Zoltán Kodály (1882 - 1967)


Zoltán Kodály, a colleague of Bartók in the early collection of folk-music in Hungary and neighbouring regions, made his later career in his own country, where the system of musical education he devised has had a profound effect, as it has abroad. His own music is imbued with the spirit and musical idiom of Hungary and is in general less astringent than is sometimes the case with the music of Bartók. He was active as a composer until his death in 1967.

Stage Works

Kodály wrote relatively little for the stage. His Singspiel or musical play Háry János, more widely known through the orchestral excerpts heard frequently in the concert hall, deals with the alleged exploits of an old soldier, János, who has a vivid imagination and no regard for truth or probability. These include his single-handed defeat of Napoleon and the French armies.

Orchestral Music

In addition to the orchestral suite derived from Háry János, Kodály’s Marosszék and Galanta Dances and the Peacock Variations make powerful use of Hungarian folk material.

Choral Music

Kodály wrote a great deal of choral and vocal music, much of it for his choral method, an essential element in his plan for general musical education. He won his greatest early success with Psalmus hungaricus in 1923, and in 1936 celebrated the 250th anniversary of the reconquest of Buda from the Turks with a Te Deum. His Missa brevis was written during the later years of the First World War. The unaccompanied choral work Jesus and the Traders has always proved effective.

Chamber Music

Among relatively few compositions by Kodály for smaller ensembles may be included useful additions to the repertoire for two violins and viola in a Trio of 1899 and a later Serenade. In addition to two string quartets, there is a duo for violin and cello, of which an unkind critic claimed that it sounded as if the two instruments had taken sides in the war and tried to settle it between themselves. Kodály wrote sonatas for cello and piano and for unaccompanied cello.