So Do You Play? (2014)
flute, oboe, bassoon, piano, violin, viola, and v'cello

Robert Morris

Program Notes

In 2013, Zuzanna Szewczyk Kwon asked a number of composers to consider writing pieces for children. This would not necessarily be music for children to play, but music to listen to. After pondering this request, I decided I would follow up an obvious idea that I had rejected many times before as essentially trivial. I would write a work that solved a Sudoku puzzle. The 9X9 number grid was interpreted to code the numbers 1-9 to the notes of the complement of the augmented chord (C C# D E F F# G# A Bb) (Messaien's mode III)). (I might eventually make an computer music version which distempers the scale into a 9-tone ETS.)

The project soon became non-trivial; I had to find a Sudoku grid that had special properties; rather than programing the generation of Sudoku grids on a computer (which would produce trillions of possibilities), I looked though the solution pages of books of Sudoku puzzles. The book "Killer Sudoku" by Will Shorts (just the right title for a "serial killer" piece) provided the right distributions in one of its 200 puzzles (#173).  Then I composed using a rondo form where the "A" theme was the puzzle, gradually being solved on each reprise; the first A has the unsolved puzzle Sudoku as found in the book (with a few small changes for musical reasons) and the last A has the grid filled completely filled in. The other parts of the rondo are 11 in number and swap or excerpt parts of the basic grid in various ways. These sections use each of the other 11 9-note set-classes (complements of {C C# D}, {C D Eb}, etc.) The pacing is also derived from the grid of #173.

The local rhythms are pretty even, sequences of mainly sixteenth-notes, so the piece grooves a bit; it also has odd moments of tonality here and there. The nine rows of the Sudoku puzzles are played by flute, oboe, bassoon, high, middle and low piano, vn, vla, and v'c. Another instrumentation for the woodwinds is Eb high clarinet, Bb clarinet, and Bass clarinet—the instrumentation of Schoenberg's Septet (opus 29), and Milton Babbitt's Septet but Equal) But the piece comes off like a scherzo lasting 4 and 1/2 minutes. Its name "rhymes" with Sudoku: "So do you play?"