Michael Mosoeu Moerane

Something to read, and something to listen to. 

Michael Mosoeu Moerane (1904-1980) was born in Mangoloaneng, a village in the district of the Eastern Cape of South Africa. His father, descended from a long line of Basotho chiefs, was an emissary for the Basotho royal family and an evangelist for the Paris Evangelical Missionary Society. 

For his higher education, Moerane attended the South African Native College.  At the time, SANC was the only place in southern Africa where Africans could obtain a Senior Certificate or a University Matriculation Certificate, which was their access to a professional job. Another SANC alum was Nelson Mandela. 

After reviving his certificate, Moerane got a job at a high school, met his wife and started a family. In 1931, he started part-time study via correspondence at Rhodes University College, a satellite campus of the University of South Africa, which was the only university offering distance learning and therefore accessible to a black student. He completed the B.Mus. degree in 1941, studying with Austrian composer Friedrich Hartmann. 

Moerane had begun composing short a cappella choral works during the late 1920s or early 1930s, and two of these were published in 1938: "Liphala" and "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen (an arrangement of the American song)." In 1936, in an homage to Schumann, he wrote a set of piano pieces called Album for the Young. The piece to listen to today is one he wrote  as a student for his final exam in composition in 1941, a 10-minute orchestral symphonic poem based on Sotho themes called Fatše la Heso (My Country). According to the composer, “it is built mainly around three traditional African themes - a war song, a work song and a lullaby” and it was accompanied by what he called “a more or less adequate analysis”. 

Only approximately 10-15 pieces were known during his lifetime. In 2014, another 35 were discovered, including seven more arrangements of spirituals. There are still at least 20 missing works, including choral works and several short pieces for his ensemble, the 'African Springtime Orchestra'. This orchestra came about when he received  a donation of a small collection of orchestral instruments. The bulk of its members were his family, who played strings, flute, clarinet, trumpet, and trombone.  

Moerane’s political activism eventually got him in trouble with the the National Party, forcing him into early retirement.  His son Thuso was a political activist as well. Moerane taught a number of Queenstown's jazz musicians. Although he always thought of himself as a “classical” musician and disapproved of the “immorality and liquor associated with jazz,” his children were influenced by their jazz musician neighbours. His eldest son Mofelehetsi joined a jazz group as a vocalist, and was subsequently banished to another city to continue his education. After his forced retirement, Moerane helped to establish the new music department at Lesotho Teachers Training College.  He has been increasingly regarded as a key figure in South African composition since his death. #blackcomposers #AfricanComposers