Heart of Darkness


Map of the Congo

Heart of Darkness is a novella by Joseph Conrad which has stimulated a number of later spin-offs in cinema, drama and literature. The story centres on a young European who embarks on a search for a European trader who has "gone native" and become worshipped by the inhabitants.

In taking the novella as my inspiration, I have simplified the storyline to become a consideration of colonialism. As such there are a number of elements. Firstly, there is the idea of a grand European power, represented by the opening maestoso theme, an anthem of sorts.


The targeted colony is represented by two elements: a river, which is the lifeblood of the target country, and the indigenous population. The river has two themes of its own. The first is a simple 5 note motif which recurs throughout the piece in various guises, but its simplicity and power is always there, in a juxtaposition of a G minor chord (concert pitch) and its Db major antithesis. The power of the river, fast-flowing and dangerous, is represented by an uneven non-scalic semiquaver sequence, which again takes many guises throughout the course of the piece.


The second aspect of the would-be colony, its population, is represented by a simple melodic theme with equally simple harmonic underpinning. There is however quite a complex rhythmic accompaniment based on a "bell rhythm".


In my version of this story the slow central section of the piece represents the thought processes of someone coming face to face with the realities of a strange land, and the horrors which have been inflicted on it in the name of colonialism.

The section is predominantly slow with dark harmonies and wistful solos around the band. These are interspersed with triplet fanfares harking back to the accompaniments of the opening anthem.

The piece then moves into a development section in which all the thematic material is presented again in different formats with increasing ferocity and complexities of rhythmic and melodic material. Ultimately in this musical version the powerful European colonising force loses out, but the interplay of the two cultures leads to a final section in which the river and population themes become more westernised as a result of the interactions.
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