Sudoku pour Pygmées

Jean Derome

  • Year of composition: 2010
  • Duration: 18:17
  • Instrumentation: baritone saxophone and flute, tenor saxophone and clarinet, violin, trumpet, bass clarinet, electric guitar, piano, double bass and drum kit
  • Commission: Upstream Orchestra, with support from the CCA


ISRC CAA4J1810028

  • 44,1 kHz, 16 bits

In memory of Paul Cram (1952-2008)

Sudoku pour Pygmées was composed in March and April 2010 and is based on the Sudoku puzzle in Le Devoir on 26 February, 2010.

Every Sudoku puzzle proposes an ideal contrapuntal structure, a perfect polyphony where all lines work together and where, in each line, values never repeat themselves. Each Sudoku line and square contains 45 units that I divided into 5 groups of 9. I then gave each number a note and rhythmic value.

For horizontal lines, the nine selected notes are in treble clef and form a minor pentatonic scale that starts on Middle C. For the vertical lines, the nine selected notes are in bass clef and form an A-major diatonic scale. The notes in Sections A and B together comprise the twelve notes of the chromatic scale.

Some sections of the piece present notes from A as inversions of their equivalent in B. Other sections (based on the nine squares) are taken as a block and are more bruitiste in nature. The nine selected notes propose an extension of A into the higher register by way of four notes from the whole-tone scale, and an extension of B into the lower register by way of a pentatonic mode reminiscent of Balinese pelog.

I composed nine canons, with each Sudoku line serving as a point of departure. Each canon is introduced on a different instrument in each section, while another player is featured as an improvising soloist.

In fact, it is misleading to describe these as canons, since players do not play each successive line as in a conventional canon. Each has but a single line to play per section, and sticks to it as an actor may play a single character in a theatrical work. All of the lines are equal, unique, and independent, and the beauty of the work resides in their alignment — musical relationships that bring to mind social or political ones.

I never tire of hearing these various ‘canons,’ which take different forms each time, like constellations in the night sky or flowers that each day bloom differently before our bedazzled eyes.

The introduction to Sudoku pour Pygmées is a chorale composed from nine short fragments in four voices. When the melody is in the C-minor pentatonic scale, the other three parts are in the A-major diatonic scale, and vice versa.

The tenor of the piece and the choice of pentatonic scales invokes Pygmy vocal music: the weaving of polyphony, rhythmic urgency, and the independence of different lines. Theirs is a joyful and wise music that has always fascinated me, and this Sudoku is my way to pay homage to these fabulous musicians.


Sudoku pour Pygmées was composed for A Love Upstream and premiered 14 May, 2010, at St Mary’s University Art Gallery, Halifax, to celebrate Upstream’s 20th Anniversary.