At the centre of Kodály's music, as of his other activities, is a striving towards greater synthesis, yet it remains essentially and predominantly Hungarian. As a composer he may be compared with an historian who has undertaken to write a universal history in his own language, for, in a very real sense, his music provides the first history of European music written in the Hungarian idiom. It is hardly an exaggeration to say his work is a summary of the great achievements of a thousand years of European art music, written, not in the common language of the post-romantic German composers, but in a contemporary Hungarian idiom created by himself. His rejection of that common language early in his career, which had involved renunciation of quick international success, sprang from a conviction that he was to express later in these words: "The works of art that exert the most powerful influence throughout the world as a whole, are those that express most fully the national characteristics of the artist. Since it is in such works that the highest individual creative power manifests itself, it follows that there is no individual originality which is not rooted in some kind of national originality."
The whole of his music is a practical realization of this belief, for however numerous its connexions with the great periods of European music, it still remains essentially Hungarian. Its roots reach back, on the one hand, through Debussy, Brahms, the Viennese classics, Bach and Palestrina to the Gregorian chant; on the other, through 19th centuryverbunkos38 music, the Hungarian college music of the 18th century and the verse chronicles of the 16th century, to primitive Hungarian folk song: on the one hand, the mature complexity of the classics, on the other, a sparsity of art music but the tremendous raw material of folk music. Even a cursory examination of Kodály's antecedents warns us that we are faced with an unusual phenomenon. In contrast to those composers who may be regarded as "recapitulators"--those whose work is as a rule a summary of a single period, often of the few decades immediately preceding their own--Kodály's music unites the greatest achievements of several centuries and of two dissimilar cultures. It is his great achievement to have fused into a living unity elements that, if not irreconcilable, are at least extremely heterogeneous.
The aim he and Bartόk set themselves was to condense into a single lifespan the whole experience of centuries of art music, for which Hungary,