The concept of the Modern Hungarian Oriental Music

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1. The concept of the Modern Hungarian Oriental Music
1.1. Formal rules
1.2. Formal structure
1.3. Summary

2. Tonal rules
2.1. Notes and modes
2.2. The microtonic notes

3. Rules of melodic variation
3.1. Variation I.
3.2. Variation II.
3.3. Polar variation
3.4. The way from one note to the other

4. Notation

5. Interpretation and "comprovising"
6. Sacred character and quality

1. Concept of the Moderm Hungarian Oriental Music

The rules of the concept can be divided into two main groups:

Formal rules and Tonal rules

The formal rules provide the music's architecture, but it also provides the performer with some freedom for expression. The tonal rules provide the music with the methods of the building process of its inner cells for creating the architecture of the piece. In performance interperetation, the melodic development is somewhat similar to the Persian/Arabic maqams; though it deviates at more points. In the Modern Hungarian Oriental Music, trichords, tetrachords, or larger parts of the scales are combined and varied in a linear way. This is a typical Oriental property of the music.
Depending on types, the modes to be used may be pentatonic, diatonic, and even chromatic/atonal scales.

1.1 Formal rules

The performed piece is actually a highly organized and refined improvisation. The length of the piece can be different depending on the circumstances and the intention of the player. Usually, the shorter pieces are three to four minutes long; while the longer ones can be 15-20 minutes in duration. The longer pieces consist of parts which are about one minute in duration. This bears some similarity to the Uyghur maqams where the pieces consist of 6 or 12 shorter parts like a suite. There are some dividing intermissions between the parts; usually 10-12 seconds. This structure provides a sense of the performer introducing some short songs in a well-collected sequence, thus creating an arch for the architecture. The adjacent variations diverge in mode, tempo, character, and rhythm. Within this structure, the piece will remain perspicuous and maintains audience interest and excitement.

1.2. A formal structure

The Modern Hungarian Oriental Music starts with an introduction. This creates the basic mood and character of the piece. The majority of the rules apply to the introduction.

I. Introduction

I.1. Variation in the lower octave: The piece starts with a variation of two or more trichords, tetrachords, or perhaps pentachords as an introduction using several variations. The variation of the half-scales can happen in many ways. In the ancient Oriental musiciality there was always an important concern with the comology. That is why some important notes of the scale was dedicated to the main orbs. This principle is used in this music system. The main note, the tonal note of the scale is the Terra-note, and two other notes are dedicated to the Moon and the Sun as Lunar-note and Solar-note. The performer has to circumscribe it by using the surrounding notes.
The tempo of the introduction is always slow and has a free parlando, rubato rhythm. In this second section, the music expresses the unity of the sound and silence. Like in Persian maqams, silences of a few seconds in duration provide space in the process of the circimscribes waiting for the decay of the longer notes or the reverb of the church. In the introduction, the number of the different circumscribes can be 3-4-5-6; depending on the intention of the performer. The variations happens in the lower half of the scale, which will be discussed later.

I.2. Variation in the upper octave: After finishing the variation in the lower octave, there are similar variations found in the upper half of the octave. The duration of the variation in the upper octave is approximately the same.
The name of the main note in the upper octave is called the Solar note. The position of Solar and Lunar notes are determined in the period of the day. This will be explaned in detail in a separate study.
Depending on the tonal variation being utilized, if there are more scales in the piece, the performer should introduce the other scale similarly right after this variation; thus introducing both halves of the piece. This can occur in the same octave or in another octave.

The circumscribing of the Lunar, Terra, and Solar notes, builds small cells in the musical architecture. The cells create a higher level in this architecture.

I.3. Creating a bridge: After introducing the two halves of the scale or scales, the performer has to build a bridge, which consists of notes of both halves of the scale. This melodic creature shows and suggests that the previous part is closed, and a new one will follow. The bridge can be created freely with no specific rules. The only important point is that it should have a distinguishing character for division, which is used to separate the variational second section. In building the bridge, some foreign notes may be utilized; even chromatic notes. While the bridge is being played, the performer can generate a transitory modulation. It can also be a chromatic/atonal melody. The linking bridge can be varied in two or three versions with some silence separating the different versions.

These short intermissions, six to eight seconds in duration, help the listener to work up to the music, and to absorb and internalize what has just transpired. These silences also help the performer to prepare the next chapter of the piece. Silence is very important in the Modern Hungarian Oriental Music. The silent passages and the music itself are of equal importance. The rhythm is free in this part and the tempo is slow.

I.4. The range of the variations: Playing of the tetrachords can extend into other octaves. To maintain correct proportions, the variations may ascend and descend in the same extent in all octaves being utilized.

I.5. A longer silence after the variations of the full scale and the bridge. After the variations of the full scale and the bridge, there should be a longer silence to divide the next part properly. This silence is about 10 seconds.

I.6. Free variation: After the previous section, the performer may create a variation of all the scales introduced in the previous part(s), including the bridge. It is important to create logical relationships within the inner elements. To create symmetries, reflections, questions and answers with ornatmentation found in Hungarian folk singing, the Indian ragas, or Persian/Arabic maqams.

After this section, a new scale may be introduced. If the performer chooses this version, the tonal mode should be different and the Terra note should also be different. In this way a modulation will occur.

With the previously described components, the Introduction is finished. The performer leaves a longer passage of silence of 10 to 12 seconds, indicating that a new part of the maqam is impending.

II. Rhythm and Rhythmic development

II.1. Rhythmic development: The next section is for the development of a characteristic melody in a rhytmic structure. In this section, there are no rules for the movements inside the scales; nor are there main or required notes. This section establishes rhythmic development. For example, the melody may even be an old Hungarian folksong which is related to the modes in the introduction. Folk songs with a cycle of fifths structure are very suitable for this section, because it is in a direct relationship with the principle of the variation with tetrachords and with the tonal axis principle; in other words, the Tonic-Dominant relationship.
II.2. Meter of the Rhythm: The melody can deviate a little from the introduced mode, but it should not be totally different. The rhythm can be odd or duple: 2/4, 3/4, 4/4, 5/8, 7/8, 9/8, 11/8, etc.

II.3. Introduction of percussion: After introducing the melody and the rhythm, percussion can enter. Up to this point, the architecture of the form is very similar to Indian ragas.

II.4. Further possible directions of development: After a 10-12 second silence, the development of the maqam may go in two different directions:

a. A totally free improvisation, maintaining the mood of the piece. This path is for only for more advanced maqam practitioners.

b. The melodic theme may return.

III. Ending

The ending begins after a significantly longer silence of 8- 10 seconds, and should be about half the duration of the introduction. Its content may be similar to the introduction, but reversed: the structure of the piece now should begin to diminish. This stands in contrast to the introduction which was expository and served to build and expand the maqam.

1.3. Summary

The preceding rules describe a quite free, but controlled, method of melodic variations. After a while, the application of the system becomes instinctive in the performer.

These formal rules make the structure stronger and yet perspicuitive; creating a typical aesthetic system.
These rules apply primarily to the form. The tonal freedom is by comparison quite complex, as will be shown in the next chapter.

2. Tonal rules

The tonal rules describe how the player may use scales in the developing process of the piece. The main principle is: the diatonic symmetries found within a scale should be arranged to a different and higher level of symmetry. The notes of the scale are given and the player should apply the tonal rules to illustrate the possible characters of the mood of the given modes. The methods to achieve this are determined by the player. There are fewer rules, and thus easier to learn and apply them. An abundance of rules would restrict the performer, and result in the music not being so living and organic.

The Modern Hungarian Oriental Music is related to contemporary classical music. Based on old traditions, built on tonal and formal rules, it aspires to perfection and refinement; yet is a living musical practice. The performer can show his skill and personality in the maqam.
The concept is an open system at many points, which allows for continuous development.

2.1. Notes and modes

The Modern Hungarian Oriental Music can be constructed of any scales, including the chromatic/atonal scales. Especially the atonal scales which were beloved by Bartók.

Like the half step-whole step-half step: C C# D# E F# G A A# C
the whole step-half step-whole step: C D D# F F# G# A B C
the half step -minor third-half step: C C# E F G# A C
the minor third-half step -minor third: C D# E G G# B C

We can create exotic synthetic scales by removing any of the notes of the half-whole-half scale. The following example omits the 8th degree in an 8-note scale.
Example: before: C C# D# E F# G A A# C
After: C C# D# E F# G A C

The half step-minor third-half step scales may also be augmented by adding one more note; this results in a more tonal sound.

We can create the modal serial of the afore mentioned scales and thus produce even more scales.


The number of possible modes are very high in Oriental music, but even more so in Indian classical music. There are prefered scales and modes specific to different countries. The Modern Hungarian Oriental provides for synthesys between cultures, yet all the while asserting the possiblities of its elements with a refined taste as in all the classic styles. It blends West with East, but does so according to the historical tradition, the incompatibility of foreign cultures, and the variables of interpretation. That is why the minor pentatonoc scale and its modes are the most important building elements of the Modern Hungarian Oriental Music.

2.2. Microtonic notes

Within Oriental musics, especially Indian classical music, the Persian-Arabic maqams use the non-tempered music systems. The differences between tempered and non-tempered notes are the microtonical intervals (SRUTI, COMMA).
The Modern Hungarian Oriental Music uses microtonical intervals but not so much as in the turkish or arabic maqams.. The most often used microtonic interval is 25 cents, defined as 1/4 of a half step, or "quarter-tones." Sometimes other intervalic values may be employed, but this concept does not impose restrictions of the usage of microtonical notes, like in the Turkish maqams.

3. Rules of melodic variation

The Modern Hungarian Oriental Music does not contain too many or overly-complicated rules. That few that do exist create a magical way of creation, one which cannot be compared to any music culture of arranging notes into a whole music performance.

Melodic variations in the Modern Hungarian Oriental Music:

There are many ways to develop the melody in different variations. Here are two variation types which are easy to use. The second is somewhat unusual in the Oriental music, but so much the more interesting.

I. Dividing the scales into two halves and variations by cisrcumscribing the main notes (Lunar-Terra-Solar notes)

The Lunar and Solar notes as the centrum of the cirsumscribing are chosen by the performer. The tonal note, the Terra, is specified by the mode.

II. Using center notes (symmetrical center) and building the melody by symmetrical steps.

3.1. Variation I.

1. Combining two tetrachords as in the Arabic maqams. However, in the Modern Hungarian Oriental Music, the terachords do not have individual names. The tetrachords are named by the points of the compass. The lower terachord is called South, the upper is called North.

South North

2. In another version, four different tetrachords are used and they extend to two octaves. In this case, the two other terachords are the East and the West: The lower terachord is East, the upper is North. In this variation, the tetrachords can change like the tiles of a mosaic.

C D E F G A Bb C
South North
G Ab B C D Db F# G
East West

The Modern Hungarian Oriental Music is a polymodal music.

3.2. Variation II.

The second group achieves another possible alternative of the variation. The variation is built around one or two center notes. In this case, the center note is not a tonal note; it is rather a symmetrical center. In this variation, there are no specific scales or tetrachords. The performer can build melodies in alternating descending and ascending directions, while maintaining the same intervalic symmetries in both directions.

The main rule is that it is only possible to build the notes by using the same intervals in both down and up directions. The directions alternate and the result will be a symmetric melody line.

1. The same intervals are in both the ascending and descending directions:

F G A Bb C D D# F G

2. The same intervals are in the ascending and descening directions, but using different intervals.

F G A B C D D# F G
G Ab B C C# E F

Example: the second variation's intervalic structure is shown in half-steps, thus illustrating the symmetry:

2 2 1 2 2 1 2 2
1 3 1 1 3 1

In the next section, the polar variation will be introduced, which involves two different center notes.

3.3. Polar variation

1. The polar variation is similar to the preceding examples, yet involves two central notes in a fixed interval.

F# G A Bb C D E F G G#

The intervals are shown in half-steps. The symmetry is obvious:

1 2 1 2 1 2 1

The following variation is doubled by using different intervals. The variations are played alternately.

2. In this version, four different symmetrical parts may be built around the central notes:

F# G A Bb C D E F G G#
Db D E F G G# A# B

The intervals are shown in half-steps, and the symmetries can be seen:

1 2 2 2 2 2 1
1 2 1 2 1 2 1

The Modern Hungarian Oriental Music piece may be short and simple, or it may be long and complicated. The different variations introduced above can be combined freely.

3.4. The way from one note to the other one

The Hungarian Oriental Music is based on the Oriental tonal system, where the mood and the tension is hidden in the way a note starts and arrives at the other note. It is this method which is most important. This means that most of the notes exist only in the moment and then they are moving continously. The transitions of the notes sound like ornamentations, but their function is in fact more than this. It shows the different shades of a mood carried by the notes and trace out a more organic feeling. The oldest Hungarian folk singing contains the same property. In the Hungarian Oriental Music, the note does not only start and decay, but it lives and moves.

4. Notation

The Modern Hungarian Oriental Music is never written note by note. We can notate only its structure, the scales, the applied variations, symmetries, and some instructions for interpretation. A detailed notation makes the maqam ridgid and frozen. If we write a maqam into a score note by note, from that point it can be interpreted but not personilized. Interpreting a written piece provides a different result when compared to a creative improvised performance. The goal is not to read the music or imitate someone's playing; much rather to recall a mood and personalise the inner character hidden in the piece.

5. Interpretation-"comprovising"

The musician playing a maqam improvises, and in this way, personalizes the piece. This creative way of playing is not a simple interpretation; this is a spontaneous composing. We could use the world "comprovisation" combining the composition and the improvisation. The freedom of the improvisation, the spontenaity combined with the applied rules demand and create a different kind of musician. The player makes the music live and breathe.
In a solo instrumental piece, the spontaneous interpretation is a very important aesthetic quality. In western classical music, the composer fills a different role: the piece is written very precisely note by note with many instructions for interpretation in performance. In the music academy, musicians are trained to read the music perfectly and continously. So they have only a very small field where they can shape the music in the interpretation. In performing the Modern Hungarian Oriental Music, the musician takes part in the creative process of the music in person using the rules and applying a kind of spontenous creativity. The result is a personal, intimate piece which cannot be repeated; only recalled yet always in a differing way.

6. Brief summary of the other applicated composing methods in the Modern Hungarian Oriental Music

The Modern Hungarian Oriental Music project creates a bridge between the Oriental tradítion and the modern contemporary way of composing. The following methods as a concept are used:

1. Using all possible traditional modal music scales in the traditional way
2. Creating bipolar and tripolar tonality inside a scale
3. Using mathematical approaches in the melodic variations
4. Using distance symmetries in the melodic variations
5. Using synthetic scales
6. Creating modes by exchanging the tetrachords of different scales
7. Extending the modulation to all 12 keys
8. Extending the music to pentonality (chromaticism)
9. Extended use of variation of the above methods
10. Improvisation in the above methods

Conscious use of these methods as compositional tools together, with the intuitive and fertilizing improvisation, creates a new approach in the contemporary and Oriental music.