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Preferred Titles in Music

Form Titles

Many musical works have titles that actually are the names of forms or types of compositions ("sonatas," "concertos," "symphonies," and so forth). In these cases, the name of the form of the work is used as the first word of the preferred title. In the introductory Mozart concerto examples you saw that each preferred title began with the word "Concertos":

Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus, 1756-1791.
Concertos, piano, orchestra, K. 488, A major
Concerto in A major for piano, K. 488 ….

Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus, 1756-1791.
Concertos, piano, orchestra, K. 488, A major
Konzert A Dur, K. 488, fur Klavier ….

Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus, 1756-1791.
Concertos, piano, orchestra, K. 488, A major
Piano concerto in A major, K. 488 ….

Note: The plural form ("Concertos") is used if the composer wrote more than one work in the form; singular form ("Concerto") is used if the composer produced only one work in the form. If your first search produces no results, you may need to search with the singular.

Some other form names commonly used to begin preferred titles are:

  • Duets… (or "Trios", "Quartets", etc.)
  • Etudes …
  • Masses …
  • Sonatas …
  • Suites …
  • Symphonies …
  • Variations …

Following the name of the form in the preferred title come the names of the instruments (or voices) that perform the work:

 

Performance Medium in Preferred Titles

Correct
Incorrect
Quartets, violins (2), viola, cello, no. 3 String quartets, no. 3
Sonatas, flute, piano Flute, piano sonatas
Concertos, piano, orchestra Piano concertos
Variations, piano Piano variations

Sometimes the medium of performance is implied by the name of the form. For example, "Symphonies" implies performance by an orchestra; "Songs" implies performance by a solo voice with keyboard accompaniment. In such cases the names of the performing instruments or voices are omitted from the preferred title:

 

Correct
Incorrect
Symphonies, no. 5 Symphonies, orchestra, no. 5
Songs Songs, voice, piano
Chorale preludes Chorale preludes, organ

After the name of the form and the medium of performance (if necessary), appropriate number(s) and key (tonality) are added as required to identify the individual composition, and to complete the preferred title. The numbering may be sequential ("Symphonies, no. 3"), or may be a number scheme particularly associated with the works of the composer

 

Form, instrument(s)/voice(s), number, key

 

Schubert, Franz, 1797-1828.
Quartets, violins (2), viola, cello, D.173, G minor ... ("Deutsch" catalog number and key signature)

Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus, 1756-1791.
Concertos, piano, orchestra, K. 488, A major ... ("Kochel" catalog number and key signature)

Beethoven, Ludwig van, 1770-1827.
Symphonies, no. 5, op. 67, C minor ... (Symphony number, opus number, and key signature)

NOTE: In the final example it is unnecessary to name the orchestra as the performing ensemble, because it is implied by the name of the form, "Symphonies".


Warning! Some compositions in this category are also known by popular, descriptive names, like Beethoven's "Moonlight" Sonata for piano, or Haydn's "Surprise" Symphony. Such as name is not used in a preferred title unless it is the composer's own, original title for the work. Do not be fooled. But if you do not know for sure the composer's original title, or if by error you search under a popular title, you will retrieve only those editions for which the popular title actually is printed on the publication. Other editions that omit the popular title, or print it in a different language, will not be found.

If you perform a keyword search using a popular title, the catalog will retrieve any editions of the work that use the popular title on the title page. This record will include the correct preferred title of the work, which you can use to perform a title search to retrieve all editions of the work that are held by the library.

 


If you remember the order of the elements of a form-type preferred title, you should not go wrong.

  1. Form name, followed by
  2. Instrument(s) and/or voice(s), followed by
  3. Number(s) (Opus or other number), followed by
  4. Tonality

Name of the key signature is omitted if the tonality of the work is ambiguous.