Here is the first scale-of-the-day, and this is a pattern I heard used in a composition by Australian oud player, Joseph Tawadros, when he performed recently at Government House in Sydney. It was an original composition of his, and he told me that it used a traditional Egyptian mode.
Well, of course, this pattern has nothing Western about it, with those two augmented seconds, and subsequent consecutive semitones.
Play through the triads based on the first four notes of the scale: you get C Major, D flat major, E minor and F minor. But just where you would expect to find a dominant chord if you were listening with Western ears, there is a complete absence of anything that resembles the harmonic function fulfilled by a dominant chord. That D flat turns it into a chord without any dominance at all.
The way Joseph used the mode was fabulous: the harmonic centres seesawed from the major-inflected tonic to the assuredly minor subdominant, and much time in the tonic position was spent spinning around on the axis the tonic provides to the upper and lower semitones (D flat and B). Highly energising.
As I frequently find to be the case with the patterns I enjoy the sound of, this is a physical delight to play on D, in this instance because of its perfect symmetry:
And I noticed this pattern in Joseph Tawadros’ composition because I’ve used this same pattern (but on the 4th degree) in music I composed for the recently released P Plate Piano series I did with the Australian Music Examination Board. My piece was called Sad Farmer, it’s in P Plate Piano Book One (so ©AMEB) and it starts like this:
[Needless to say, in P Plate Piano we don’t explain anything about the theory of the scale, but students are encouraged to experiment with different black notes until they can make a happy farmer!]
I have no idea what this pattern is called in traditional Egyptian music theory, or if this pattern exists in a myriad of other musical cultures (I’m sure it does). But in terms of our western ears those two augmented seconds create the impression of a surfeit of exoticism. Remember how exciting a harmonic minor scale sounded the first time you learned how to play it? This scale doubles the frisson, magnifies the sensation of participating in something quite wonderful and utterly other.
So what to name it, from a western listener’s perspective? The term “Double Harmonic”, I think, would be easily understood on first listening, but does the word “Harmonic” really have an equivalence with the inclusion of the augmented 2nd?
Meantime, there are other patterns one can make with two augmented seconds in a 7 note scale, so maybe using a generic term such as “Double Harmonic” should be restricted to the class, not the species?
So what do you think? How does it sound when you play it? And how does it feel? Have you tried it contrary motion on D??!! And what would you suggest we think about calling it?