The son of working class Northampton parents, Edmund Rubbra (1901-1986) worked for the railways after finishing school, but scholarships enabled him to enter the Royal College of Music. There he studied under Gustav Holst and Reginald Owen Morris. During his service in WWII, Rubbra formed a Piano Trio which toured camps, entertaining the troops, and the trio continued for several years after the war's end. Between 1947 and 1968 he lectured at Oxford University.
Rubbra is well known for his eleven symphonies, but he also wrote chamber works, concertos for violin, viola and piano, four string quartets, and many piano pieces. His work may sound conservative and perhaps simple, but it demands a lot of attention. Rubbra downplayed the importance of traditional formal structures like first and second subjects, bridge passages, developments, recapitulations and codas, believing that the musical exploration of an idea must be the first and most important goal of composition. He had a poetical approach to composing - he juxtaposed and recontextualised familiar sounds for unusual effect. By bringing attention to the relationships between tonalities, the listener is drawn into the logical unfolding of the music.
Rubbra's music contains an exploration of his religious beliefs which is unusual among contemporary composers. He was influenced by Hindu and Buddhist teachings, and was interested in gnosticism, but received Catholic faith in 1948.