hull's librarian, Philip Larkin (1922–1985), and immortalised in Larkin's poem High Windows. But to Joubert's chagrin, "there's now a blue plaque outside the place referring to Philip – but with no mention of me.": Christopher Morley, Just the Joubert, Orchestra of the Swan, archived from the original on 28 September 2007, retrieved 3 April 2007. If the blue plaque referring to Philip Larkin was installed under the scheme run by English Heritage, then it is not surprising if there is no plaque referring to Joubert. Under this scheme, nominations for blue plaques are taken from the public only for people who have passed either the 20th anniversary of their death or the centenary of their birth, whichever is the earlier.
  10. ^ "Birmingham Festival Choral Society: Birmingham Triennial Festival". Retrieved 5 March 2021.
  11. ^ a b Reg Williamson, John Joubert, Classical Music on the Web, retrieved 29 September 2008.
  12. ^ "Honorary Graduands – Summer 2007" (PDF), Buzz (93), Birmingham: University of Birmingham: 7, July 2007, archived from the original (PDF) on 28 February 2008; University of Birmingham Honorary Graduands for July 2007, University of Birmingham, 9 July 2007, retrieved 10 July 2007.
  13. ^ The name was apparently inspired by the Schubertiade, a music festival honouring Franz Schubert founded in 1976 which is held primarily in the village of Schwarzenberg, Austria: see the Schubertiade Schwarzenberg website.
  14. ^ Diary of events, Joubertiade 2007: Celebrating John Joubert's 80th Birthday, 2007, archived from the original on 10 September 2007, retrieved 26 December 2007 .
  15. ^ John Joubert – Symphony No. 1 (information from the Lyrita website); reviewed on MusicWeb International by Rob Barnett and by Hubert Culot. All retrieved 7 July 2011.
  16. ^ a b Valerie Scher (27 May 2007), "He's putting a new sheen on the old: Violinist Pierre Joubert is trying to hip local audiences to delights of early music", San Diego Union-Tribune[permanent dead link]; also published with a photograph of Pierre Joubert as Valerie Scher (27 May 2007), He's putting a new sheen on the old (PDF), Bach Collegium San Diego, archived from the original (PDF) on 28 February 2008, retrieved 25 January 2008.
  17. ^ Matthew and Alexander are children of Pierre Joubert: Valerie Scher (27 May 2007), "He's putting a new sheen on the old: Violinist Pierre Joubert is trying to hip local audiences to delights of early music", San Diego Union-Tribune, archived from the original on 2 February 2013.
  18. ^ "John Joubert (1927-2019)". Music Sales Classical. 8 January 2019. Retrieved 8 January 2019.)
  19. ^ 'A very moving funeral ...' Birmingham Bach Choir Facebook post, 24 Jan 2019.
  20. ^ John Joubert (1963) Urbs Beata, Novello & Co Ltd
  21. ^ John Joubert (2010). An English Requiem. Chester Novello. Retrieved 22 December 2011.


Further reading[edit]

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