Hungarian composer and educationalist. With Béla Bartók, he recorded and transcribed Magyar folk music, the scales and rhythm of which he incorporated in a deliberately nationalist style. His works include the cantata Psalmus Hungaricus (1923), a comic opera Háry János (1925–27), and orchestral dances and variations. His ‘Kodály method’ of school music education is widely practised.
Kodály learnt the violin as a child, sang in a cathedral choir, and tried to compose without systematic instruction. In 1900, after living in small provincial towns, he entered the University of Budapest to study science, but also became a pupil at the Conservatory. He studied Hungarian folk song and in 1906 wrote his university thesis on it; in the same year his Summer Evening was premiered in Budapest. He collected folk songs in collaboration with Bartók 1907–14. He was appointed professor at the Conservatory and deputy director in 1919.
His music was performed at the International Society for Contemporary Music festivals from their inception in 1923. Beatrice Harrison gave London performances in 1924 of his finest chamber work, the sonata for solo cello, and further recognition on the international stage came with the premieres of the Háry János suite in 1927 and the Dances of Marosszék in 1930. The popular Psalmus Hungaricus was performed in London and New York from 1927; Henry Wood programmed Summer Evening and Dances from Galanta at the London Promenade concerts in 1930 and 1931.
Variations on a Hungarian Folksong: The Peacock was composed for the Concertgebouw Orchestra in 1939 and the Concert for Orchestra for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1941. His final work for orchestra was the symphony in C ‘In memoriam Arturo Toscanini’, which was premiered in Lucerne, Switzerland, under Ferenc Fricsay in 1961. In 1945 Kodály became president of the newly founded Hungarian Arts Council, and in 1967 was awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Philharmonic Society. In 1960 he received an honorary doctorate in music from Oxford University.
WorksOperaHáry János (1925–27).
OrchestralSummer Evening (1906), Ballet Music and Suite for Háry Janós (1925–27), Dances of Galánta (1933), Dances of Marosszék (1930), Variations on a Hungarian Folksong: The Peacock (1939).
Chamber and vocal two string quartets (1909, 1918); duo for violin and cello (1914); sonatas for cello solo (1915) and for cello and piano (1909); 21 works for chorus with and without orchestra, including Psalmus Hungaricus (1923), Budavari Te Deum (1936), Missa brevis (1944).
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