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Variations in Chargah


Chargah (the quadruplet mode, the mode of four) is a mode in the Middle Eastern traditional music (specially Persian traditional music). Chargah comes in a conjunction of other modes and series of motifs, amongst which there are the Dogah (mode of two), Segah (mode of three) and Raast-PanjGah (mode of five) modes as well.

The basic scale on Chargah needs four notes to be established, with a minor second, followed by an augmented second and then, another minor second. Whatever comes in the succession, can be a repetition of Chargah itself based on one of the next notes. Hence, Chargah has this unique quality of being present alongside its two closest neighbor (related) modes and in easy connection with any other Chargah mode. For instance, if we start a Chargah from D we will have (each dash represents a half step):


Moving forward, we can expand this mode of four in any of the two suggested ways:

  1. (D-E♭—F♯,G)–(A-B♭—C♯,D)
  2. (G-A♭—B,C)–(D-E♭—F♯,G)

System and Corner:

There is a very important set of concepts to be learned when dealing with the traditional middle eastern music. But just to get more familiar with the important terminology with respect to Chargah (as much as it would be sufficient to go through these variations), we better define two important terms:

The term System (Dastgah) refers to one or a group of modes which have vast number of motifs and songs and forms within. Each of these smaller blocks are called a Corner (Goosheh) (perhaps because the musicians or the gnostics would sit in a “corner” of a tavern or monastery or elsewhere; where ideas were shaped).


This set of variations comprises of elements drawn from the Persian musical tradition and a Western musical tradition. Each variation explores a different facet of  type of Persian song tradition (system or Dastgah) called Chargah; which is a collection of lively social dances, motifs and melodies.

This work aims to explore the different melodic, harmonic and contrapuntal possibilities of this mode. I have come up with many other combinations of the “mode of four notes” on the present twelve tones (Chargah is best to be played on a quatrotonic system); for example developing a seven note scale by exploring variations of the mode where there is no perfect octave or root repeated in the subsequent mode. I have experienced this system and its corner through these pieces and have based this whole set of variations on the Chargah practice.

I have adapted the form and metaphor of “journey” (seir); which looks at a piece of music as a journey in time which has a specific destination and meets certain milestones on its way. I have used this metaphor as a way of understanding how form progresses: this piece can be understood as taking the listener on a journey, exploring different types of color and expression, including lyricism, humor, lamentation, etc.

Since Persian music is a vocal music and singers with higher pitch range are more popular, much of its melodies are in high ranges. These motifs are usually as long as one breath each, but experience rather complex shapes, ornamentations and articulations in each. My intension for the most parts has been to look at the distant in using the colors of the extreme ranges of piano; obviously sometimes contrasted by mid-range. No matter how many voices present in a piece, these motifs still retain their monophonic personage. I have used fragments that explore and highlight the dissonance, extreme pitches, independent lines, different gestures, variable textures and diversified forms.

I, however, have intensionally used the Western techniques of music composition, such as collage, heterophony, homophony, the precision of irrationals, etc. on a pianistic surface and have given Chargah a rather strange frame. I haven’t been completely loyal to the traditions of Chargah in this composition, but have demonstrated how this system and its corners work and have explored some almost untouched surfaces of this system.


No.NameFormNo. of VoicesDurationTonal CoreTempo
1Awaz ThemeA11′ 10”F120
2HabituateAB (5 times)2-31′ 10”Variable120
3CandleBinary (six different versions)2 (3)3′ 09”E66
4LamentationHeterophony in Symmetry (AA1A2A1A)30′ 41”A♭100
5EagernessHeterophony and Symmetry30′ 30”G♭120
6MortalA12′ 54”E40
7Pain of EagernessA, B, C31′ 08”D108
8Ternary DistressCollagevariable0′ 56”C220, 108, 40, 120, 220
9IronyABC + A’BC2 (3, 4)0′ 41”F♯250
10UprisingRondo21′ 04”Variable140
11DescendA11′ 31”F120

Note: There is an abstract symmetry between the forms and the keys used to represent them.

1- Awaz Theme

This is a piece with one present voice (with a momentary exception: m:17) at any moment. Awaz Theme is like an introductory piece for Chargah that basically shows all the possibilities of the main common motifs in their most primary and simplest form.

The whole piece is preferred as being played with the right hand, although it is possible to play with either hand. The piece consists of two voices in question and answer and each time a voice enters, it expands motifs to a new “corner” in Chargah.

The first and fourth sections explore extreme ranges, having a big gap between the soprano and its bass answer. The second and third sections, however, come closer to each other; exploring Chargah in a rather wide range.


Mm 1-11 are proposing Chargah in its most common form, called Dar-Amad (translation: Entrance, Introduction) with a Prelude or Overture kind of role. Chargah is best established and announced as soon as its famous intro is heard:

Interlude & Contra-Chargah:

The small section in bass line (mm: 12-16) plays an interconnecting role between the introduction and the important Mokhalef (translation: Contra-Chargah) motive (mm: 16-22) where it is said that the theme raises to oppose the Chargah‘s stability and is considered an opportunity for the vocalist to show off his range and technical abilities and also for the players to improvise rhythmically for a long time:

Contra-Chargah is famous for usually holding the III of the mode (A in the picture, as being third in “F-G♭-A-B♭-C-D♭-E-F”) as a pedal note which is usually played either by bass instruments and/or supported by the lowest string of the instrument by double picking, or similar techniques. This note is also serves a temporary tonic (root) role when the vocalist is singing Contra-Chargah and can be used as a rest point when the aim is to show some relations to Chargah instead of its Contradiction; otherwise, the VI (D♭) would definitely be the best choice. That is why in m 17, the A is added as an extra note; where the piece has a double stop for the very first and last time.

Since the interval between III and VI is exactly the same interval between I and III (major 3rd), it is obvious that why this VI makes such a perfect secondary centric feeling in the mode. If an octave is divided into sections of major 3rd intervals, we will get three groups of three notes are created and Chargah happens to have all of these groups’ boundaries in it; which are F-A-D♭-(F) in this example.


Measure 20, being still in the original Chargah mode, uses the Chargah‘s symmetry attribute (minor second, augmented second, minor second and another set of notes with the exact same intervals) as the most common way to modulate to the next (upper) Chargah mode. In fact, this symmetry lets the players perform the same exact fingerings on every string in instruments with a perfect fourth or perfect fifth tuning intervals between their strings.

Any succession of these four notes with these intervals going up or down can make a new root for Chargah and it is common practice to go to a Contra-Chargah after Chargah is completely established, then show the second half (F-G♭-A-B♭) of the current Chargah. What should be done next, is to take the first half of the current Chargah mode and use it as the next Chargah‘s second half. This means that the new Chargah is built on the IV degree of the previous mode. This is exactly what happens in Awaz Theme (each dash represents a half-step):

Initial Chargah(F-G♭—A-B♭)–(C-D♭—E-F)
mm 1-11                            C-D♭—E-F
mm 12-16      G♭—A-B♭
mm 17-19             {A-B♭)–(C-D♭}
mm 20-22{F           A-B♭)–(C-D♭}
mm 23-27{F-G♭—A-B♭-C♭
New Chargah                 (B♭-C♭—D-E♭)–(F-G♭—A-B♭)

The contour chart for Awaz Theme


What comes in mm 23-27 as the conclusion of the melody or the ending, works in the same fashion as the introductory section (mm:1-11) in establishing Chargah but still has with two main differences: Firstly, it is in the new Chargah and is establishing the modulation rather than the initial mode and secondly, it is in every way playing an opposite role as of that of the introduction section.

Perhaps the name Foroud (translation: to land, descend) shows better that this section is supposed to lead to a final rest instead of preparing the listener for other materials. That is why, the ending chooses to descend from higher notes (C♭,D) to the root(B♭) rather than ascending from lower pitches to it, as in the Introduction.

2- Habituate

Because there are many different possibilities of phrasing or groupings on Habituate, for the ease of understanding, this analysis will stick to the meter changes, which are used as ends of lines for each system in the notation.

Habituate, is a constant cycle of rises and falls gestures. All the material in 7/8 time are rhythmic and have the same simple skips of 3rd in Chargah amongst the mode degrees. Their bass line follows a similar pattern by three stops followed by two fast syncopations:

There is a second motif that makes the contrast more clear by decreasing the pattern’s thickness to one voice which moves in steps or small skips. This pattern is seen in all 5/8 measures, although through the piece, the boundaries are collided and some of the overlaps happen to combine the two.


The cycle consists of two different-sized elements that are offset against each other. The second part, merely remains two or three bars long; whilst the first section, dynamically grows and shrinks to house the new diversified version of the motif. Perhaps a measure count of the ABABABABAB structure might demonstrate this better:


3- Candle

This piece uses a very repetitive pattern in its form, in terms of having a clear boundary of its sections. The piece, consists of six lines, as in six verses of a lyric, being usually sung in such “corners”.

Each section contains two very separate and contrasting parts, the first one being very mellow, slow, long and patient with two (or three) voices; while the second part is only one measure long and has a strong held chord (with exceptions in the middle of the piece, which serve a decisive purpose). Thus, we can see each sections as an A+B; where A, itself, contains A = a + b; “a” and “b” being its two half-verses (hemistiches).

The overall six sections, use (almost) the extreme ends of the piano in their A sections and follow a very open texture; while the B sections are always closed chords held in the middle section of the piano. Each A section ends with a whole measure of fermata rest plus a pause to clearly identify the end of the section.

Apart form the fact that these six sections are similar in form, each two consequent verses are also very similar; i.e. there are three pairs in the piece:

  1. A (a+b)            + B      (ff)
  2. A (a+b)            + B      (ff)
  3. A'(a’+b’)          + B’     (pp)
  4. A'(a’+b’)          + B’     (ff)
  5. A”(a”+b”)        + B”     (pp)
  6. A”(a”+b”)        + B”     (fff)

Dynamic Shock

Section B with its very short length is a chord held for one breve with a fermata over it. This produces and extreme contrast in terms of texture, range, dynamics and tension in the piece. Here, I play with expectations in dynamics: the chord is presented as dynamic of ff in its first two usual times. Then, in its theirs statement, it is unexpectedly in pp.

After which, the fourth recurrence of B is again in the same fortissimo dynamics until exactly when B is expected to have come back to its stability; while the fifth verse’s A finishes regularly, the following B is again a pianissimo and this vagueness remains the same until the last B is reveled in fff in the very last verse.

4- Lamentation

There are three parts constantly present throughout this whole chorale. The piece uses some precise symmetry based on the development of one simple sad descending motif:

Lamentation amongst the variations stands out in terms of its simplicity in rhythm, melody and texture. It uses the common time throughout the whole piece and there are no tempo or dramatic dynamics  changes. The piece rises from p to mp to mf and descends down to mp and p afterwards.

There is an interconnection among the motifs in each section that unifies the whole chain of events. The exposition, which introduces the theme, is followed by a development which raises the tension for an extra middle section; which somehow develops the theme into further rhythmic divisions and increases rhythmical tension by its asynchronized alto part.

This, is followed by the recapitulation, which works in opposition to the exposition: it is centering a mirror in section A2 (refer to the diagram) to remind us how did further derivation depart from the main theme, which is finally repeated as the ending. The [A A1 A2 A1 A] form of the mirror effects is clear from the diagram below:

A( a + b + c )
A’( d + e + f )
A”( g + h + i )
A’( f + e + d )
A( a + b + c )

5- Eagerness

The title refers to the intoxication of the human anticipation, waiting eagerly for something to happen, to see his loved one, etc. Eagerness is a prelude for the a later piece: The Pain of Eagerness, which shows how the arrival of the moment is actually increasing the eagerness rather than curing it. Eagerness simply tries to use three parts introducing some very basic fragment of the next piece:

Alto line:

Basically, the idea of these three main notes building all the blocks of the motifs is to have the same material in different keys and orders, while the alto part plays a tricky role here. The following graph is a graphical presentation of the lines and their pitch ranges (S=Soprano, A=Alto, B=Bass):

The alto line changes direction to support the bass line towards the end of the piece, in a rather deceptive way. Because of the fast tempi of the piece and the fact that the small motifs are so congested and combined, the dramatical change of direction by the alto line remains decisive; specially because of the fact that the outer parts are heard more easily. The lines are supporting each other by creating diversifications of the same motif in different modes and yet, the rhythmical pattern remains very simple and neither the meter, not the dynamics change through this short introductory piece.

6- Mortal

Mortal is an interlude which comes in the middle of the variations as a rest point and a reminder of the theme. It is very similar to the first variation, Awaz Theme. Mortal, however, is a loner piece and has one or two voices present, rather than one as in the Awaz Theme.

Mortal tries to be a conclusive piece, putting an end to the first half of the variations and preparing the listener for a set of new pieces. It is the lengthiest of all the variation and has some other unique qualities: it is in the middle range of the piano, a range which is rarely discovered by the other vulgarizations.

Mortal is also mainly a piano-pianissimo piece and its rises and falls go to mp and ppp. The dynamic changes and free rhythm and simple note durations used in it (in comparison with irrationals and irregular rhythmic patterns in other variations), make it a perfect rest point.

The piece is based on a binary question and answer form (A-B); except for the last part in which a ternary ends the piece. The thematic material of Mortal is also a bridge from the previous variations to the upcoming ones. The first motifs are repetitions and reminder of the motifs used in the opening and the following variations, while from the middle of the piece onwards, we see new motifs and new material being introduced for the first time, to actually serve as a preparation for the next variations.

Some of the material introduced in the last motifs are discovered deeply in separate variations, while some smaller portions have been only mentioned later in other pieces.

07- The Pain of Eagerness

“thought I’d see her, my pain of eagerness shall be relieved

I saw her and became more eager!” (Sa’adi)

With the introduction that Eagerness has given into the material, The Pain of Eagerness enters with the bass line’s repetitive half notes, reminding of the eagerness and ticking as the time goes by.

The bass line remains the same through the whole piece, but it us the slurs that make sense of the differences in phrasings. There is also the dynamics factor and the harmonic color that make the base line play both its simple pattern, yet gain enough interest and innovation in material. However, it is the melody that is very shifting and movable. There are irrationals and irregular rhythmic patterns in obvious contrast with the bass line’s ticking beat and the pattern thickens as the dynamics grow and accidentals introduce non-Chargah tones more regularly to the piece.

This piece has two segments that each start from a pause in the melody (part I) which initially appears to reach its climax (part II). Yet more chaos and tension is produced be the melody itself (part III) that comes to a disappointment and rests (“The Pain of Eagerness” which is inspired by a poem from Sa’adi). The same exact scenario is repeated in the next half of the piece, with yet more (fake?!) excitement and a deeper sadness due to the eventual disappointment.

This piece is based on the poem quoted above, both in its feeling and concept, as well as the way it can be sung in Chargah. Some “corners” are simply trying to show a more constant personality in comparison with other motifs that rapidly explore the whole mode. There are even some Chargah pieces that focus on a very limited degrees of the mode and remain pretty much loyal to their pitch range.

Pain of Eagerness tries to show three parts (I, II and III) in each half; where I and II remain loyal to the same degrees of the mode, but III explores a more expressive area (to gain a literal response Eagerness). The result, is that these parts can not come to a peace (Pain of Eagerness). The concept tries to remain paradoxical as in the poem: not seeing her or seeing and become even more eager?!

08- Ternary Distress

Ternary Distress is unique amongst the other variations as it is a collage. The material here is presented in a constantly changing fashion, in a variable tempi and meter. These elements are not intended to connected in terms of rhythm, unless systematically enforced to. The parts in this piece are very small and are left before getting established and introduced. The reason, is to define and excite the Distress. This piece has a scherzo quality which is delivered by its playful textural changes and abnormalities in every aspect of it.

Three Notes:

And last, but not least, this whole piece consists of three notes only: C♯, D and F: the first three of a Chargah scale. This piece simply aims to put these three notes in a few different combinations and come up with melody, harmony, counterpoint and rhythm figures with only these three notes.

Only a small portion of Chargah is illustrated through these clues to the listener who has been familiarized with Chargah throughout the variations. The collage tries to be so diversified that it can show the distress aimed to deliver: being bound to three notes; and their awkward intervals: minor second followed by ab augmented second.

The harmonic possibilities these three notes give, are immediately clear that are of the highest levels of dissonant intervals:

C – DMinor Second (Minor Ninth, …) Major Seventh (Major Fifteenth, …)
D – FMinor Third Major Sixth
C FDiminished Fourth Augmented Fifth

Many combinations of these intervals make dissonant gestures, either in melody or harmony. These pitches, alongside the rhythmical and phrase structural diversifications aim to make Ternary Distress the highest point of tension, irregularity, humor and objective progress of all other establishments of other variations in this collection.

9- Irony

A new Chargah is exhibited in this piece by a minor change the scale and producing a seven note scale. The normal Chargah based on F♯ would be (each dash represents a half step):


Now, we try to cut the mode from its IV (B in the example) onwards and continue the “minor second + augmented second” order:


This new scale, looks like an ongoing Chargah modulation without being resolved on any particular Chargah and has seven degrees in the scale. This progress, is considered to be ironic to the mode and the piece attempts to create an anti-Chargah atmosphere.

Note that the whole bass line is written in an 8vb bass clef; which means the gap between the two voices is aimed to be big enough for the seven scale to actually prove itself through in the open position and to be heard more separately. The irony of the new mode is in the sense that it feels like certain pitches of two consequent Chargah modes are being skipped!

The piece has a fast tempo and its phrases are vaguely suggesting this architecture:

A + A’ + B + C

A” + B + C

10- Uprising

In this piece, I ostensibly quote a famous Chargah original piece. I have adopted the material by changing its keys, tempo and motifs. By presenting an “unaltered” statement of this sophisticated and celebrated folk tradition, I try to let its original voice be heard.

However, here, the famous theme is divided into twelve parts and each one simply transposes a half step. Because of the fast tempo of the piece, it is still possible to gain a feeling out of the transposing melody; but there is a special vertigo and dizziness quality to it.

The aim of Uprising is to put an end to all the irregularities and diversifications through the variations by using the simplest possible rhythmic pattern and also to encourage an uplifting feeling in the listener by ascending the mode step by step.

11- Descend

This piece is marking the end of the variations as a codetta. The slow and mid-range melodic movement is a reminder of the Awaz Theme and its contrasting theme, Mortal. These three slow vocal melodies mark the beginning, the center and the end of the set of variations. The role of this piece is like the role of a story teller who is concluding all the material and shows the basic motifs and elements discovered in these variations. The Foroud motif is hence, once again used to “descend” to Chargah and plays the role of a full cadence.

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