Dora Pejačević: Two Piano Sketches


Dora Pejačević was born in Budapest on 10th September 1885, and her family descended from the old Croatian noble Pejačević family. Her mother, Countess Lilla Vay de Vaya was a very competent pianist and she gave Pejačević her first piano lessons when she was a young girl. After mastering the art of performance, Pejačević began composing music by age 12. Although mainly self-taught on both piano and violin, she did receive some private music lessons in Zagreb and Munich. Pejačević began learning composition under German-English composer, Percy Sherwood, who was able to teach her the fundamentals of composition.

It’s been widely noted that Pejačević led a fairly lonely life, out of the public eye and did not spend time with her husband or family. However, because of this Pejačević composed a considerable amount of music (106 compositions to be exact), which has created her legacy as a major Croatian composer. Her catalogue shows the various different genres she composed in, which are largely in late-Romantic style. From songs to chamber music and to large orchestra compositions, Pejačević covered a lot of her ground in her short lifetime. Sadly, Dora Pejačević died in 1923, age 38, due to complications during childbirth.

Dora Pejačević has been said to have brought Romantic orchestral forms to Croatia, and for that she is marked as one of the leading figures in Croatian classical music. A majority of her music has yet to be released on CD or even been published, however the Croatian Music Information Centre is trying to change that by paying to have some of her works published. If any of my readers are fluent in Croatian language then there is a biographical film on her entitled Countess Dora which goes through her life.


The Music

Pejačević composed Zwei Klavierskizzen (Two Piano Sketches) in 1918 and dedicated them to Anny von Lange. There isn’t a wealth of information on these particular sketches, but what we do know is that both of these sketches are intimate meditations in which Pejačević is intensely thinking about a person who she is very fond of (probably Anny von Lange). The sketches aim to represent profound emotional states, even though together they amount to just over 2 minutes in length. The two sketches are as follows:

  1. An Dich! (To Thee!)
  2. Vor Deinem Bild (Before Thy Picture)

The music is incredibly eerie yet it keeps moving through the use of quavers and dotted notes. Pejačević’s harmonic language is profound and it reflects not only the late-Romantic style, but it also foresees some of the 20th Century language that is used later on in the century. Her use of hemidemisemi quavers and the arabesque form give parts of these sketches such a Debussy-esque aura.

There is something incredibly beautiful about these two sketches and Pejačević’s use of harmony and texture amplifies the different emotional states she was aiming to convey. A lullaby-like section followed by a more eerie and frantic section make this piece such an exciting thing to listen to as it highlights the Croatian style at this time. Although only just over 2 minutes, this work has said all it needs to, and is truly an autobiographical account within music, like it is from an intimate diary. The work of Pejačević can be heard in the style of other composers around that time like Debussy and Scriabin, and it highlights just how important Pejačević was and still is within classical music.


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy reading!

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