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John Noble (baritone)

For other uses, see John Noble (disambiguation).

John Noble (2 January 1931 – 21 March 2008) was an English baritone. He was Ralph Vaughan Williams's favourite in the title role of the composer's opera The Pilgrim's Progress.


Born in Southampton, the son of a gardener, John Noble's love of music and performance began at Godalming Grammar School, Surrey. He gained a scholarship to Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, where he graduated in geography. While there, he studied singing with the baritone Clive Carey, and George Guest arranged for him to join the choir of St John's College for a postgraduate year.[1]

In 1954, Noble took the title role in Dennis Arundell's production of Ralph Vaughan Williams's The Pilgrim's Progress at the Cambridge Guildhall. The composer's wife, Ursula Vaughan Williams, recalled that Noble brought "a touching and dedicated dignity as the Pilgrim", and after the production's opening Vaughan Williams said: "This is what I meant."[1][2] Noble was later in 1970 asked to sing the role in the EMI recording conducted by Sir Adrian Boult.

A year of teaching geography followed university, but then he joined the BBC Singers, and went on to make a living from solo engagements, supplemented by recordings with the Ambrosian Singers. As a concert singer his repertoire included Bach (singing Jesus in the Passions), Handel, Elgar, Britten, Delius, Tippett and Vaughan Williams. His operatic work included the vicar in Benjamin Britten's Albert Herring for the English Opera Group, conducted by the composer and subsequently recorded by Decca (1964).

The conductor Meredith Davies invited him to join the staff of Trinity College of Music, London. He later taught at the Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester, and had a thriving teaching practice for the rest of his life.

He died aged 77 of pancreatic cancer.


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