British-South African composer John Joubert died on 7th January. He was 91.
Joubert was born in Cape Town, South Africa and educated in the Anglican Diocesan College in Rondebosch. He began to compose around the age of 15 under the influence of his music teacher Claude Brown, continuing his studies at the South African College of Music with William Henry Bell and at the Royal Academy in London with Theodore Holland, Howard Ferguson and Alan Bush. In 1950 he was appointed as a lecturer at Hull University, moving to the University of Birmingham in 1962. He took early retirement in 1982 in order to concentrate on composing.
Joubert established his composing career with his carol O Lorde, the Maker of Al Thing, which won the Novello anthem competition in 1952. This and subsequent choral works Torches (1951) and There is No Rose(1954) quickly entered the repertoire. Of Torches, Joubert said ‘I’ve even had carol-singers come to the door and singing it, without knowing the composer lives inside.” As well as continuing to write church music, Joubert also made significant contributions to the wider English choral tradition in several oratorios: Urbs Beata (1963), The Raising of Lazarus (1970), Wings of Faith (2000/2003) and An English Requiem (2010).
Joubert’s style is grounded in the English music that he studied as a young man, including the works of Elgar, Parry and Stanford, though his mature style encompasses Britten, Walton, Janáček, Shostakovich, Stravinsky and others. As with these figures he was comfortable writing in many genres; his output also includes a variety of chamber music, including three string quartets, three symphonies and concertos for violin, piano, bassoon and cello. He wrote seven operas, including Silas Marner (1961), Under Western Eyes (1968), The Prisoner (1973) and Jane Eyre(1987–1997).
Joubert received Honorary Doctorates from University of Durham in 1991 and from University of Birmingham in 2007. He continued to compose well into his retirement, his St Mark Passion, for example, being premiered by the Choir of Wells Cathedral on his 89th birthday. At the age of 90 when asked if he had plans for any further major compositions, he wryly remarked ‘If somebody came forward to offer me a major commission with a substantial fee and a suitably distant deadline I might well be tempted…’
John Joubert: Symphony No. 2