Dora Pejačević ‘Two Piano Sketches’: To Thee!

Day 4 is upon us classical music fans and what better way to celebrate than with another fabulous female composer! It’s so difficult to choose one composer per day as there are so many to choose from. For the purposes of this blog I try to pick a range of different composers to cater for many tastes! So for today’s blog I will be looking into actually one of my personal favourite composers, Croatian composer – Dora Pejačević. Out of all the fantastic pieces by Pejačević I have chosen to look into her work Zwei Klaviserskizzen (Two Piano Sketches). Enjoy!

Dora Pejačević was born in Budapest on 10th September 1885, and her family descended from the old Croatian noble Pejačević family. Her mother, Countess Lilla Vay de Vaya was a very competent pianist and she gave Pejačević her first piano lessons when she was a young girl. After mastering the art of performance, Pejačević began composing music by age 12. Although mainly self-taught on both piano and violin, she did receive some private music lessons in Zagreb and Munich. Pejačević began learning composition under German-English composer, Percy Sherwood, who was able to teach her the fundamentals of composition.

It’s been widely noted that Pejačević led a fairly lonely life, out of the public eye and did not spend time with her husband or family. However, because of this Pejačević composed a considerable amount of music (106 compositions to be exact), which has created her legacy as a major Croatian composer. Her catalogue shows the various different genres she composed in, which are largely in late-Romantic style. From songs to chamber music and to large orchestra compositions, Pejačević covered a lot of her ground in her short lifetime. Sadly, Dora Pejačević died in 1923, age 38, due to complications during childbirth.

Dora Pejačević has been said to have brought Romantic orchestral forms to Croatia, and for that she is marked as one of the leading figures in Croatian classical music. A majority of her music has yet to be released on CD or even been published, however the Croatian Music Information Centre is trying to change that by paying to have some of her works published. If any of my readers are fluent in Croatian language then there is a biographical film on her entitled Countess Dora which goes through her life.

Instead of discussing one of her larger-scale works for this blog, I’ve decided to look into the very short, but full of musical treasures for us to behold. Pejačević composed her Zwei Klavierskizzen (Two Piano Sketches) in 1918 and dedicated them to Anny von Lange. There isn’t a wealth of information on these particular sketches, but what we do know is that both of these sketches are intimate meditations in which Pejačević is intensely thinking about a person who she is very fond of (probably Anny von Lange). The sketches aim to represent profound emotional states, even though together they amount to just over 2 minutes in length. The two sketches are as follows:

  1. An Dich! (To Thee!)
  2. Vor Deinem Bild (Before Thy Picture)

The music is incredibly eerie yet it keeps moving through the use of quavers and dotted notes. Pejačević’s harmonic language is profound and it reflects not only the late-Romantic style, but it also foresees some of the 20th Century language that is used later on in the century. Her use of hemidemisemi quavers and the arabesque form give parts of these sketches such a Debussy-esque aura. There is something incredibly beautiful about these two sketches and Pejačević’s use of harmony and texture amplifies the different emotional states she was aiming to convey. A lullaby-like section followed by a more eerie and frantic section make this piece such an exciting thing to listen to as it highlights the Croatian style at this time. Although only just over 2 minutes, this work has said all it needs to, and is truly an autobiographical account within music, like it is from an intimate diary. The work of Pejačević can be heard in the style of other composers around that time like Debussy and Scriabin, and it highlights just how important Pejačević was and still is within classical music.

Two Sketches for Piano is a breathtaking work which will surprise you in many ways. From Pejačević’s mature harmonic language, to her use of various styles and emotions all in a short space of time will have you excited for her other compositions. I absolutely adore Dora Pejačević as a composer and I really urge you to listen to some more of her works (I will of course write about more soon!). I do hope you have enjoyed this blog, although it has been slightly shorter than previous ones. Make sure you keep your eyes peeled for what I write about for day 5 of my Female Fortnight Challenge!

This blog is dedicated to my best friend, Chris Bell as it is his 22nd birthday today! Happy birthday, I hope you enjoy this work – its fabulous just like you! Lots of love on your special day!

Happy reading!

Recommended Recording:


Tansy Davies ‘neon’: Effortlessly Eccentric

Happy Wednesday, readers! It’s that time of the day for round 2 of my Female Fortnight Challenge 2.0. For today’s blog, I will be talking about a wonderful contemporary composer, whose works are eccentric, full of character and inspiring to many. Tansy Davies has long been a figure who intrigues me, and I cannot wait to share her work neon with you today – enjoy!

Tansy Davies was born in May 1973 in Bristol, UK. From a young age she was interested in singing and playing guitar in rock ensembles. Davies is also a proficient French Horn player and played in a range of various ensembles. As well as performance, Davies was also interested in composition and she studied at the Colchester Institute where she studied composition and French Horn with Alan Bullard. Her first break in the music industry was when Davies became a prize winner in the renowned competition: BBC Young Composer (1996). After this she began studying composition with Simon Bainbridge at Guildhall School of Music and Drama, as well as with Simon Holt at Royal Holloway University.

Throughout her career, Davies has worked and been commissioned by many reputable ensembles including the London Sinfonietta, City of London Sinfonia, BBC Symphony Orchestra and the CBSO Youth Orchestra. Many of her compositions go beyond the boundaries of usual practice. Davies takes a lot of inspiration from funk and psychedelic music, as well as from the classical avant-garde. One of her first large commissions was from the London Sinfionetta, entitled The Void in this Colour (2002), this was has been highly acclaimed and received incredibly positive reviews. Other compositions by Davies include:

  • Genome (2003)
  • Spiral House – for Trumpet and Orchestra (2004)
  • neon – (2004)
  • Adorned – for strings, bass clarinet, cimbalom and harmonium (2008)
  • Aquatic – duet for cor anglais and percussion 
  • Dephic Bee – for wind nonet (2012)

Davies also considers the spatial and acute sense whilst composing, with a lot of her works being inspired by atmospheres, textures and timbres. She is perhaps most well-known for her large-scale orchestral works, however she has also composed a vast amount of chamber works, which are also highly successful. Davies released a CD in 2011 entitled Troubairitz, which showcases some of her chamber works with electronics. Davies has worked with visual art experts in the fields of film and graphic design to create a variety of effects to accompany her music. Dance is also another art form that Davies has worked with. In 2011 she collaborated with choreographer Ingun Bjørnsgaard on Omega and the Deer which went on tour around the world.

Davies does not only work with UK-based ensembles, she also has a good reputation overseas, especially in Tokyo, Israel and Germany. For these compositions she has received many awards including an honorary doctorate (2011) from Colchester Institute, as well as the Paul Hamlyn award in 2009. Davies has also been nominated for the Sky Arts Award 2011. Davies’ works have been premiered in a plethora of famous venues such as the Barbican, the Aldeburgh Festival and the BBC Proms. Her composition neon was performed at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in 2014. In 2015, Davies was listed in The Evening Standard as on of the most influential people of 2015. Her colourful career continues, with more commissions being lined up for this exciting contemporary composer.

neon was composed in 2004, and is one of Davies’ most exciting works. Scored for bass clarinet (with amplification), soprano saxophone, percussion, electric keyboard (on clavinet setting), violin (with amplification), cello (with amplification) and double bass (with amplification). Davies notes that the use of amplification is to bring the instruments to a similar dynamic, however they should not be quite the same. Below are the programme notes for neon: 

“Neon lights, urban life, and physical energy are what this music is about. It’s a dialogue between the human body and the machine. The human is detectable in the surfaces of the music – often fragile sounding, imperfect, dirty or ‘distressed’ in some way. The mechanical side appears in the form of grooves that drive the piece, which despite their asymmetrical design, are robust, sleek and unstoppable.”

neon has been described as a ‘collage of twisted modernist funk’ with its ‘pounding rhythms and sleazy sounds.’ This work has become a signature work for Davies and it requires a keen amount of concentration, rhythmic ability and stamina. The piece starts with the performance mark “urban, muscular” – which is represented by the syncopated reed parts and the relentless bass parts. Set in 2/8 and 7/8, the piece utilizes lots of dotted rhythms to create angular effects. Davies also uses the performance direction col legno (played with the wooden side of the bow) for the strings, which add a percussive timbre to the lower strings parts. The use of triplets in all parts creates a sense of unity at times, and the percussion part emphasizes this with its use of jazz rhythms. Off-beats and syncopated rhythms make up the core foundation of this work, which makes it very colourful and surprising.

neon is a very physical work which makes you want to constantly move to wherever the beat develops. Davies’ style is incredibly eccentric and you can certainly hear her use of jazz and classical avant-garde styles. She has been said to be a cross between Xenakis and Prince (which is certainly very eccentric!). neon uses cross-rhythms and patterns which create complex sequences of notes that are fully realized at sudden points within a phrase. This keeps the listener very attentive whilst listening, which makes this work very exciting indeed! Davies’ extensive use of percussion also gives this piece a unique twist, with instruments including marimba, hihat, bongos and 5 different sized tin cans. The use of repetition is also pertinent in this work, as Davies reuses motifs and sequences and builds them onto new musical foundations, which can be heard throughout the piece. Also, her use of amplification and dynamics are a focal point of composition, with colourful timbres and dynamics bringing out the jazz-inspired rhythms.

neon is an incredibly exciting contemporary composition that takes influences from a range of different styles which culminates in a very exciting 10-minute composition. I hope you have enjoyed this work today by the fantastic Tansy Davies – check back tomorrow to see who is going to be on day 3 of my Female Fortnight Challenge 2.0!


Happy Reading!


Recommended Recording:


Grace Mary Williams ‘Sea Sketches for String Orchestra’: A Welsh Wonder

Dearest readers, I am so happy to be back for the start of FEMALE FORTNIGHT 2.0! Another 14 days of women composers for your enjoyment and entertainment which will perfectly round-up this incredibly cold January. I must apologise for being away from the blog for so long, today was a big deadline for my Masters course, so I have been instead writing many essays. Enough about me though, today’s opening treat for you all is a composer who really made her mark in her home country of Wales, as well as across many other countries. Today’s first blog for this new challenge is on Grace Mary Williams’ formidable work: Sea Sketches for String Orchestra – sit back, relax and let’s get into it!

Grace Mary Williams was born in Barry, Wales in 1906, where from a young age was encouraged to take part in musical activities. Both of Williams’ parents were school teachers, who both loved music. It has been recorded that her farther did not want to teach his children (Grace was the eldest of three) music in the traditional way of ‘sit down read an exercise book and partake in performance exams.’ Instead, he allowed his children to look and find scores within his extensive collection (as he himself was an amateur choral conductor), so that the children could shape their own taste and discover music they were interested in. Williams learnt the piano and violin with her siblings and she began being interested in orchestral music after hearing some recordings her father had collected. As well as music, Williams was interested in the French language, as well as English literature and mathematics, where her teachers were very encouraging of all her interests. In her biography it states that due to the strong influences of her music teacher, Rhyda Jones, Williams often sat on the beach at Cold Knap in Barry, whilst she composed songs and dances. The sea became a huge inspiration for her whole career in musical composition.

In 1923, after receiving a scholarship, Williams began studying at University College, Cardiff. After graduating in 1926, Williams made the move down to the Royal College of Music where she read composition with the wonderful Ralph Vaughan Williams. Whilst studying at RCM, Williams regularly met with other women composers also studying there including the likes of Elizabeth Maconchy, Imogen Holst and Dorothy Grow. After composing to an incredibly high standard, RCM offered Williams a travelling scholarship, which allowed her to finish her composition training in Vienna with Egon Wellesz. By being immersed in Austro-German musical traditions in Vienna, Williams was able to expand her style and work with Romantic traditions. It is said that composers such as Wagner, Mahler and Strauss were key figures in the development of her compositional styles.

After returning to London in 1931, Williams began composing in many different styles, including dances, songs, orchestral works and concertos. Some of her early compositions include:

  • Elegy for String Orchestra (1936)
  • Four Illustrations for the Legend of Rhiannon (1939)
  • Fantasia on Welsh Nursery Tunes (1940)
  • Sinfonia Concertante for Piano and Orchestra (1941)
  • Sea Sketches (1944)
  • Violin Concerto (1950)

Throughout World War II, Williams continued composing. However, whilst composing through the war, Williams found it difficult to gain commissions and money were taking their toll on her productivity. At one point she considered giving up composition completely. After a serious illness, Williams moved back to Wales so she could be cared for by her parents. After this point, Williams never returned to London to live. Around the year 1948, Wales was becoming much more immersed in the arts and the BBC had set up a Welsh Broadcasting Region, the Welsh National Opera was established, as was the Welsh Office of the Arts Council. These alone gave Williams the much-needed to drive to continue composing. From this point, Williams began composing incidental music for radio shows as well as writing music for professional soloists. 1950 saw Williams take up a post at the Welsh College of Music and Drama.

It has been said many times that in the last 30 years of her life, Williams composed music that made her incredibly important in Wales. In a country which has a deeply rooted choral tradition, Williams found footing for orchestral music, and she inspired (and still does) inspire young composers to write new and exciting music. She is said to have a ‘distinctly Welsh musical language’ which can be prominently in works such as:

  • Penillion Symphonic Suite (1955)
  • Symphony No. 2 (1956)
  • Trumpet Concerto (1963)
  • Ballads for Orchestra (1968)

As well as orchestral music, Williams also composed choral suites and chamber music. Her large-scale choral works are magnificent and received great acclaim when premiered. Some of her choral works include:

  • The Dancers (1951)
  • Ave Maris Stella (1973)
  • Fairest of Stars (1973)

In 1966, Williams was offered the OBE, although she turned this down. Throughout her career, Williams inspired many people and had a lot of attention world-wide for her contributions to composition. In 1977, Williams found out that she had terminal cancer, and she wrote letters to her friends, most notably Elizabeth Machonchy, to whom she said she was happy for how long she could write music for, and that she was very happy with her life. She died on February 10 1977, only 9 days before her 71st birthday. It is repeatedly said that Grace Mary Williams had brought the music of Wales to the world.

Sea Sketches (1944) is a vivacious suite for string orchestra which is split into five movements. It was composed in 1944, and was subsequently published in 1951. Williams had dedicated this work to her parents, and it has since become one of her most well-loved compositions. She wrote this work whilst she was still living in London, so is considered one of her earlier works. The suite is in five movements, and as the provocative title suggests, each movement is a sketch of a different character of sea. Below are the movements:

  1. High Wind (Allegro energetico)
  2. Sailing Song (Allegretto)
  3. Channel Sirens (Lento misterioso)
  4. Breakers (Presto)
  5. Calm Sea in Summer (Andante Tranquillo)

This was the first composition that was published by Oxford University Press, which made Williams’ name much more noticeable within the classical music world. The work may be based upon some of the observations that Williams had at the time where she used to sit on the beach and write down music and ideas. As her family lived on the Welsh coast, the sea felt like home to Williams, and this can certainly be felt somewhat within this suite of music. This work is very special and Williams’ musical flair and style is embedded throughout this suite, with an array of different emotions being portrayed throughout the five movements.

  1. High Wind (Allegro energetico)

The fist movement starts with a flurry from the middle strings, with the main motif being proclaimed by the upper violins. A feeling of urgency carries throughout this movement, with the continuous flurry representing the ‘high winds’. Syncopated beats within the melody create a slightly jaunty feel to the melody. The lower strings play a descending motif which creates some darkness within this middle section. The final section of this movement is pervaded by a reprise-like flurry from the upper strings and a manic tremolo by the lower strings. The mood calms ever so slightly, although the music does still feel on edge. The movement ends quite suddenly, with this calmness just fading into the darkness.

2. Sailing Song (Allegretto)

After the angular melodies of the first movement, this next movement begins with a more flowing melody in a minor key. The mix of timbres between the pizzicato strings and the bowed strings gives a deep and mysterious sound to the music. The melody is largely in the upper strings, with a lot of dissonance colouring the rest of the ensemble. The use of extremities in range and also the use of dissonance makes this movement very mysterious indeed. It is called ‘Sailing Song’ which is even more ambiguous, however, my guesses are that this movement represents the trials and tribulations one can have whilst sailing tempestuous seas. The movement ends with another fade out, which segues straight into the next movement.

3. Channel Sirens (Lento misterioso)

This movement is the slowest thus far and begins by emphasising the lower strings. The repetition of the simple three-note motif in the middle parts creates continuity and a sense of relaxation within this movement. A violin solo is heard in the middle section of this movement, whilst the other parts sway between two notes. This movement is outlining the aftermath of the previous movement, with a lot of the parts interweaving – perhaps outlining various emotions felt about the what has happened at sea. This movement feels slightly on edge (similarly to the other two), but this part has a particular sadness to it which I think is pertinent at this point in the suite. The upper strings make the simple melody colourful and the harmonic language that Williams has used in this movement is very interesting. The use of repetition seems to be at the heart of this movement, because when the parts play in unison, it brings a new dynamic to the music, making it stronger and more impending. As with the prior movements, this one fades away at the end, leading into the animated fourth movement of the suite.

4. Breakers (Presto)

The fastest of all the movements, Breakers bursts with colour, speed and technical prowess. The fast scalic movements create a manic aura around the movement. This movement is a big shift in character from the last, with the constant descending figures playing out within the ensemble. The polyphonic nature of this movements means it creates a very complex array of parts that all cleverly interweave within one another – creating an exciting movement which soon ends, to lead into the final movement of the suite.

5. Calm Sea in Summer (Andante tranquillo)

The fifth and final movement of this suite is by far my favourite. It is incredibly calm and inviting, yet within it I hear sadness, loss and want from Williams. Her use of the extremely high register of the violins which soar above the ensemble creates a very heart-wrenching motif. Again in a minor mode, this movement is beautiful and is a wonderful way to finish this suite. A similar repeated motif can be heard in parts of this movement, which hold a resemblance of the previous two movements. The dazzling strings in this movement are incredibly moving and they could resemble a lot of different things such as the sun, the sea or even the beach shore. I find this movement ever so fulfilling and just so awe-inspiring – if this is what Wales sounds like, then I want to always be there. The last movement ends like all the others do – with a calm and peaceful fade out.

Sea Sketches is an evocative musical suite that is so very animated, yet static, optimistic, yet sorrowful. A wonderful array of movements which depicts different characteristics of the sea, and what goes on in and around the beach. A brilliant way to begin my Female Fortnight Challenge 2.0 – thank you to our Welsh wonder, Grace Mary Williams! Keep your eyes peeled for what tomorrow can bring in this incredibly exciting challenge! If you like what you see here, make sure you check out my last Female Fortnight Challenge – there are some gems in that list.

Happy reading!

Recommended Recording: