Dora Pejačević and her Relationship to Czech Artists

Contacts, impulses, friendships


In the 19th century, the contacts of Croatian composers with Czech cultural centres and artists began to enrich Croatian music. One of the first Croatian composers to study in Prague was Vatroslav Lisinski (1819–1854) – the author of the first Croatian opera who, among other things, composed songs to texts by Czech poets. Ideas concerning national art from Czechia influenced the repertoire of Croatian choral societies and the Prague Conservatory became the place of education for several Croatian musicians.

The composer Dora Pejačević (1885–1923), daughter of the Ban and Count Theodor Pejačević and the Hungarian Countess Lilla Vay de Vaya, received a cosmopolitan upbringing and musical education at the family castle in Našice. Later, she studied privately in Zagreb, Dresden and Munich. However, her most important impulses came from her frequent contacts with intellectuals and her travels to the Central European cultural centres of Vienna, Budapest and Munich.

Furthermore, she was frequently present in Bohemia, where friends from noble families enabled her to get to know not only the idyllic landscape but also Czech artists and performers, to whom she dedicated many of her works. Already at the age of nineteen she dedicated her Minuetto for violin and piano, op. 18, to the then famous violin virtuoso Jaroslav Kocián, who performed this miniature, together with Canzonetta, op. 8, several times in Zagreb and later also in Budapest.

While the dedication to performer Kocián had more practical reasons, Meditation for violin and piano, op. 51 (1919) was dedicated out of pure respect. The addressee was the Czech composer Vítězslav Novák, a professor at the Prague Conservatoire, who was gaining considerable respect at the time of Croatian national consciousness. Among others, Antun Dobronić (1878–1955), promoter of the idea of „national style“ studied with him (final degree in 1912).

The multicultural environment of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy fostered intellectual and cultural richness and diversity. Dora was most enriched by a long stay at castle in Vrchotovy Janovice south of Prague – the residence of her close friend Sidonie Nádherná von Borutín. Her brother Johannes was even Dora’s love. After his unexpected death in 1913, she wrote Elegy for violin and piano, op. 34, in his memory. The poet Karel Kraus, Sidonie’s long-time partner, was also in the same circle and dedicated some of his poems to Dora. She set to music his poetry, and this is how the poem Verwandlung, op. 37 (“Metamorphosis”, 1915) was written, which Kraus showed to Arnold Schönberg who – despite his reticence towards women composers – appreciated it.

The cultural life of the castle in Janovice, with its well-kept parks and frequent visits from other intellectuals, was a constant inspiration for the composer. She last stayed within its walls, with brief interruptions, from the summer of 1919 until 6 January 1920. In troubled times, it was this prolonged stay that provided her with a peaceful haven and gave rise to the works Overture for large orchestra, op. 49, and the second of the three Nietzsche songs, op. 53. Her occasional poem, which she wrote in the guest book at the Janovice castle as an expression of thanks for the hospitality, also falls into this period. The text reeks of nostalgia for a time once and for all gone. The beginning of “It is well with me who has found a home” is a loose paraphrase of the last lines of Nietzsche’s poem, which she set to music: “Pain to him who has no home”.

Another friend of Dora’s lived not far from Sidonie – Baroness Rosa Lumbe Mladota von Solopisk resided in the castle of Kosova Hora. Her brother Ottomar von Lumbe even married Dora in 1921. Therefore, there was a lively correspondence between Kosova Hora and Našice, from which we learn not only much about Dora’s critical view of the life of most aristocrats, but also about her relationship with her mother, and especially about her work.

Rosa was an attentive listener and her sister Josefina (Juža) was a good pianist. Dora held both in high regard which is to be heard from her report about the origin of the Humoresques op. 54 and Two Nocturnos op. 50. She dedicated The Nocturnos to Rosa. Two Songs, op. 55, which were composed directly during a visit to Kosova Hora in October 1920, were dedicated to the sisters.

The music of Dora Pejačević is a red thread weaved through this year’s festival programme. Her work is based on the classical-romantic tradition as a fundamental contribution to Croatian musical modernism (the period from about 1890 to about 1920). The festival presents a representative selection of her instrumental works, including piano, chamber and orchestral pieces. The programme also includes two orchestral songs, so typical for the music from the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. Therefore, we have the possibility to experience the world of expressive means of the composer who from the youthful romantic preconceptions through being influenced Wagner and Brahms searched for her own musical language. Her music shows a mastery of traditional forms, combined with an intense thematic work, specific harmony and sound. However, we also find ground-breaking solutions as her last work, the unconventional String Quartet n. 2 (1922) with its final, fading sound.

Was it a hint of a new journey…? Or perhaps a bid of farewell…?



Koraljka Kos, author

Jiří Čevela, translator


Photos: Chateau Vrchotovy Janovice archive, LVMF archive, Wikipedia public domain




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