The Arianna String Quartet: “DEI” Starts with Chamber Music

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The string quartet genre may define classical music better than any other.  Its four musical parts are played by two violins, one viola and one (violon-)cello.  Together, those parts can perform both monophonic music (i.e. all parts play the same rhythm in unity – like a church chorale) and polyphonic music (i.e. each part performs independently of the others).  Most string quartets we love are considered inspired combination of the two.  “Well, those terms are a bit out-of-date, just like the word classical!” you are probably thinking to yourself.  Maybe, but the social construct the string quartet is founded on is as contemporary as it gets: offices to institute diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging have sprung up in every sector of American commercial and non-commercial industry and are directed by fancy-named officials who oversee million-dollar annual budgets.  New name, old problem: those offices have been created to figure out the age-old Enlightenment quandary of how to appreciate difference and bring the excluded into the fold to share wisdom.  Joseph Haydn – considered the Father of the String Quartet, and most other classical music genres – experienced this Enlightenment issue firsthand, during the chamber music salon concerts he attended and he eventually developed the string quartet to show off an impressive “DEI” strategy.  Whereas the first violin dominates in his string quartets, Op. 20, and the other parts mostly nod in agreement, the four parts become equal discursive partners in his Op. 33 quartets, all the to the benefit of an enriching musical conversation.  The Arianna String Quartet is in its 30th year now and the Quartet – the resident chamber music ensemble of the University of Missouri-Saint Louis – joins our show to discuss the extraordinary string quartet genre with us and why it is so relevant to our current moment. 

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