John Joubert was born in Cape Town in 1927. His father was a descendant of the French Protestant (Huguenot) settlers who were granted land at the Cape — then a Dutch colony — in 1688. His forebears on his mother’s side were Dutch, who had become anglicized when the Cape became and English colony in 1815. Joubert’s upbringing and education were both English and, through his school, the Diocesan College Rondebosch, Anglican.
He received his early musical education from his mother, herself a pianist and a pupil of Harriet Cohen. The Head of Music at his school, as a former assistant to Sir Ivor Atkins at Worcester Cathedral, had greatly developed its musical life to the extent that Joubert was able to have his early compositions performed by the College’s chapel choir and eventually to matriculate in music preparatory to his starting a degree course in 1945 at the South African College of Music.
He had already been having composition lessons privately with a previous principal of the College, W. H. Bell, who had been a pupil of Frederick Corder at the Royal Academy of Music and a well known English composer before his departure for South Africa in 1912. Some of Joubert’s early works were performed by the Cape Town Municipal Orchestra during his studies with Bell, culminating in the orchestral Threnody on Bell’s death in 1946.
Later the same year Joubert competed for and won a Performing Right Society Scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music which enabled him to have four years’ study in London, during which time his composition teachers were Theodore Holland, Howard Ferguson and Alan Bush. It also enabled him to hear some of the foremost conductors of the day, including Beecham, Furtwangler, Bruno Walter and Richard Strauss. While at the Academy he won several awards for composition, including the Lionel Tertis Prize (for a viola concerto), the Frederick Corder Prize (for a work for chorus and orchestra) and the Royal Philharmonic Society Prize (for a Symphonic Study for orchestra). During the final two years of his scholarship he composed a String Quartet and a Divertimento for Piano Duet which were subsequently published as his op.1 and op.2 respectively. At the same time he was studying privately for a Durham University External B.Mus and graduated successfully in 1950, the year his scholarship at the Academy came to an end.
The next twelve years were spent as Lecturer in Music at the University of Hull. Here, despite the demands of a new job and a growing family (Joubert was married in 1951 and his two children were born in 1954 and 1957) new works from his pen continued to appear, many of them the result of commissions. Some of his best known and most popular works date from this time, including the two carols Torches and There is no Rose and the anthem O Lorde the Maker of al Thinge which won the Novello Anthem Composition Prize in 1952. Other works from this period include the Violin Concerto (York Festival, 1954), the First Symphony (recently released on CD by Lyrita) and the Piano Concerto (Halle Orchestra, 1957). His first full-length opera, Silas Marner, received its world premiere in Cape Town in 1961 and its European premiere in London later the same year. Among the smaller-scale works of the ’50s and early ’60s are an Octet , a String Trio and a one-movement Piano Sonata.
In 1962 Joubert was appointed to a Lectureship in Music at the University of Birmingham. He was subsequently promoted to a Senior Lectureship and then to a Readership. As at Hull new works continued to appear at regular intervals including three more String Quartets, two more Piano Sonatas, several song-cycles and a considerable amount of church music (including two settings of the Anglican Evening Canticles and two of the Latin Mass).
Larger-scale projects are represented by the Second Symphony (Royal Philharmonic Society), two more 3-act operas (Under Western Eyes, premiered in 1968, and Jane Eyre) and a succession of works for chorus and orchestra. The full-length oratorio Wings of Faith received its premiere in 2007 as part of the ‘Joubertiade’, a nation-wide celebration of the composer’s 80th birthday. An English Requiem for soloists, chorus and orchestra was the centrepiece of Joubert’s time as Composer in Residence at the 2010 Three Choirs Festival.
In 1979 Joubert was appointed to a Visiting Professorship at the University of Otago, New Zealand. Further academic honours include Honorary Doctorates from both Durham University (1991) and the University of Birmingham (2007).
Joubert was made a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Music in 1957 and awarded an Honorary Fellowship of Birmingham Conservatoire in 2014. He continues to live and work in Birmingham.