The history of Della goes back to 30 September 1937, when the writer Sampson Synor Mputa sent his isiXhosa poem, ‘Della’ to Lovedale Mission Press in Alice, South Africa, for musical setting. Some of the subsequent correspondence between Mputa, the Lovedale Director of Publications (Rev R.H.W. Shepherd), and Moerane, is preserved in the Lovedale Archive in Cory Library for Historical Research, Rhodes University, Grahamstown. Moerane was commissioned to set Mputa’s text to music, and Mputa gave permission that ‘unnecessary words may be altered’, offered to pay for the setting, and asked only that he be able to see it before it was published. Moerane ‘endeavoured to extract and adapt the little that is singable’, and on 4 February 1938 sent Shepherd his completed score of Della, to ‘words adapted from the “poem” of the same name by Mr. S.S. Mputa’. Shepherd charged Mputa £3 3s. in advance for the setting and Moerane waived all rights to royalties. The fee proved too steep for Mputa, however, and Shepherd returned the score to Moerane on 30 April 1938 without publishing it.
A handwritten manuscript of Della in the Library of the Southern African Music Rights Organisation (SAMRO) in Johannesburg, may be the 1937 score although when SAMRO published the song in dual notation in 2008 it differed in many ways from this manuscript and they don’t give the source of their publication. Della was prescribed for the National Inter-school choir competitions in 1969, which raises the possibility that Moerane reworked it in the 1960s. The middle section in the SAMRO version is contrapuntal while the middle section of the manuscript is syncopated, like the middle section of Moerane’s Sylvia. The new ACE version uses the manuscript as the copy text, not only because it seems more authoritative but also because the SAMRO version is published, prescribed and recorded. The new ACE version of Della is very useful for comparison, and in some ways more interesting. It has not yet been recorded, however, but an arrangement for solo voice and orchestra on YouTube of the SAMRO version gives a good idea how noble and impassioned the music is. In order to help choirs learn the new ACE version of Della, a free mp3 of the lyrics spoken by Nosipho Rapiya is downloadable when the song is purchased along with a rehearsal mp3 of the song at a slow tempo.
The audio sample below was generated from the Sibelius file of the score and the image on the right shows the first page of the score.