Hungarian composer Zoltán Kodály is today remembered as much for his contributions to the fields of ethnomusicology and music education as he is for his own musical creations. Born in 1881, Kodály was the son of a local railway station master and amateur violinist who provided a rich musical environment for his child. Young Zoltán's early exposure to the German classics was tempered by an interest in the folk heritage of his native land; in 1900, after graduating from the Archiepiscopal Grammar School in Nagyszombat, he enrolled simultaneously at Budapest University (where he studied Germanic and Hungarian literature) and at the Budapest Academy of Music. Composition studies at the Academy were fruitful for Kodály, and he took a diploma in the subject in 1904. In 1905 he received a second diploma in music education, and in 1906 Kodály crowned his academic career with a Ph.D. earned for his thorough structural analysis of Hungarian folksong. During the preparation of this dissertation Kodály went on the first of many excursions into rural Hungary to record and transcribe authentic folk music, and in doing so built a strong and lasting friendship with Béla Bartók (who was engaged in the same practice at the time, and with whom Kodály would go on to publish several collections of Hungarian folk music).
Kodály's debut as a composer came in October 1906 with a successful performance of his orchestral poem Summer Evening (Nyári este) at the Academy of Music. Two months later Kodály left Hungary for the first time, having received funding from the Academy for a period of study in Berlin and Paris. Upon his return in 1907 he was appointed to the faculty of the Academy, eventually succeeding his teacher Koessler as professor of composition (and becoming Dohnányi's assistant when the latter was appointed director of the Academy in 1919). With the creation of the New Hungarian Music Society in 1911, Kodály firmly established himself alongside Bartók and Dohnányi as a powerful force in Hungary's developing musical culture.
Kodály produced a steady stream of music (his most famous works being the opera Háry János from 1927 and the orchestral suite from that opera) and important educational works (which have collectively become known to music educators as the Kodály method, and rank in significance alongside similar contributions by Orff and Dalcroze) until his death in 1967. In later years he made frequent concert tours during which he appeared as a conductor of his own music, though he never abandoned what he himself considered to be his primary work: the collection and systematization of Hungarian folk music and culture, and a corresponding assimilation of that body of work into a new Hungarian artistic aesthetic (a goal also shared by his friend Bartók). In the years after the Second World War he was honored by countless academic, musical, and political organizations around the globe; in 1961 he served as president of the International Folk Music Council, and, in 1964, as honorary president of the International Society of Music Educators.