ČAHĀRMEŻRĀB, a genre of traditional rhythmic instrumental music. Its name suggests four (čahār) consecutive strokes of the plectrum (meżrāb) on a string. The use of the plectrum in Persian stringed instruments is based on the opposition between right (rāst, marked A in modern transcription) and left (čap, marked V), or between up and down; the classical formulas of Čahārmeżrāb based on this opposition consist of rhythmic patterns (also called pāya) performed at a fast tempo with specific combinations of rāst and čap strokes, for example, A A V A A V, which is the pattern covering the widest span of those in common use. As there is no classical pattern consisting of four strokes, however, it may be assumed that the term Čahārmeżrāb originates from this basic pattern, taking into account only the four A strokes, which are louder than the Vs. In the classical instrumental repertory (radīf) Čahārmeżrāb is often found with this pattern or its variation A V A A V in a 6/16 measure introducing a dastgāh, or mode (mainly Rāst-panjgāh, Homāyūn, Navā, Čahārgāh, Segāh) or as a sequence in an important subsection, or gūša (Ḥeṣār, Bīdād, Bayāt-e Kord, ʿOššāq, etc.). In this academic context its duration may vary between ten seconds and one minute. Its melodic profile is simple, extremely regular and symmetrical, consisting of a regular progression up and down the basic scale, repeating the same motif on different levels of the scale. It is often characterized by continuous sound of a pedal or drone below the melodic line, which may eventually drop below it. Despite this simple melodic form, some Čahārmeżrābs call for very complex work with the plectrum (on the setār called meżrāb or nāḵon “nail”) to add subtle grace notes to the basic pattern. The best-known example is the Čahārmeżrāb-e Māhūr of Darvīš Khan for the setār, arranged by Abu’l-Ḥasan Ṣabā.
Čahārmeżrāb has become an important genre in free performances, whether classical or modernized, and its form has undergone profound evolution in the 20th century: The stroke patterns have been extended and adapted to the specific technical capabilities of each stringed instrument (tār, setār, santūr); the rhythmic formulas are no longer restricted to 6/16, though it is still the main type; the tempo may be slower, sometimes close to that of reng; the specific pattern of plectrum strokes is not necessarily obvious throughout the piece, so that Čahārmeżrābs can also be played on the kamāṇča (bowed instrument) and the ney (flute; this adaptation has been developed over the last forty years by the master Ḥasan Kasāʾī). The most elaborated modern forms of Čahārmeżrāb are those of the contemporary santūr master Farāmarz Pāyvar, some of them called Semeżrāb. The melodic form may be much freer than in the Čahārmeżrābs of the radīf; in fact, in contrast to the latter, most modern forms may be accompanied by drum, or tonbak/żarb. Nor is the modern Čahārmeżrāb restricted to a few gūšas or the introduction to a mode (darāmad); it can be performed in almost any context (gūša, āvāz, or dastgāh). In modern arrangements of the radīf (Ṣabā, Šahnāzī) all the modal systems are provided with introductions in Čahārmeżrāb, whereas formerly only the dastgāhs mentioned above were introduced in this way. The Čahārmeżrāb is often arranged by the performer himself or partly improvised.
In spite of these developments Čahārmeżrāb has preserved some of its traditional characteristics. It is a solo virtuoso piece requiring a specific technique and usually occurs at the beginning of a dastgāh or a main gūša, never at the end; its melody is generally simple, with much repetition and transposition; and its function is to relieve the tension generated by the nonmeasured melodies (āvāz) or to introduce a mode by presenting the tones of its scale. It can be performed accompanied by a żarb or, in recent times, by several instruments.
Čahārmeżrāb is also found in the Azerbaijan classical tār tradition (moqām, maqām), sometimes called Gošāmeżrāb. It includes about twenty different rhythmic and meżrāb patterns and still follows the original style, characterized by simplicity and symmetry in the melodic line.
M. Bahārlū, Ketāb-e šešom-e mūsīqī-e Īrān. Bīst o hašt qaṭʿa čahārmeżrāb-e kelāsīk dar davāzdah āvāz wa tārīḵča o šenāsāʾī-e form-e ān, Tehran, n.d. N. Caron and D. Safvate, Iran, les traditions musicales, Paris, 1966, pp. 151-55.
J. During, La musique iranienne. Tradition et évolution, Paris, 1984, pp. 149-53.
M. Maʿrūfī, Radīf-e haft dastgāh-e mūsīqī-e Īrān/Les systèmes de la musique traditionnelle de l’Iran [radif], Tehran, 1352 Š./1973.
F. Pāyvar, Sī qaṭʿa čahārmeżrāb barā-ye santūr, Tehran, 1351 Š./1972.
E. Zonis, Classical Persian Music, Cambridge, Mass., 1973, pp. 131-35.
Originally Published: December 15, 1990
Last Updated: December 15, 1990
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Vol. IV, Fasc. 6, p. 630