Hungarian composer. He made a deep study of Hungarian folk music and his vocal music makes remarkable use of the Hungarian language.
The son of a railway official, Kodály grew up in a musical atmosphere, his father being a keen violinist and quartet player. In 1900 a scholarship took him to Budapest to study at the university and in 1902 he entered the Budapest Academy of Music. Four years later he was awarded a PhD for a thesis on ‘Strophic Construction in Hungarian Folksong’. In the same year he embarked on his remarkable collaboration with Bartók, collecting Hungarian folk tunes.
As a composer, Kodály was influenced by the classical repertoire and by the music he sang as a choirboy. However, a visit to Paris in 1907, where he attended the classes of Charles Widor (1844–1937), introduced him to the music of Debussy and the impressionists. This broadening of his horizons was reflected in his music, which after 1910 began to be played outside Hungary, particularly at the festivals of the International Society of Contemporary Music. The powerful Psalmus Hungaricus (1923), which was composed in celebration of the union of Buda and Pest, has become part of the international repertoire. Two operas followed – Háry János (1925–27), from which a suite was made, and The Spinning Room (1924–32). Perhaps Kodály's most vivid music is to be found in two sets of dances, the Marossek Dances (1930) and the Galänta Dances (1933). In 1938 the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra commissioned the Peacock Variations for its fiftieth anniversary; a year later the Chicago Philharmonic Orchestra commissioned the Concerto for Orchestra.
Kodály taught at the Budapest Academy of Music from 1907, an association that lasted for the greater part of his life, especially as he was recalled from retirement in 1945 to become director. Kodály was particularly interested in originating methods for teaching young children to participiate in music-making; much of the music in the four volumes of his Bicinia Hungarica, a collection of folksongs and original compositions for two voices (published between 1937 and 1942), was written for this purpose.