Fatše La Heso (My Country)

Michael Mosoeu Moerane (1904-1980) wrote Fatše La Heso in 1941 in the Eastern Cape of South Africa, to fulfil a 4th-year Bachelor of Music degree requirement at Rhodes University College. A live performance was not a requirement, and the first performance seems to have been the one given by the BBC Symphony Orchestra in 1944, in Bedford, England (Slocomb 1964; Huskisson 1969, 157). This was followed by performances in Manchester, New York, and Paris, with the work’s South African premiere apparently only taking place in 1973. In 1966, Moerane sent his original manuscript to Percival Kirby, who deposited it in the Rhodes University Library (Moerane 1958, 1966a, 1966b, 1968; Kirby 1966a, 1966b). It is now housed in the Rhodes Cory Library for Historical Research, MS 14 467 (Moerane 1941).

Moerane gave this 10-minute work, his only orchestral work, a Sesotho title and an English translation, Fatše La Heso (My Country), and subtitled it, ‘symphonic poem’. The work is based on what he calls ‘thematic material derived from genuine African songs’ (Moerane 1941, [3]). The first theme is based on a ‘warrior song of my country’, the second on a theme ‘used by the reapers as they thresh the corn’, and the third is derived from a ‘cradle-song’ (Ibid). A fourth theme, a ‘hymn’, binds the texture as the work unfolds. Some idea of the themes Moerane was referencing can be gleaned from recordings made by ethnomusicologist Robin Wells in Lesotho in the 1980s (1994, 60-62, 77, 112-13).

What was ‘Moerane’s Country’? He was born just across the southern border of Lesotho in what was still in 1904 the British Cape Colony, but his parents and grandparents were Basotho (Moerane [n.d.c1988]). He came from a family of middle-class, educated, land- owning farmers, and he was also ‘very interested’ in ‘the songs of his people’ (Hartmann 1958). Sesotho was M.M. Moerane’s home language, which he insisted his children speak at home (Interview with Thuso Moerane, 12 May 2014), and it is also is the language of most of his 50 extant a cappella choral works. Moerane spent almost half his working life in Lesotho, retired there, and is buried near his former home in Tsfalimali in the Leribe district of northern Lesotho. The ‘My Country’ of the title is thus clearly Lesotho rather than the colonial or apartheid South Africa of Moerane’s day, but his Pan African sympathies arguably imbue the work with broader nationalist sentiment, so that one might surmise that the political struggles of Africans across southern Africa - if not Africa - are in some sense symbolically represented here. For a more detailed account of Fatše La Heso’s genesis and reception as well as its musical and political inferences, see the article ‘ “The Times Do Not Permit”: Moerane, South Africa, Lesotho, and Fatše La Heso’ (Lucia 2020).

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