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Rubbra’s music seems to be quite conservative, lyric and straightforward, but demands full attention and doesn’t make good "easy listening" because the continuity of melodic and polyphonic growth is logical and unremitting, the orchestration sometimes persistently thick. Often it’s difficult to speak of a "second subject", because a second theme grows out of the first. Rubbra himself stated in a lecture given in Birmingham in April 1949: "Many believe that classical music is a nicely tabulated affair of first and second subjects, bridge passages, developments, recapitulations and codas and that formal perfection is achieved when all these ingredients are easily recognisable. But the point I would like to insist upon is that these features, whether obviously present or not, are in reality very secondary: that their importance is far below the importance of making contrasts between different facets of a pervading idea." Rubbra’s religious belief shines through his music, so one may call him "the Bruckner of the 20th century".
Among his works are concertos, a "Soliloquy for Cello and Orchestra" op. 57 (1947), four String Quartets, two Piano Trios and other Piano music, vocal music (mostly religiously influenced, e.g. the "Five Motets" op. 37 from 1934, the "Missa in Honorem Sancti Dominici" 1948 or the song circle "The Jade Mountain" 1963) and orchestral works (among them 11 symphonies), e.g.: Symphony No. 1 op. 44 (1935-37), Symphony No. 2 op. 45 (1937), Symphony No. 3 op. 49 (1939), Symphony No. 4 op. 53 (1942), "A Tribute" op. 56 (also called "Introduzione e danza alla fuga", written in honour of the 70th birthday of Vaughan Williams 1942), "Festival Overture" op. 62 (1947), Symphony No. 6 op. 80 (1953-54), Symphony No. 7 op. 88 (1957), Symphony No. 8 op. 132 ("Hommage à Teilhard de Chardin", 1966-68), "Overture Resurgam" op. 149 (1975), Symphony No. 11 op. 153 (1979).
Rubbra left school at fourteen and worked briefly as an errand boy and then a railway clerk. He came to lessons with Cyril Scott, later he was taught by Gustav Holst and Reginald Owen Morris at the Royal College of Music. During his Army service in World War II he founded a Piano Trio, and this "Rubbra-Gruenberg-Pleth Trio" continued for some years after the war. He worked as a lecturer at Oxford University from 1947-1968. Rubbra was deeply religious. Brought up Congregationalist, he was attracted by gnosticism but received Catholic faith in 1948, although he also was influenced by Hindu and Buddhist teachings. His last years were tarnished by a stroke.