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 not convincingly so. In 2008, SAMRO published the song in dual notation, edited by Mzilikazi Khumalo, but it differs in many ways from the manuscript, and unfortunately it was published without naming the source used in order to prepare it. Della was prescribed for the National Inter-school choir competitions in 1969, which raises the possibility that Moerane reworked Della in the 1960s, and this might explain why SAMRO has two versions.
They are not the same: the middle section in Moerane/Khumalo (2008) is contrapuntal, while the middle section of the manuscript is syncopated - it is reminiscent of 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 Moerane/Khumalo (2008) version is already published, and has been prescribed and recorded. The new ACE version of Della has not yet been recorded, but meanwhile, the SAMRO 2008 is available on YouTube (see below), arranged for solo voice and orchestra, and gives an idea how noble and impassioned the music is. In addition, there are two short audio extracts below from the opening of the work, and from the (new) middle section. To help with pronunciation of the text, the spoken lyrics are available as a free download when the score is purchased.
Della on Youtube – orch. by Sue Cock, sung by Sibongile Khumalo Video
Della audio samples – short extracts from opening and middle of work (piano) Audio