Whenever I read of Marlow’s journey on the impenetrable Congo River and his descriptions of the massive entity of nature that surrounds him in Heart of Darkness, the music found above always plays on loop. (Up to 4:20. Right before the soloist comes in. What he sings about is much too happy and joyous for this book. Really. The name of his role is Father Estaticus.) The excerpt, from Mahler Symphony No.8’s second movement, has an aura mystery about it, just as the river does.
The slow, heavy tempo utilized throughout the excerpt characterizes the the gloomy, ominous nature of the Marlow’s journey. The string’s pizzicato reminds me of ripples making themselves known on the river’s surface. The winds and brass going down in a chromatic scale every so often and eventually modulating to a lower key when the chorus sings their second verse (3:06) not only solidifies the idea of journey’s ominous nature, but the fact that the modulation occurs towards of the end of this part of the movement parallels the progression of Marlow’s journey. It gets increasingly ominous as the steamer travels deeper and deeper down the river. The whispering chorus, doubled by the pizzicato strings appears to be most powerful component of this excerpt. The chorus acts as the anchorites, or religious recluses from society, which along with their ghastly whisper gives them an otherworldly appearance similar to Conrad’s portrayal of the natives amidst bushes alongside the river. Additionally, their text is powerful as well. Translated from the orignal German:
Forest, that sways here, Rocks that weigh down on it, Roots that cling,
Trunks dense on trunks. Wave sprays over wave,
The deepest cave shields us. Lions that creep silently Tame about us,
Honour the sacred place,
The holy shrine of Love.
The references to nature, especially those pertaining to the forest, gives the chorus a likeness to the wildlife surrounding the river. The massive collection of forest, the rocks that weigh down on it, the roots that cling, and the trunks dense on trucks gives that sense of impenetrable nature found alongside the river. While speaking of the river, there is even mention of a water source in the lyrics at “wave after wave splashes.” Additionally, the lions who stalk silently can be connected to Africa’s Western European colonizers.