Composers Datebook®

Kodaly's Symphony

Composers Datebook for August 16, 2015


It might seem odd that during his long career, Hungarian composer Zoltan Kodály wrote only nine works for orchestra. When someone asked him about this, he replied: “I was busy with more important work: I had to educate a public.”

Kodály and his countryman Béla Bartók were pioneers in the collection and study of Hungarian folk music, and, on top of that, Kodály’s lifelong concern was to instill this rich heritage into the Hungarian people through an extensive and innovative program of musical education.

So successful was Kodály that even outside Hungary the so-called “Kodály method” has been adapted for music education worldwide.

Given Kodály’s tireless educational efforts, it’s surprising he had any time or energy left for composing at all. For example, Kodaly started writing a symphony in the 1930s at the request of the great Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini.

The Symphony finally received its premiere decades later at the Lucerne Festival in Switzerland on today’s date in 1961, and by that time Toscanini had been dead for several years. Even so, Kodály did not forget the original request for the work, and dedicated his only Symphony to the memory of the great conductor.

In fact, Toscanini was also responsible for the creation of one of Kodály’s most popular orchestral works: it was at Toscanini’s prompting that Kodály orchestrated his Marosszék Dances, a set of folk tunes he had originally arranged for solo piano.

Music Played in Today's Program

Zoltán Kodály (1882 - 1967) Symphony and Dances of Marosszék BBC Philharmonic; Yan Pascal Tortelier, cond. Chandos 9811

On This Day


  • 1795 - German opera composer Heinrich August Marschner, in Saxony;

  • 1863 - French composer, conductor and organist Gabriel Pierné, in Metz;

  • 1929 - American jazz pianist and composer Bill Evans, in Plainsfield, N.J.;


  • 1914 - Russian composer Anatol Liadov (Gregorian date: August 28);

  • 1977 - Rock superstar Elvis Presley, age 42, in Memphis, Tennessee;


  • 1876 - First complete performance of Richard Wagner's "Ring" cycle continues at Bayreuth with the world premiere performance of "Siegfried";

  • 1932 - Gershwin: "Cuban Overture" (under the title "Rumba"), by the New York Philharmonic at a Lewisohn Stadium concert conducted by Albert Coates;

  • 1936 - R. Strauss: "Olympic Hymn" at the opening of the Olympiad in Berlin;

  • 1944 - R. Strauss: opera "Die Liebe der Danae" (The Love of Danae), in a dress rehearsal performance in Salzburg at the Festspielhaus; The premiere was cancelled due to the closing of all German theaters and the declaration of "total war"; The belated premiere occurred on August 14, 1952, during the Salzburg Festival;

  • 1961 - Kodály: Symphony (dedicated to the memory of Arturo Toscanini), at the Lucerne Festival in Switzerland;

  • 1973 - Bernstein: "Dybbuk Variations," in Auckland, New Zealand, conducted by the composer; Bernstein's ballet, "Dybbuk," choreographed by Jerome Robbins, had premiered at the New York City Ballet on May 16, 1973;

  • 1995 - Michael Torke: "July" for saxophone quartet, at Cardiff Bay by the Apollo Saxophone Quartet;

  • 2001 - Lowell Liebermann: Violin Concerto, at Saratoga Arts Center, N.Y., by soloist Chantal Juillet and the Philadelphia Orchestra, Charles Dutoit conducting;

  • 2001 - Kaija Saariaho: "Nymphea Reflection," at the Schlewswig-Holstein Festival in Germany, by Sinfonietta Cracova, Axelrod conducting;


  • 1613 - Claudio Monteverdi becomes Master of Music, Republic of Venice;

  • 1814 - Beethoven finishes composing the Piano Sonata in E Minor, Op. 90;

  • 1943 - La Scala Opera house in Milan, Italy, damaged by Allied bombers.

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

About Composers Datebook®