John Joubert obituary

by Christopher Morley
(for 10.1.19)

It is a comfort to all who loved him -- not just family and friends, but all of those who had been touched by the warmth of his compositions -- that John Joubert, who passed away on January 7 at the age of 91 after a fall on New Year's Day had lived long enough to witness a well-deserved resurgence of interest in his music.
Inscrutable mandarins in the musical establishment had long banished his work, dismissing its communicativeness, its sincerity of expression, its acute response to text, its rhythmic precision, and so many other qualities the music-loving public listens out for, as outmoded.
Yet the mild-mannered (but quietly sardonic in friendly company) composer continued to create works in every genre, approaching 200 opus numbers, chiefly to commission; though his masterpiece, the opera Jane Eyre, was a genuine labour of love, cooking on the back-burner for so many years while he attended to those necessary commissions. It was probably the highlight of Joubert's professional life when the opera was premiered at the splendid Ruddock Hall of King Edward's School, Edgbaston in October 2016 to immense acclaim, with the recording subsequently released on the SOMM label, whose previous issues had done so much to further the rehabilitation of this beloved composer.
Joubert was of Huguenot descent, born in Cape Town on March 27 1927, and educated at the Diocesan College in Rondebosch. The director of music there was Claude Brown, who had been an assistant to Ivor Atkins, organist at Worcester Cathedral (and therefore only one handshake away from Edward Elgar), who instilled in Joubert a love of the English choral tradition which was to inform so much of his prodigious output.
Initially torn between painting and composition, Joubert decided upon the latter, and came to England in 1946 after winning a Performing Right Society Scholarship which enabled him to study for four years at the Royal Academy of Music in London. He had already had several works, both choral and orchestral, performed in South Africa; now he had countless heady opportunities to experience the full gamut of the arts in one of the world's great cultural centres, and he took full advantage, soaking up with particular relish the Wagner seasons at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden.
After gaining several prizes for composition at the RAM, and gaining a BMus degree from the University of Durham, Joubert took up a position as Lecturer in Music at the University of Hull. It was during his time there that he composed the carol Torches for his wife Mary to teach to her primary schoolchildren, and which has become a favourite throughout the Christian world.
In 1962, as a result of his appointment as Lecturer (later Senior Lecturer, and eventually Reader) in Music at the University of Birmingham, the Jouberts relocated to Moseley, which remains the family home.
John Joubert became a highly-regarded figure in the musical life of his adopted home city, serving for 25 years as chairman of the Birmingham Chamber Music Society, frequently attending performances from the CBSO and from visiting opera companies at Birmingham Hippodrome, and, at the University, nurturing the development of countless students who became devoted to him. You are reading the words of one of them.
Joubert retired from the University in 1986 in order to concentate on composition, but he continued to teach privately and at the (now Royal) Birmingham Conservatoire for several years.
He was also a much-loved presence at various venues across the country, including the Presteigne Festival, Wells Cathedral, the Three Choirs, and Tardebigge's Celebrating English Song.
Works in every genre flowed from his tireless pen and imagination, sometimes showing the influence of his much-admired Britten and Shostakovich (all three of them, for example, loving the rigours of the passacaglia variation-structure), and always vibrant with vigour and melodic piquancy.
The above-mentioned Jane Eyre was his greatest triumph, but recent years also brought, amongst many other successes, the Ex Cathedra-commissioned Wings of Faith, the Rochester Triptych commissioned by Nicholas Fisher (the Birmingham equivalent of the culture-loving Inspector Morse), and the English Requiem, which will be revived at Gloucester Cathedral during this year's Three Choirs Festival.
John Joubert is survived by his wife Mary, and his violinist son Pierre and cellist daughter Anna.
Christopher Morley

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