Opus number

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In musical composition, the opus number is the "work number" that is assigned to a composition, or to a set of compositions, to indicate the chronological order of the composer's production. Opus numbers are used to distinguish among compositions with similar titles; the word is abbreviated as "Op." for a single work, or "Opp." when referring to more than one work.

Composer person who creates music, either by musical notation or oral tradition

A composer is a musician who is an author of music in any form, including vocal music, instrumental music, electronic music, and music which combines multiple forms. A composer may create music in any music genre, including, for example, classical music, musical theatre, blues, folk music, jazz, and popular music. Composers often express their works in a written musical score using musical notation.


To indicate the specific place of a given work within a music catalogue, the opus number is paired with a cardinal number; for example, Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp minor (1801) (nicknamed Moonlight Sonata) is "Opus 27, No. 2", whose work-number identifies it as a companion piece to "Opus 27, No. 1" (Piano Sonata No. 13 in E-flat major, 1800–01), paired in same opus number, with both being subtitled Sonata quasi una Fantasia, the only two of the kind in all of Beethoven's 32 piano sonatas. Furthermore, the Piano Sonata, Op. 27 N° 2, in C-sharp minor is also catalogued as "Sonata No. 14", because it is the fourteenth sonata composed by Ludwig van Beethoven.

Piano Sonata No. 14 (Beethoven) piano sonata written by Beethoven

The Piano Sonata No. 14 in C minor "Quasi una fantasia", Op. 27, No. 2, popularly known as the Moonlight Sonata, is a piano sonata by Ludwig van Beethoven. It was completed in 1801 and dedicated in 1802 to his pupil, Countess Giulietta Guicciardi.

Piano Sonata No. 13 in E-flat major "Quasi una fantasia", Op. 27, No. 1, is a sonata composed by Ludwig van Beethoven in 1800–1801.

Sonata composition for one or more solo instruments

Sonata, in music, literally means a piece played as opposed to a cantata, a piece sung. The term evolved through the history of music, designating a variety of forms until the Classical era, when it took on increasing importance. Sonata is a vague term, with varying meanings depending on the context and time period. By the early 19th century, it came to represent a principle of composing large-scale works. It was applied to most instrumental genres and regarded—alongside the fugue—as one of two fundamental methods of organizing, interpreting and analyzing concert music. Though the musical style of sonatas has changed since the Classical era, most 20th- and 21st-century sonatas still maintain the same structure.

Given composers' inconsistent assignment of opus numbers, especially during the Baroque era (1600–1750) and the Classical era (1750–1827), musicologists have developed other catalogue-number systems; among them the Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis (BWV-number), and the Köchel-Verzeichnis (K- and KV -numbers) with which are organised the works of Johann Sebastian Bach and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, respectively.

Baroque music Style of Western art music

Baroque music is a period or style of Western art music composed from approximately 1600 to 1750. This era followed the Renaissance music era, and was followed in turn by the Classical era. Baroque music forms a major portion of the "classical music" canon, and is now widely studied, performed, and listened to. Key composers of the Baroque era include Johann Sebastian Bach, Antonio Vivaldi, George Frideric Handel, Claudio Monteverdi, Domenico Scarlatti, Alessandro Scarlatti, Henry Purcell, Georg Philipp Telemann, Jean-Baptiste Lully, Jean-Philippe Rameau, Marc-Antoine Charpentier, Arcangelo Corelli, Tomaso Albinoni, François Couperin, Giuseppe Tartini, Heinrich Schütz, Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, Dieterich Buxtehude, and Johann Pachelbel.

The Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis is a catalogue of compositions by Johann Sebastian Bach. It was first published in 1950, edited by Wolfgang Schmieder. The catalogue's second edition appeared in 1990. An abbreviated version of that second edition, known as BWV2a, was published in 1998.

The Köchel catalogue is a chronological catalogue of compositions by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, originally created by Ludwig von Köchel, in which the entries are abbreviated K. and KV. The numbers of the Köchel catalogue reflect the continuing establishment of a complete chronology of Mozart's works, and provide a shorthand reference to the compositions.


In the classical period, the Latin word opus ("work", "labour") was used to identify, list, and catalogue a work of art. [1]

Classical period (music) genre of Western music (c.1730-1820)

The Classical period was an era of classical music between roughly 1730 and 1820.

By the 15th and 16th centuries, the word opus was used by Italian composers to denote a specific musical composition, and by German composers for collections of music. In compositional practise, numbering musical works in chronological order dates from 17th century Italy, especially Venice. In common usage, the word Opus is used to describe the best work of an artist with the term magnum opus . [2]

15th century Century

The 15th century was the century which spans the Julian years 1401 to 1500.

16th century Century

The 16th century begins with the Julian year 1501 and ends with either the Julian or the Gregorian year 1600.

17th century Century

The 17th century was the century that lasted from January 1, 1601, to December 31, 1700, in the Gregorian calendar. It falls into the Early Modern period of Europe and in that continent was characterized by the Baroque cultural movement, the latter part of the Spanish Golden Age, the Dutch Golden Age, the French Grand Siècle dominated by Louis XIV, the Scientific Revolution, and according to some historians, the General Crisis. The greatest military conflicts were the Thirty Years' War, the Great Turkish War, and the Dutch-Portuguese War. It was during this period also that European colonization of the Americas began in earnest, including the exploitation of the silver deposits, which resulted in bouts of inflation as wealth was drawn into Europe.

Etymologically, the words opus (singular) and opera (plural) are related to the Latin words opera (singular) and operae (plural), the ancestor of the Italian words opera (singular) and opere (plural). In English usage, besides the word opus, the word opera occasionally was used to identify a musical work. In contemporary usage, however, the word opera specifically denotes the dramatic musical genre of opera or ballet, which were developed in Italy. [3]

Opera artform combining sung text and musical score in a theatrical setting

Opera is a form of theatre in which music has a leading role and the parts are taken by singers, but is distinct from musical theater. Such a "work" is typically a collaboration between a composer and a librettist and incorporates a number of the performing arts, such as acting, scenery, costume, and sometimes dance or ballet. The performance is typically given in an opera house, accompanied by an orchestra or smaller musical ensemble, which since the early 19th century has been led by a conductor.

Ballet form of performance dance

Ballet is a type of performance dance that originated during the Italian Renaissance in the fifteenth century and later developed into a concert dance form in France and Russia. It has since become a widespread, highly technical form of dance with its own vocabulary based on French terminology. It has been globally influential and has defined the foundational techniques used in many other dance genres and cultures. Ballet has been taught in various schools around the world, which have historically incorporated their own cultures and as a result, the art has evolved in a number of distinct ways. See glossary of ballet.

Early usage

In the arts, an opus number usually denotes a work of musical composition, a practice and usage established in the seventeenth century when composers identified their works with an opus number. In the eighteenth century, publishers usually assigned opus numbers when publishing groups of like compositions, usually in sets of three, six or twelve compositions. Consequently, opus numbers are not usually in chronological order, unpublished compositions usually had no opus number, and numeration gaps and sequential duplications occurred when publishers issued contemporaneous editions of a composer’s works, as in the sets of string quartets by Joseph Haydn (1732–1809) and Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827); Haydn's Op. 76, the Erdödy quartets (1796–97), comprises six discrete quartets consecutively numbered Op. 76 No. 1 – Op. 76 No. 6; whilst Beethoven's Op. 59, the Rasumovsky quartets (1805–06), comprises String Quartet No. 7, String Quartet No. 8, and String Quartet No. 9.

19th century to date

From about 1800, composers usually assigned an opus number to a work or set of works upon publication. After approximately 1900, they tended to assign an opus number to a composition whether published or not. However, practices were not always perfectly consistent or logical. For example, early in his career, Beethoven selectively numbered his compositions (some published without opus numbers), yet in later years, he published early works with high opus numbers. Likewise, some posthumously published works were given high opus numbers by publishers, even though some of them were written early in Beethoven's career. Since his death in 1827, the un-numbered compositions have been catalogued and labelled with the German acronym WoO (Werk ohne Opuszahl), meaning "work without opus number"; the same has been done with other composers who used opus numbers. (There are also other catalogues of Beethoven's works – see Catalogues of Beethoven compositions.)

The practice of enumerating a posthumous opus ("Op. posth.") is noteworthy in the case of Felix Mendelssohn (1809–47); after his death, the heirs published many compositions with opus numbers that Mendelssohn did not assign them. In life, he published two symphonies (Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 11; and Symphony No. 3 in A minor, Op. 56), furthermore he published his symphony-cantata Lobgesang , Op. 52, which was posthumously counted as his Symphony No. 2; yet, he chronologically wrote symphonies between symphonies Nos. 1 and 2, which he withdrew for personal and compositional reasons; nevertheless, the Mendelssohn heirs published (and catalogued) them as the Italian Symphony No. 4 in A major, Op. 90, and as the Reformation Symphony No. 5 in D major and D minor, Op. 107.

While many of the works of Antonín Dvořák (1841–1904) were given opus numbers, these did not always bear a logical relationship to the order in which the works were written or published. To achieve better sales, some publishers, such as N. Simrock, preferred to present budding composers as being well established, by giving some relatively early works much higher opus numbers than their chronological order would merit. In other cases, Dvořák gave lower opus numbers to new works to be able to sell them to other publishers outside his contract obligations. This way it could happen that the same opus number was given to more than one of his works. Opus number 12, for example, was assigned, successively, to five different works (an opera, a concert overture, a string quartet, and two unrelated piano works). In other cases, the same work was given as many as three different opus numbers by different publishers. The sequential numbering of his symphonies has also been confused: (a) they were initially numbered by order of publication, not composition; (b) the first four symphonies to be composed were published after the last five; and (c) the last five symphonies were not published in order of composition. The New World Symphony originally was published as No. 5, later was known as No. 8, and definitively was renumbered as No. 9 in the critical editions published in the 1950s.

Other examples of composers' historically inconsistent opus-number usages include the cases of César Franck (1822–1890), Béla Bartók (1881–1945), and Alban Berg (1885-1935), who initially numbered, but then stopped numbering their compositions. Carl Nielsen (1865–1931) and Paul Hindemith (1895–1963) were also inconsistent in their approaches. Sergei Prokofiev (1891–1953) was consistent and assigned an opus number to a composition before composing it; at his death, he left fragmentary and planned, but numbered, works. In revising a composition, Prokofiev occasionally assigned a new opus number to the revision; thus Symphony No. 4 is two thematically related but discrete works: Symphony No. 4, Op. 47, written in 1929; and Symphony No. 4, Op. 112, a large-scale revision written in 1947. Likewise, depending upon the edition, the original version of Piano Sonata No. 5 in C major, is catalogued both as Op. 38 and as Op. 135.

Despite being used in more or less normal fashion by a number of important early-twentieth-century composers, including Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951) and Anton Webern (1883-1945), opus numbers became less common in the later part of the twentieth century.

Other catalogues

To manage inconsistent opus-number usages — especially by composers of the Baroque (1600–1750) and of the Classical (1720—1830) music eras musicologists have developed comprehensive and unambiguous catalogue number-systems for the works of composers such as:

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  1. Lewis and Short, A Latin Dictionary, s.v. "opus".
  2. Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. "opus". Retrieved from http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/132110.
  3. Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. "opera, n. 1", "opera, n. 2"