Stephanus Le Roux Marais (1896−1979) lived in Graaff-Reinet, South Africa, for nearly a quarter of a century. He taught music at the local secondary school, composed most of his extended output of Afrikaans art songs, and painted a number of small landscapes in the garden of his small house, nestled in the bend of the Sunday’s River. Marais’s music earned him a position of cultural significance in the decades of Afrikaner dominance of South Africa. His best-known songs (“Heimwee,” “Kom dans, Klaradyn,” and “Oktobermaand”) earned him the local appellation of “the Afrikaans Schubert” and were famously sung all over the world by the soprano Mimi Coertse. The role his ouevre played in the construction of a so-called European culture in Africa is uncontested. Yet surprisingly little attention has been paid to the rich evocations of landscape encountered in Marais’s work. Contextualized by a selection of Marais’s paintings, this article glosses the index of landscape in this body of cultural production. The prevalence of landscape in Marais’s work and the range of its expression contribute novel perspectives to understanding colonial constructions of the twentieth-century South African landscape. Like the vast, empty, and ancient landscape of the Karoo, where Marais lived during the last decades of his life, his music assumes specificity not through efforts to prioritize individual expression, but through the distinct absence of such efforts. Listening for landscape in Marais’s songs, one encounters the embrace of generic musical conventions as a condition for the construction of a particular national identity. Colonial white landscape, Marais’s work seems to suggest, is deprived of a compelling musical aesthetic by its very embrace and desired possession of that landscape.
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