Friday, May 20, 2022

Pejačević- Symphony In F-sharp Minor

With very few exceptions, the world of professional classical music was closed to women until the 20th century. Whether instrumentalist, conductor or composer, serious music was considered an exclusive male domain. The only music related occupation open to women was teaching. Women of the upper middle class were taught a musical instrument, usually the piano or violin, more as an avocation or social grace.

Men perpetuated the status quo of male domination in music (as well as society in general).
Instrumentalists, conductors, composers and music publishers actively prevented almost all women from pursuing a career in music. Fanny Mendelssohn, Felix Mendelssohn's older sister was a fine pianist and musician as well as a composer, but her father discouraged her from composition. Brother Felix privately encouraged her, but his public statements were different:
From my knowledge of Fanny I should say that she has neither inclination nor vocation for authorship. She is too much all that a woman ought to be for this. She regulates her house, and neither thinks of the public nor of the musical world, nor even of music at all, until her first duties are fulfilled. Publishing would only disturb her in these, and I cannot say that I approve of it.
The same was true of Clara Wieck-Schumann, wife of Robert Schumann. She was one of the most brilliant pianists of the 19th century, and after her husband's death she continued to concertize to provide for her large family.  She was also a composer, but after her husband died she gave it up saying:
I once believed that I possessed creative talent, but I have given up this idea; a woman must not desire to compose — there has never yet been one able to do it. Should I expect to be the one?
Her husband Robert (who evidently supported her composing activities) gave the reasons why she never went farther as a composer:
Clara has composed a series of small pieces, which show a musical and tender ingenuity such as she has never attained before. But to have children, and a husband who is always living in the realm of imagination, does not go together with composing. She cannot work at it regularly, and I am often disturbed to think how many profound ideas are lost because she cannot work them out.
Late in the 19th century the male stranglehold on music began to lessen, at least as far as musical composition was concerned. Amy Mary Smith in England and Amy Beach in America are two examples of women who overcame gender bias as composers. A woman composer of the early 20th century was the Croatian Dora Pejačević.

She was descended from the noble Pejačević family of Croatia on her father's side. Her mother was an Hungarian Countess who was a fine pianist and Dora received her first lessons in piano from her. Dora was a woman of learning and culture, she could speak and read several languages. Although  Pejačević was a member of the aristocracy, she seemed to be down to earth and had more of an affinity for common people than the aristocrats of her own class. World War One affected her greatly as she saw all the suffering and pain it caused, which turned her into a socialist. She spent most of her life dedicated to her art, but her loneliness caused her to marry in 1921. She died from complications from childbirth in 1923.

Her Symphony In F-sharp Minor is the only symphony she wrote and she worked on it from 1916- 1917 and revised it in 1920.  The premiere of the work was given in 1920 in Dresden and was such a success that the great conductor Arthur Nikisch performed it in concert.  The symphony is a work in late Romantic style and is in four movements:

I. Andante maestoso - Allegro con moto -  The movement is in a type of very loose sonata form, with one main theme and many differing short motives. It begins with a dramatic introduction that is punctuated by the brass. A short motive is gently begun by the woodwinds and the violins continue it as it unwinds. The main theme has slightly more energy to it while still remaining lyrical. A second theme is chromatic and lyrical. Chromatic motives pile up until the first theme returns in an extended form, and it is then that the listener finds themselves in the development section of the first movement. Motives interrupt the first theme's chromatic journey. Themes already heard enter and leave, with the first theme always returning. The short introduction returns and signals the end of the movement in the entire orchestra.

II. Andante sostenuto - A solo oboe begins by playing the main theme of the movement. Other winds join in while the low strings accompany.  A bass clarinet adds to the texture before the strings give their version of the theme. The theme is developed as it continues until a counter melody is heard in the oboe as the strings play a fragment of the theme. In the middle of the movement another theme that is first heard in the low strings is played and developed chromatically. This theme goes through a chromatically intense climax before it winds down with hints of the first theme until the first theme returns in the bass clarinet. The first theme then continues its journey as it ebbs and flows back to where it began in the solo oboe. A short coda ends the movement.

III. Scherzo: Molto allegro - The chromaticism continues with the scherzo. The pace slows as a solo cello introduces a very short section (presumably the trio) before the scherzo resumes. Another short section of smooth lyricism interrupts until the chugging scherzo returns a final time. A short coda picks up the pace and ends the movement with a snicker.

IV. Allegro appassionato -  The finale begins with a rugged theme that is punctuated by cymbal crashes and brass. Just before the beginning of the second theme there is a motive played by full orchestra that must have sounded quite modern to the audiences of 1920. The second theme is more lyrical and is carried in the strings. After the second theme of the movement the theme from the second movement makes an appearance. The themes are then repeated with slight variations. The development concentrates on the theme from the second movement. The first theme returns and takes the music to a coda that ends the work in a minor key.

It is no wonder that Arthur Nikisch wanted to conduct Pejačević's symphony. She had an excellent sense of orchestral color as well as a good rhythmic and melodic gift. The structure of the symphony is loose and almost rhapsodic with its piling up of motives and themes, but she handled the material with such deftness and feel for instrumental color that the seams do not show, which makes for a very effective and enjoyable symphony.