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Zoltán Kodály
Dances of Galánta

Dances of Galánta
Zoltán Kodály (1882-1967)


The Hungarian Zoltán Kodály was not only a composer but also an ethnomusicologist and educator. Kodály spent his early childhood in Galánta (in present-day Slovakia), where his father was the town stationmaster. An outstanding student with varied interests, Kodály went on to study not only music at the Royal National Hungarian Academy of Music (now the Franz Liszt Academy of Music) in Budapest, but also languages and literature at neighboring institutions in the same city. Kodály’s deep and abiding interest in Hungarian folk song was reflected in his 1906 doctoral dissertation on the topic, and he “saw in folk music the sole authentic tradition of Hungarian musical culture, upon which a new national art of music might be built.”

He joined his fellow Hungarian composer Béla Bartók and travelled throughout Hungary and Transylvania to record, transcribe, and arrange folk songs that they later published. Although based on other folk songs not collected by the pair, Dances of Galánta (1933) borrows from Hungarian folk melodies and idioms, which are immediately audible in Kodály’s use of harmonies, melodies, and rhythms that evoke traditional music, such as quartal harmonies and pentatonic scales.

Broadly speaking, Kodály distinguished Hungarian melodies from those belonging to the Austro-Germanic musical tradition by their accented beginnings, long lines, and construction on and around the interval of a fourth, all of which can be heard in this composition. So too, can one hear how the verbunkos (Hungarian dance music used for military recruitment, especially pre-1849) shaped the form of the work, which alternates between slow sections, often in the woodwinds, and faster passages in the strings. Kodály’s fondness for his childhood home shines through in the colorful musical language of Dances of Galánta, the richness of which transports the listener to an unfamiliar yet exciting world.


  • Prominent and varied clarinet solos at the beginning and very end of the piece, some mysterious, some virtuosic, and others mournful 
  • Playful woodwind melodies reinforced by the piccolo and triangle, which lend a piquant flavor to the music, only to be interrupted by fast unison passages for the whole orchestra  
  • Drones, or long held notes, held on open fifths, often in the horns and brass; these harmonies and timbres imitate the role of traditional instruments 
  • Towards the end, the syncopated rhythmic drive that builds up from the lower string section to the woodwinds and overtakes the entire orchestra, with offset rhythms in the brass that help move the energy of the music forward  


Two flutes (one doubling piccolo), two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, timpani, percussion, strings