Classical Album of the Week: Meet Dora Pejacevic, Croatian Aristocrat Turned Nurse and Composer
March 29, 20201. Up for a trivia challenge? If I were to say these next few hundred words are about a gifted, creative mind, a turn-of-the-century woman who was a friend of Rainer Maria Rilke and also happened to attend the 1911 premiere of Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier in Dresden, the history buffs and armchair musicologists among us might manage a few guesses. Who is the woman in question? Perhaps Lotte Lehmann comes to mind—the German soprano who became well known for her Strauss roles, or maybe Paula Modersohn-Becker, the painter to whom Rilke dedicated one of his more famous poems.
Worthy guesses, for sure, but neither is the artist in question! It is in fact composer Dora Pejacevic [pronounced DOH-ruh PIE-ah-cheh-vich] and this week it’s her we’re going to explore.
Peja?evi? was born in Budapest in 1885 and was indeed rather chummy with Rilke and did attend that storied Rosenkavalier premiere as a 26-year-old. What’s more, she wrote 16 pieces of chamber music, mostly in her late teens and 20s, and one of those works, her Piano Trio in C major, Op. 29, performed by trioW, rounds out our Classical Album of the Week, Unheard-of Treasures: Music by Female Composers.
Peja?evi? came from noble, palace-dwelling stock—a Crotian family that was wealthy, intellectual, musically trained and politically active. But early in life, she began to resist that life of privilege. She went on to become a woman of service, nursing soldiers during World War I alongside composing (a symphony no less!), and embracing the dignity of an honest day’s work.
The horrors of war left Pejacevic emotionally stricken and her experience of that time cemented her turn away from her aristocratic roots and toward an even simpler, more selfless life. That commitment shone through to the end, as she asked that others remember her after her death by making donations to musicians in need. Sadly, her passing came prematurely, at age 38, a short time after giving birth to a child, Theo, in Munich.
In total there are 56 works attributed to Pejacevic (or 57 depending on what source you consult), and the one we’ll hear this week, the Piano Trio in C major, Op. 29, was composed quite early, in 1910, just a few years before she delved into larger scale concertos and symphonic works, which she artistically matured into throughout her 20s and 30s.
In this performance by the German ensemble, trioW, Pejacevic shows us she is a weaver of rapturous gestures and bright flourishes as much as delicate lines and tender corners of phrase. What was to come in her Symphony in F-sharp minor Op. 41 just eight years later can be heard in the texture and richness of sound she captures in her Op.29. There’s much to relish in all this, and also much to lament—for what new directions this talent would have taken in coursing through the 20th century we’ll never know.
Hear trioW in the opening and closing movements of Dora Pejacevic’s Piano Trio in C major, Op. 29:
I. Allegro con moto
Women’s History Month on WRTI is supported by Temple University, which celebrates the legacy of Agnes Berry Montier, class of 1912, and the first Black woman to earn a medical degree from Temple.