Kodály composed his first mature work, Summer Evening for orchestra, between August and September 1906. The history of the piece is nevertheless remarkable. Originally composed as a degree piece, it received its first performance on 22 October 1906 in Budapest. After that it was only performed twice, so Kodály committed it to the bottom drawer. However, in 1928 Arturo Toscanini, who had just premièred Kodály’s oratorio Psalmus Hungaricus at La Scala in Milan, commissioned an orchestral work. Declining the request to write a new work, Kodály returned to this early work of his and rewrote it.
He kept the simple A–B–A form, did not change the small-ensemble orchestration (strings, woodwind and two horns), and he did not change the conservative tonality either. Rather, he sought to highlight the folk-music elements in the piece.