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Brother Tree Sound

20 July 2023 @ 12:45 pm 1:45 pm

£7 Adults

Tickets on the door (cash or card). Under 18s and carers go free

Doors open at 12:15 pm

Aylesbury Lunchtime Music

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St Mary the Virgin

Church Street
Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire HP20 2JJ United Kingdom
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Brother Tree sound musicians


Anna De Bruin

Lucy Jeal

Matthew Kettle

Jula Graham





Notes on the performers

Formed in 2017 Brother Tree Sound are setting new criterion for the string quartet in the 21st century. Their dexterity and versatility as an ensemble and open approach to repertoire sees them connect with and inspire audiences by moving seamlessly from Haydn to Debussy to experimental contemporary music with space for some folk music along the way. Dedicated to the performance of new music, the group regularly commissions new works from established and emerging composers.
Members of Brother Tree Sound have played in chamber ensembles in many of London’s best loved venues including the Wigmore Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Purcell Room and Conway Hall. It is their love of the powerful intimacy of the string quartet that has brought them together.


Programme notes

Franz Schubert

String Quartet No. 14 in D minor, D 810, ‘Death and the Maiden’
  1. Allegro
  2. Andante con moto
  3. Scherzo: Allegro molto
  4. Presto

It’s often hard to grasp the sheer prolificacy of some composers. Bach wrote upwards of 3000 compositions (of which about a third survive), Haydn wrote 104 symphonies, Mozart wrote 27 piano concertos and 41 symphonies, and so on. But Franz Schubert is especially impressive. In less than twenty years, he composed nearly 1000 pieces. True, many of them are short – more than 600 are lieder – but the last five or so years of Schubert’s life saw the creation of some of the most substantial chamber and orchestral music of the 19th century, as well as the settings of some of the most deeply affecting songs in the Western canon.

Of his fifteen string quartets, the D minor quartet subtitled “Death and the Maiden” is number fourteen. Appropriately, the title comes from a Schubert song of the same name, part of which is used as the theme for the second movement’s variations. It’s an appropriate appellation, though, for the whole piece considering its overall tragic mien: each movement is in a minor key and none veer far from the expressive turbulence of the first movement’s opening measures.

Schubert wrote the piece in 1824 and, while it’s often unwise to look too closely for autobiographical impulses in a composition, here there’s a close connection between the music’s content and Schubert’s battles with syphilis, the disease that killed him just four years later. Though there’s no real sense of resignation or defeat, there is a kind of futility that permeates this score.

The first movement commences with a brief introduction that presents a triplet figure that appears throughout the movement. A brisk, scalar motive (which isn’t heard again until the end of the movement, nearly fifteen minutes later) then ushers in a lengthy section of harmonic instability that consists almost entirely of the first violin and cello echoing the triplet gesture around the pulsing accompaniment of the second violin and viola.

The second theme is more compact and lyrical; it also is presented over a long drone in the bass, which implies some harmonic stasis, though it’s not long before the motive is treated to all sorts of chromatic manipulations.

After the repeat of the exposition, a lengthy, complex development ensues. At his best, there is an element of genius in Schubert’s writing that beggars description, and this development is one of those moments. The development proper only takes up two pages of the full score, but it encapsulates everything – rhythmic and melodic motives, harmonic progressions, latent expressive power – that makes this movement work, and it manages this in a way that feels completely unpredictable yet sounds perfectly right. By comparison, the recapitulation is rather straightforward and leads to a substantial coda that foreshadows Mahler in its martial rigor.

The second movement is a theme with five variations. As mentioned earlier, the theme comes from Schubert’s 1817 song, “Death and the Maiden,” which sets a text by Matthias Claudius extolling both the terror and comfort of death. Interestingly, Schubert only adapted the second part of the song in the quartet, the one in which Death claims to be “a friend.”

Schubert’s variations unfold traditionally, becoming progressively more animated and complex. From the first variation, there’s a wonderful sense of rhythmic dissonance (mostly triplet patterns against duplets) that only resolves during the long unwinding of the last variation. At the heart of the movement, though, is a stunning turn from a heavily rhythmic G minor to a variation in G major that seems to float and suspend time.

The third movement begins as a vigorous dance in D minor, filled with odd-length phrases and offbeat accents. The trio calms down a bit, but lurches ambiguously between D major and minor, portending the finale.

For the fourth movement, Schubert turned to the Italian tarantella, a dance that depicts the frenzied madness and death resulting from a tarantula bite (Mendelssohn used the same form in the finale of his Fourth Symphony). This is some of the most explosive music Schubert wrote, by turns spastic, demonic, reflective, and just plain weird. Of particular note is the grace note hiccup that serves to provide the opening tarantella theme an added jolt of energy and to emphasize several transitions that occur in rhythmic unison throughout the movement.

The movement’s second principle theme is a chorale that seems to start mid-thought and never quite lets on where it’s going until it’s arrived there. It’s a 22-bar idea that would not be out of place in a quartet by Elliott Carter or György Ligeti, so unpredictable and startling does it sound even now.

The sheer length of the movement makes it one of the most daunting in the repertoire: it never lets up in either energy or intensity, though towards the very end there’s a hint at a turn to D major. The coda, though, after a bit of a tease, ensures that the quartet’s tragic cast isn’t going to be broken and the music ends in a wild rush up to the abyss – and then caroms right over the edge.

Source: Jonathan Blumhofer