Michael Mosoeu Moerane (1904-1980) was the most important composer in southern Africa writing in tonic solfa and staff notation and using predominantly African language texts. Moerane was born on 20 September 1904 in Mangoloaneng in the eastern Cape, close to the Lesotho border, into a distinguished family of healers, farmers, teachers, and lawyers. This included journalist and activist Manasseh Moerane and the future Epainette Mbeki (Moerane’s younger brother and sister). Former President Thabo Mbeki and Advocate Marumo Moerane are Moerane’s nephews. Education played a key role in the family’s background, as did a cultural heritage forged on both sides of the Lesotho-South Africa border. This heritage, together with a Western education and musical training, moulded Moerane’s compositional style through the course of almost 70 works written between the 1920s and 1970s. And yet, his reputation rests on only a handful. Through this research project, newly discovered works will be published online together with newly edited familiar ones, to create a unique repertoire of works that can finally receive due critical attention.
The Moerane family c.1918
(photo courtesy Norah Moerane and Mark Gevisser). Michael Moerane is third from the left.
Michael Mosoeu Moerane (1904-1980)
was the most important composer in southern Africa writing in tonic solfa and staff notation and using predominantly African language texts.
Moerane moved between Lesotho and the Cape all his life, hounded by the authorities in both countries because of his political activism, notably his fierce opposition to Bantu Education. He was a member of the Non-European Unity Movement in South Africa and Basutoland Congress Party in (then) Basutoland. He taught at Basutoland High School in Maseru, the Bantu High School in Queenstown, Mositise High School in Lesotho, Mfundisweni College of Education in Pondoland, and Peka High School in Lesotho, where he was VicePrincipal. In retirement, he lived in Tsifalimali, northern Lesotho, and taught at the new National Teachers’ Training College in Maseru. Moerane died on 27 January 1980 in hospital in Bloemfontein.
The subjects Moerane taught at school included English, Mathematics and Latin. Music was always an extra-mural activity. Moerane conducted various choirs and created a school orchestra, the African Springtime Orchestra, for which he taught all the instruments and wrote original music. Moerane was married to teacher Betty Beatrice Msweli and they had six children. The youngest, Thabo, was a classical and jazz pianist, who worked for much of his life at the United Nations in Geneva, returning home periodically to visit his father in Tsifalimali.
These works for unaccompanied choir have been prescribed countless times for African choral competitions, and sometimes been arranged and recorded. Moerane was against having his works recorded by the SABC for broadcast only on Radio Bantu, and therefore few recordings of his choral works exist in the SABC sound archive in Johannesburg. So far, then, recordings are not a major feature of this reclamation project. Competitions are vital cultural spaces for the production and reception of new African compositions in tonic sofa. Moerane could perfectly well have written his music in staff notation, but Bantu Education ensured that the majority of teachers trained in music (who are the majority of composers and choir conductors), never learnt it. Thus his music has had wide exposure in what is globally a limited field. Ironically, Fatse la Heso remains more or less unknown in southern Africa’s (African) competition culture, while Moerane’s choral works remain more or less unknown in its (European) concert culture
They are sifting through the work of this enigmatic composer and gathering material through interviews, literature reviews, and document collection, transcription, translation, and analysis. Through the painstaking critical editing of all the scores, Moerane’s entire repertoire will finally become known, and the extent of his originality revealed. Through ancillary work that examines the contexts of his music and the genres it represents, new interpretations of this large area of African composed music will also be interrogated. The Moerane Critical Edition is envisaged as the beginning of a major critical edition project that will unfold over the coming years, covering many other composers, exposing major areas for future
research, and preserving an important South African heritage in a scholarly and accessible way. Works will gradually be displayed online in a site that shows supporting documentation which sheds light on different aspects of the work. Online users will be able to interface with the edition online. Its creation will be open to calls through social media for people to contribute material and information, thus helping to build, in effect, a new ‘social’ website for African music.
Digital critical editions of music are common cause internationally, but this is a first in southern Africa, or indeed Africa. It has been developed in partnership with Moerane family members, whose
support is greatly appreciated.
Outcomes of the research will be digitally displayed scores, recordings, and documents, as well as higher degrees and concomitant publications. In addition, the research has commercial potential through the new performance and recording possibilities the edition will open up. Another unusual aspect of the project is that team members share their research material. Common practice in the natural sciences, this is rare in the humanities. The fruits of the project should inspire performers, encourage further research on the material, and position it squarely in the growing field of South African music research.
Christine Lucia has gathered together a team of researchers that includes Mokale Koapeng and Ignatia Madalane, masters students Zayne Upton ad Kgaugelo Mpiyane, research assistant Mpho Ndebele, and postdoctoral fellow Marc Röntsch.more
Dr Christine Lucia is Extraordinary Professor in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at Stellenbosch University, a non-salaried post she held from 2009 to 2014 while based in the Music Department and now holds one again, at the Africa Open Institute. Before she retired in 2007, Lucia was Professor and Head of Music Departments at Wits, Rhodesmore
Moerane studied towards a BMus at the University of South Africa, for ten years. Only in his final year, 1941, did he receive formal tuition in orchestration and composition, from Friedrich Hartmann at Rhodes University. The outcome of this was Fatshe la Heso(My Country, 1941), a 10-minute orchestral tone poem based on Lesotho folksongs. Premiered in England in 1944, it remains one of few orchestral works written by an African South African composer, and will be published here for the first time.
Only in the final year of his BMus degree (1941), did he receive some formal tuition, for the composition of an orchestral work, through Rhodes University College. The outcome of this was Fatse la Heso (My Country, 1941), a 10-minute orchestral tone poem based on Lesotho folksongs. Premiered in England in 1944, it remains one of few orchestral works written by an African South African composer, and will be published here for the first time