COVID in Music
Simaku’s Catena III, “Corona”

The piece opens with a crash that quickly fades away. This is Albanian-British composer Thomas Simaku’s piano work Catena III–Corona. A product of the first lockdown that started in March 2020, when about half the world’s population had to stay at home, Catena III–Corona begins by exploring the contrasts of the world we are confined to.

Thomas Simaku, 2018

Thomas Simaku, 2018

The core of the work comes from that opening crash and its syncopated rhythm that, at once, puts everything in motion. It’s vigorous but unsettled, reflecting our own exploration of the walls that contained us – would we have the wherewithal to wait? To take care of our health? To keep from becoming stir-crazy?

The second section is faster, based on an asymmetrical rhythmic pattern of 7 + 7 + 7 + 4, which is both its own distinct rhythm and an extension of the opening syncopated figure.

The rhythm of the syncopated figure, elaborated and reshaped, is present throughout the piece – by its very nature of syncopation, its inflection changes, its points of emphasis change, and it drives the contrapuntal section.

Catena III, however, redefines chains. Written between 2020 and 2022, the work is a personal reflection by Simaku on ‘the devastating effect’ of the pandemic. It’s not programmatic, but we are cheered by the last minutes of the piece, which starts with chops in the lower register but ascends, still contrapuntally, to an optimism that even the last note cannot dispel.

Thomas Simaku: Catena III, “Corona” (Dimitri Vassilakis, piano)

The Catena series by Simaku started in 2019 with Catena I for solo piano. Catena, the Latin word for ‘chain,’ creates its links through ‘networks of relationships’ of both repeated notes and ‘chain-like’ sonorities later in the work. The five highly contrasting movements are played without a break and its highly contrapuntal construction explores both the capabilities of the piano and the elements of colour, dynamics, and texture. In the last movement, all the chains are broken.

Catena II, as a 6-movement work, played without pause. Written in 2019–20 and dedicated to the pianist Dimitry Vassilakis, Catena II continues the idea of chains started in the first Catena work that also explores the possibilities of the piano.

Think back to your first days at home – the angular restlessness of constraint, the feverish analysis of one’s ability to be alone, or if it were better mentally to construct your ‘pod’ of safe friends to associate with. One can only take so many naps, take up so many hobbies, and clean out so many closets. We wanted to be good, but we wanted it to be over. That it took two years of patient (or impatient) waiting is testimony to so many peoples’ good sense. The people who took chances often found that their choice had a price.

The chains that surround us can be the networks that keep us together or the constraints that keep us in place. Or they can be the link to get us to the next spot. What are your chains?

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