Dora Pejačević

Photograph by D. Pejačević provided by the Museum of the City of Zagreb - MGZ 65411

10.9.1885 – 5.3.1923

I cannot imagine living without work — like so many do! — particularly among the so-called high aristocracy! I think I despise them for living so unnaturally.

Dora Pejačević was a noblewoman, born in 1885 in Budapest, to parents Lilla Vay de Vaya, Hungarian baroness, and Teodor Pejačević, Croatian count and politician. Although her family was highly prominent in the Našice area, Dora stood out among her peers in many ways. She was the first Croatian woman composer whose work had been recognized internationally.

She inherited her musical talent from her mother, a multitalented singer, piano player and painter. Dora started learning music at a young age. Although she didn’t receive a systematic musical training, she was tutored in Našice, Zagreb, Dresden and Munich. Her life was shaped by traveling around Europe and associating with numerous luminaries from the artistic and intellectual circles of the time. She often spent time in Vienna, Prague and Budapest, and her travels took her as far as Egypt.

However, she always kept returning to her family’s estate in Našice, which consisted of a larger castle built in 1812, and a smaller newer one used by the family of Dora’s brother Markus. The castles shared an English garden, complete with an artificial lake with an island and a wooden pavilion. The serenity was conducive to the introverted composer’s creativity.

She started composing short pieces for the piano and violin at the early age of twelve. Her body of work contains 57 registered pieces spanning almost all forms of music, with the exception of the opera. Most of her remaining works are kept in the Croatian Music Institute, while the rest is in the National and University Library of Zagreb Music Collection.

Pejačević wrote music for the voice and the piano, composing the first Croatian piano concerto and modern symphony. She also wrote orchestral music, concerto fantasies, as well as chamber music. Her works have been admired and performed by world-famous musicians all over Europe.

She also harbored an interest in literature and philosophy, and read authors such as L. Feuerbach, M. Bakunin and R. Luxemburg. Her intellectual interests led some of her contemporaries to dub her a socialist. Her experience of World War I also differed from that of other members of her class; for example, she was active in nursing the wounded soldiers of World War I in Našice.

In the final years of her life, Dora became increasingly reclusive and stopped traveling. In the fall of 1921, she married Ottomar von Lumbe, an Austrian officer and brother of her friend Rosa. After the wedding, the couple relocated to Munich. A year later, only a few months after giving birth to her only child, Dora wrote a farewell letter to her husband, anticipating her own death. She passed away at a women’s clinic in Munich in March 1923 from kidney failure.

She was buried in Našice, but requested not to be buried in the family tomb. As for her funeral, she asked that, instead of buying flowers, people donate money to the families of poor musicians. 

The first monograph about her was published by music theorist Koraljka Kos in 1982. Three years later, in 1985, the first edition of the cultural manifestation called the Dora Pejačević Memorial was held on the centennial of her birth. The renowned Kontesa Dora Music School was founded the same year. In 1993, there was a feature film made about her life starring Alma Prica. The Croatian Eurovision contest is also named after her.

Našice Heritage Museum / Pejačević Castle, Franjo Tuđman Square 5, Našice

The Dora Pejačević Memorial Room in the Našice Heritage Museum was opened in 1985. It holds numerous exhibits related to the composer's life, including furniture pieces, family photographs and documents, sheet music, concert memorabilia, and a few preserved objects that belong to the family. Of those, the piano and the marble bust entitled Sorrow (1906) which used to stand in her bedroom are particularly valuable. Near the castle, there is also a bust of Dora Pejačević, made by the sculptor Dragutin Šantek in 1985. A nearby street also bears Dora’s name.