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Folk Music and Music Education: Zoltán Kodály

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Today we celebrate the birthday of Hungarian composer, ethnomusicologist, and music pedagogue Zoltán Kodály. Kodály was born on this day in 1882 in the town of Kecskemét in Austria-Hungary (now Hungary). As a child, Kodály was a member of a local chorus, and also learned the violin. He showed an interest in composition, and in 1900, went on to study at the Conservatory in Budapest. In 1906, Kodály wrote about the structure of Hungarian folk music for his thesis, and, in support of this, traveled around the country collecting Hungarian folk songs. During this time he also met Béla Bartók with whom he had a friendship for the rest of his life. After graduating from the Conservatory in Budapest, he studied for a time in Paris with organist and composer Charles Widor. He later returned to Budapest to teach theory and composition at the Budapest Academy of Music in 1907, where he would remain until 1941.

Kodály’s compositional style is influenced by Hungarian folk music, but, unlike Bartók, is somewhat less percussive and leans more into influences from French and Italian music. He has written many pieces for choir, strings, and piano, as well as two operas (his most famous is Háry János).

In addition to composing and teaching, Kodály was interested in music education, especially for young school-age students. He worked to reform the music education program in Hungary’s lower and middle schools, and composed many teaching pieces that would aid this program. Although Kodály never wrote a comprehensive method based on his system, the principles he established became the foundation for what is known today as the Kodály Method.

A black and white head-and-shoulders portrait of Zoltán Kodály.
Zoltán Kodály, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing slightly left. b&w film copy neg. [196-]
Here are some materials by Kodály in braille that are available to borrow from the NLS collection:

  • 100 Hungarian Folksongs: Pentatonic Music, Choral Method, Vol. I (BRM24602)
  • 100 Little Marches: Pentatonic Music, Choral Method, Vol. II (BRM24596)
  • 24 Little Canons on the Black Keys (BRM24576)
  • Bicinia: Choral Method, Introduction to Elementary Two-Part Singing (BRM23979)
  • Children Dances: For Piano (BRM22109)
  • Orff And Kodály Adapted For The Elementary School, 8 vols. (BRM35306)
  • Missa Brevis: For Mixed Voices and Organ or Orchestra, 6 vols. (BRM22957)
  • Psalmus Hungaricus, Op. 13: For Tenor Solo and SATB (BRM05209)
  • Tricinia: Choral Method, 29 Progressive Three-Part Songs (BRM23982)
  • Zongora Muzsika: Ten Pieces for Piano Solo (BRM22134)

If you are interested in learning more about early music education, or materials for beginning music students, you may be interested in these older posts:

Back to School with Braille Music, Band Books, and Bastien!
Back to School: Method Books Edition (Part 1)
Back to School: Method Books Edition (Part 2)
Band, Orchestra, and More: When Young Musicians Use Our Music. 
NLS Materials for Early Music Education

Please note that all materials listed above are available to borrow by mail, and those with links are available through BARD. Please contact the Music Section to borrow talking books on digital cartridge or to borrow hard copies of braille music. Call us at 1-800-424-8567, ext. 2, or e-mail us at [email protected]. If you are new to BARD, you may find the following links helpful: Braille and Audio Reading Download (BARD) and BARD Access.

Comments (2)

  1. Thank you for posting this!

    Kodály and Bartók had different political views, yet they became lifelong friends. Their love of music, their views on the importance of folk music, and on teaching music managed to unite them 🙂

  2. It seems to me that there is a strong resemblance between Kodaly’s music and-Klezmer (without the clarinets). Is there a reason for this, or am I just imagining it? I’ve always been interested in the musical connections between different nationalities, i.e. Spanish and Middle Eastern music.

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