Dora Pejačević

Dora Pejačević was born in Budapest on 10 September 1885. Her father, Count Theodor Pejačević, would later become the Croatian ban (governor); her mother was the Hungarian Countess Lilla Vay de Vaya.

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Dora Pejačević was born in Budapest on 10 September 1885. Her father, Count Theodor Pejačević, would later become the Croatian ban (governor); her mother was the Hungarian Countess Lilla Vay de Vaya. She grew up in the cultivated surroundings of her family’s palace in Našice, Slavonia, where she received a solid general education under the tutelage of an excellent English governess, Miss Edith Davison. Thanks to the early musical experiences she acquired from her musically gifted mother and the knowledge she gained from reading many interesting books in the family’s voluminous library, she was able to expand her horizons in many directions.

Private teachers were engaged for her musical education, beginning with the Budapest musician Károly Noseda. After 1903, when the family moved to Zagreb following her father’s appointment as ban, her further musical education was entrusted to the professors of the Croatian Music Institute. When it became clear that Dora’s grasp of music went beyond the bounds of aristocratic diversion, her family made it possible for her to pursue her further training abroad. From 1907 on we repeatedly find her in Dresden and Munich. Her teachers in Dresden were Henri Petri (violin) and Percy Sherwood (composition). As the young lady had a superb command of violin and piano technique, her name began to appear in concert programmes, particularly in performances of her own music. Gradually her compositions found their way outside the circles of the drawing room and were increasingly performed in public. Among those who played her music were such world-famous artists as the pianists Walter Bachmann and Alice Ripper and the violinist Joan Manén. 

Pejačević also expanded her knowledge of music through self-instruction, insatiable curiosity and creative unrest. Her many journeys and contacts with leading intellectuals and artists of the day (including Karl Kraus, Rainer Maria Rilke and the painter Maximilian Vanka) expanded her intellectual horizons and stimulated her creativity, inspiring e.g. the choice of poetry for her vocal works (Karl Kraus, Rainer Maria Rilke, Friedrich Nietzsche). Her Verwandlung, a setting for voice, violin and organ of the like-named poem by Karl Kraus, prompted the poet to show the piece to Arnold Schoenberg, who praised it and suggested that it be performed publicly in Vienna. Even so, he could not resist expressing his reservations toward a female composer.


During the First World War Pejačević reached creative maturity and composed on an intensive basis. Between 1913, when she wrote her G Minor Piano Concerto, op. 33 (the first Croatian work in this genre), and 1918 she produced several of her largest and most significant works, including the B Minor Piano Quintet, op. 40, the Symphony in F Sharp Minor, op. 41 and the Second Sonata in B Flat Minor for violin and piano op. 43 (Slavic Sonata). In this period several highly regarded performances of her works were arranged in Croatia: the Piano Concerto was given at the so called historic concert in the Croatian National Theatre, Zagreb, along with compositions by Franjo Dugan the Elder, Božidar Širola, Antun Dobronić, Krešimir Baranović and Svetislav Stančić, heralding the advent of a new generation of Croatian composers. A recital of her chamber music in the Croatian Society of Music drew together the very best of the country’s performers, including Svetislav Stančić, Zlatko Baloković, Václav Huml and Juro Tkalčić.
Pajačević’s successes abroad culminated on 25 January 1918 when the Vienna Tonkünstler Orchestra performed two movements from her Symphony under the baton of Oskar Nedbal. The complete Symphony, in its revised version, was not given until two years later, when it was premièred in Dresden on 10 February 1920. During this entire period Pejačević made many journeys that took her to Vienna, Munich, Budapest, Prague and other musical capitals. After each of these journeys she invariably returned to Našice to find peace and concentration in the comfort of her family palace.
Beginning in autumn 1921, when she married the Austrian officer Ottomar von Lumbe, Pejačević lived in Dresden and Munich, where she died of kidney failure on 5 March 1923 following the birth of her first child. In accordance with her wishes, she was buried outside the family vault in Našice.
Pejačević’s unusual career and personal charisma should by no means divert our attention from her oeuvre. Like the music of her male contemporaries (e.g. Blagoje Bersa and Josip Hatze), her works represent the Croatian Modern in music, along with the analogous literary movement and the Secession in the visual arts. In their best pages her scores bear witness to a distinctive artistic personality that constantly sought new veins of expression, gradually parting company with earlier romantic forebears and drawing room mannerisms and attaining the authentic core of an independent musical idiom.
Although Pejačević lived in an era of radical musical upheavals, she remained fundamentally attached to tradition and never abandoned tonality, though she did not shun harmonic audacities in her mature years. She therefore belongs to that circle of fin-de-siècle composers who added new expressive nuances to European music while never severing connections with her venerable heritage.

Koraljka Kos (c) Croatian Music Information Centre

Citiranje: Kos, Koraljka, „Dora Pejačević“. Introduction to the sheet music: Dora Pejačević. Trio u C-duru za violinu, violončelo i glasovir op. 29, Croatian Music Information Centre, Zagreb 2018, str. VIII-IX.