BEAUTY of music | classical music catalogues

What’s in a name?


A lot, actually!

Op. 27, No. 2; K. 545; D. 960; S. 178; BWV 998; Hob.XVI:52; Wq. 55; Sz. 95; BB 101…there are seemingly endless letter and number combinations in classical music titles. Simply looking at a program page can be intimidating. What do these titles mean?

Before we talk about those strange numbers at the end of some composers’ works, let’s take a simpler example and break it apart: Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 10, No. 1.

Piano sonata is a generic title that refers to a type of multi-movement piece for solo piano. Beethoven wrote 32 piano sonatas, and each has a unique number, 1-32, which is chronological based on when the piece is published (which is also typically, but not always, the order of composition).

C minor is the key of Beethoven’s Fifth Piano Sonata (see how I reversed the word order there?), which means the piece as a whole is considered to be “in C minor” (more on that another day).

So we have established that we are talking about the fifth piano sonata that Beethoven wrote, and C minor is the most important key in that piece–what does the rest of the title mean?

“Op. 10, No. 1” stands for opus 10, number 1. Opus is Latin for “work” or “piece,” as in a work of art or a piece of literature. An opus number is given to a work or group of similar works when it is published. If the opus is a group of works, each individual piece has a number. This numbering system is also chronological by publication date. The Piano Sonata No. 5, Op. 10, No. 1 is the fifth sonata Beethoven published, but it is the first work in Opus 10. Beethoven’s Opus 10 is a set of three piano sonatas.

Some pieces are more commonly referred to by their opus number, while others are more often identified by the generic title number. In Beethoven’s catalogue, string quartets, sonatas, and other smaller works are more familiar by their opus number and keys, whereas the symphonies and concerti are more often identified by the generic title number. For instance, if I asked you to hum the beginning of Beethoven’s Op. 67, you might not be able to do so. But if I asked you to hum the beginning of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, you would probably say something like, “da-da-da-daaaaaa!”


Some works are given nicknames, though often by someone other than the composer. The “Moonlight Sonata,” “Ghost Trio,” and “Harp Quartet” are so called because of what the music evokes in the listener. The “Archduke Trio,” the “Kreutzer Sonata,” and the “Rasumovsky” quartets are all so called because of the works’ dedicatee. Beethoven did give nicknames to his “Eroica” and “Pastorale” symphonies.

If Beethoven’s opus catalogue is the rule, then there are many exceptions. Some composers whose significant works were largely unpublished in their lifetimes have other forms of identification. In these cases, a musicologist will create a system and assign numbers to each work. This is the case most notably with Bach (BWV), Mozart (K or KV), Haydn (Hob.), Schubert (D), and Liszt (S). While BWV stands for Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis, or Bach Works Catalogue, the others represent the person who catalogued the works (Ludwig von Köchel, Anthony van Hoboken, Erich Deutsch, and Humphrey Searle, respectively. Catalogues for Bach, Haydn, and Liszt are thematic, meaning they are grouped by composition type. Catalogues for Mozart and Schubert, however, are strictly chronological.

Once you get familiar with a composer’s output, the numbers become more meaningful. I can’t see the number 131 without hearing the melancholy fugue that opens that particular Beethoven quartet. These numbers become as familiar as a dear friend.

The American Pianists Awards are held every two years to discover the best aspiring young American jazz or classical pianists. The unique and innovative competitions span 13 months and provide a platform to deeply engage musical artists in a variety of creative formats and settings. Winners receive cash and two years of career advancement and support valued at over $100,000, making this one of the most coveted prizes in the music world and the largest for American jazz pianists.

The Premiere Series provides the first live juried performances of the five American Pianists Awards finalists. Over the course of five months, each finalist makes an initial appearance on stage in Indianapolis for solo and ensemble performance and completes a Concerto Curriculum residency.

The 2017 American Pianists Awards Premiere Series schedule (including catalogue numbered repertoire!) is as follows:

  • September 25, 2016: Henry Kramer performs Piano Concerto No. 25 in C Major, K. 503 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
  • November 6th, 2016 : Steven Lin performs Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Major, Op. 15 by Ludwig van Beethoven
  • December 4, 2016: Sam Hong performs Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 37 by Ludwig van Beethoven
  • January 29, 2017: Drew Petersen performs Piano Concerto No. 5 in E♭ Major, Op. 73 (Emperor) by Ludwig van Beethoven
  • February 26, 2017: Alex Beyer performs Piano Concerto No. 2 in B♭ Major, Op. 19 by Ludwig van Beethoven

Author: americanpianistsassociation

The mission of the American Pianists Association is to discover, promote and advance the careers of young, American jazz and classical pianists.

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