British composer, whose wide range of lyrical compositions is wholly in the English tradition and was largely inspired by his love of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century English poetry.
Born into a family who encouraged his early love of music but who could ill-afford to further it, Rubbra left school at the age of fourteen to become a railway clerk. A passion for the music of Debussy and Cyril Scott (1879–1970), based on the scores he found in an uncle's music shop, led him to give a concert in 1917 devoted to the works of Scott in his native Northampton. When Scott heard of this event, he approached Rubbra with an offer of tuition. In 1920 Rubbra won a composition scholarship to Reading University and in the following year, on an open scholarship, went to the Royal College of Music, where his teachers included Gustav Holst and R. O. Morris (1886–1948). Thereafter Rubbra lived by teaching, accompanying, and journalism (for many years he reviewed music for the Monthly Musical Record).
Rubbra's eleven symphonies span the years 1935 to 1979; the first four (1937–41) were described by the composer as ‘different facets of one thought’. The fifth symphony (1947–48) is the one most frequently heard, while the ninth, Sinfonia sacra (1971–72), is in the nature of a choral Passion. The tenth symphony is a chamber symphony, Sinfonia da camera (1974). Much of Rubbra's music has a religious background, including his two masses (the first Anglican and the second Catholic, after his conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1948).