KEITH BRAMICH marks the passing of
South African-born composer John Joubert,
who died on 7 January


South African-born composer John Joubert passed away on Monday evening 7 January 2019, aged ninety-one, following a fall at his home in Birmingham, UK on New Year's Day. Our thoughts are with his family.

Regular readers will be familiar with John, not least because of Roderic Dunnett's super tribute, published just two days before John died, written following a meeting with John on 10 December 2018. Not only was I privileged to attend this meeting, but I was also able to ask John about his working relationship with the late Basil Ramsey in the 1940s and 50s. See below.

This article is merely a footnote to Roderic's feature.

Anna Joubert, the composer's daughter, has said: 'I'm overwhelmed by all the kind messages following the death of my beloved Dad, John Joubert. Feeling very sad but also thankful for his wonderfully long life and for his music - but most of all that this much loved man was my father.'

John Joubert (1927-2019), photographed at the Presteigne Festival in Wales. Photo © 1999 Keith Bramich
John Joubert (1927-2019), photographed at the Presteigne Festival in Wales. Photo © 1999 Keith Bramich

Alice McVeigh commented: 'John was such a lovely, gentle, amazingly kind and wonderful man'. You may also have read Alice's own very appreciative A view from the pit, praising John's opera Jane Eyre.

Alice's review was also mentioned in a statement from the English Symphony Orchestra: 'Of the many responses to the premiere of John Joubert's Jane Eyre, this piece by ESO cellist and author Alice McVeigh is one of the most touching and personal, and speaks to the great affection the orchestra had for John ...' (There is a strong connection between the ESO and John Joubert - John's son Pierre Joubert was assistant leader of the orchestra for ten years, and his daughter Anna plays cello in the orchestra, alongside Alice McVeigh. The ESO has also performed and recorded several of John's compositions.)

James Rushton, Managing Director of Novellos, said: 'During a sixty-year professional composing career, extending right to the very end of his life, John created a substantial catalogue of music that has enchanted all who have heard it.' (Music Sales Classical, in it's press release about John's death, points out that John Joubert is the composer with the longest ever association with Novello & Co.)

And from a Joubert student, Christopher Morley: 'So saddened to hear of the passing of my beloved tutor, John Joubert. I owe my entire career, in both writing and education, to him. Thanks for everything, John. R I P'. (Another well-known Joubert student is John Casken, who taught James MacMillan. Joubert's teaching is known to have been very wide-ranging and general.)

The Three Choirs Festival: 'We were saddened to hear about the death of John Joubert this week aged ninety-one. John had a longstanding relationship with the festival and we even commissioned his English Requiem in 2010. Our thoughts are with his family at this time.'

The London Philharmonic Orchestra: 'We are saddened to hear about John Joubert's passing. His wonderful Symphony No 2 was premiered by the Orchestra in 1971, dedicated to the victims of the Sharpeville massacre.'

Monica McCabe: 'Joubert and my late husband John McCabe were friends and musical colleagues for over 50 years. John supported Joubert's work at a time when he received very little attention, including writing to The Times when Bernard Levin (who was a big name at that time) unjustifiably attacked Joubert for being a South African composer. ('Did you know there were any?', he asked rhetorically, in an article which was actually laying into the BBC Radio 3 programmes.) Levin took no account of the fact that Joubert disapproved of apartheid on principle, and lived in Britain for most of his life.' Read the whole of Monica's tribute here.

Siva Oke: 'I spent Tuesday evening thinking so much about John Joubert after learning of his passing; the times we spent together, what he said, his wonderful amused chuckle and what he meant to me, to all of us, both as a composer and also as a person ...' Read Siva's tribute here.

PRS For Music: 'We are saddened to learn that PRS member John Joubert has passed away at the age of 91. John came to Britain in the late forties to undertake a PRS scholarship and study at the Royal Academy. Our thoughts are with his friends and family at this time.'

Back on 10 December last year, exactly a month ago, John explained that when he had applied for this PRS Scholarship to study at the Royal Academy of Music in London, the scholarship panel's vote was evenly split between John and someone else, so Scottish composer Eric Chisholm (who had moved to South Africa that year, 1946, to be professor of music at the University of Cape Town and director of the South African College of Music) had the deciding vote. John had written a piece in memory of his first composition teacher, William Henry Bell, and Chisholm liked this piece, which persuaded him to choose John for the scholarship.

John arrived in the UK the same year. A performance of his String Quartet received a good review, and Basil Ramsey, then Head of Publication for Novello & Co, asked to see the manuscript, and then published the Quartet.

Next came the carol Torches, written for John's wife Mary's students. Basil published this too. (John and Mary met at the Royal Academy of Music; they were married for sixty-eight years.)

In 1952, Novello staged an Anthem Competition, and John's O Lorde, the maker of Al Thing (to a text by Henry VIII) won first prize, so this got published too. John explained that there was always a separate contract for each piece, with no concept in those early days of John being a 'house composer'.

Another curiosity: John explained how his opera Jane Eyre came to be published by Peters Edition. When Basil Ramsey left Novello to form his own publishing company, Basil's position at Novello was taken by Giles Easterbrook, who continued to publish John's music. Giles left Novello to develop the Maecenas Contemporary catalogue, and John's opera was published as part of this. The Maecenas catalogue, and with it Jane Eyre, was then taken over by Peters Edition.

There was also a little story about how John Joubert met the poet Philip Larkin at a trolley bus stop in Kingston-upon-Hull. John moved to Hull in 1950, and later, Larkin took over John's top floor Hull University flat, the view from which, across Pearson Park, inspired Larkin's High Windows.

In 1962 John moved to Moseley to teach music at the University of Birmingham, and Wilfrid Mellers lived nearby in Moseley. Mellers invited Joubert to conduct at the Attingham Summer School music weeks in Shropshire.

At the end of our meeting on 10 December 2018, John invited Roderic Dunnett and I to visit him again, but sadly this wasn't to be. Meanwhile, the tributes continue to pour in ...

Paul Spicer: 'Deeply saddened by the death of John Joubert, a good friend not only to me but also to Birmingham Bach Choir of which he was a Patron and in which his wife Mary sang for years. So thrilled that Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir made a disc of his music for his 90th birthday last year. RIP.'

Ex Cathedra: 'We are very sad to learn of the death of John Joubert with whom we were privileged to work quite closely over last thirty-five years.'

St John's Choir Devizes: 'We join the rest of the choral world in paying tribute to the composer John Joubert who has died aged ninety-one. Our condolences to his family, especially his daughter Anna Joubert. Our performance of There is no rose on Sunday 27 January 2019 will be a fitting tribute.'

Copyright © 10 January 2019 Keith Bramich,
London UK


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