Dora Pejačević: Piano Quintet in B minor

Program note

…among the great fin-de-siècle composers.

DORA PEJAČEVIĆ (1885–1923)

Allegro ma non troppo e con energia
Poco sostenuto

Scherzo: Molto vivace
Allegro moderato

Croatian composer Dora Pejačević wrote her surging, romantic B minor Piano Quintet at the height of her powers. She started composing the piece two years after her 1913 Piano Concerto – credited as the first Croation work in the genre – and completed it in 1918, the same year several movements from her Symphony premiered.

Born in Budapest in 1885, Pejačević’s mother was Hungarian Countess Lilla Vay de Vaya – a pianist, who gave the composer her first music lessons – and her father was Count Theodor Pejačević, who would become the Croatian ban, or governor, in 1903. She received private music tutoring as a child, excelling as pianist, violinist and composer, going on to study in Dresden and Munich. She supplemented this wide-ranging education with what Croatian musicologist Kos Koraljka describes as ‘self-instruction, insatiable curiosity and creative unrest,’ including a fascination with the works of Karl Kraus, Rainer Maria Rilke and Friedrich Nietzsche, whose writing she set in her vocal music.

Making her name initially as a performer, by the time the First World War had engulfed Europe, Pejačević had hit her stride as a composer. The B minor Piano Quintet premiered in 1918 on 4 April at a Croatian Society of Music concert alongside the premiere of her Opus 43 ‘Slavic’ Sonata for Violin and Piano and a performance of her First String Quartet, which has since been lost.

The Quintet’s first movement is full of drama – hear how the piano strives to climb ever higher, while the strings plunge downwards – before the Poco sostenuto’s gentle undulations and lyrical melodies. The Scherzo is a wild dance – though with plenty of tender moments – that comes to a decisive halt, before the tension and momentum of the opening movement returns in the finale.

Pejačević died tragically young, following the birth of her first child in 1923, but this Quintet is one of many stunning works she leaves behind, ranking her among the great fin-de-siècle composers.

© Angus McPherson, 2022

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