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In musical composition, the opus number is the "work number" that is assigned to a musical 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.
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 No. 2, in C-sharp minor is also catalogued as "Sonata No. 14", because it is the fourteenth sonata composed by Ludwig van Beethoven.
Given composers' inconsistent or inexistant assignment of opus numbers, especially during the Baroque (1600–1750) and the Classical (1750–1827) eras, musicologists have developed other catalogue-number systems; among them the Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis (BWV-number), and the Köchel-Verzeichnis (K- and KV-numbers) which enumerate the works of Johann Sebastian Bach and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, respectively.
In the classical period, the Latin word opus ("work", "labour"), plural opera, was used to identify, list, and catalogue a work of art.
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 practice, 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 .
In Latin, the words opus (singular) and opera (plural) are related to the words opera (singular) and operae (plural), which gave rise to the Italian words opera (singular) and opere (plural), likewise meaning "work". In contemporary English, the word opera has specifically come to denote the dramatic musical genres of opera or ballet, which were developed in Italy.As a result, the plural opera of opus tends to be avoided in English. In other languages such as German, however, it remains common.
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.
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 cataloged and labeled 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 catalogs 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. 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 cataloged) 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 less experienced 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 cataloged 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.
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:
Ludwig van Beethoven was a German composer and pianist whose music ranks amongst the most performed of the classical music repertoire; he remains one of the most admired composers in the history of Western music. His works span the transition from the classical period to the romantic era in classical music. His career has conventionally been divided into early, middle, and late periods. The "early" period, during which he forged his craft, is typically considered to have lasted until 1802. His "middle" period, sometimes characterized as "heroic", showed an individual development from the "classical" styles of Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, typically covers the years 1802 to 1812, during which he increasingly suffered from deafness. In the "late" period from 1812 to his death in 1827, he extended his innovations in musical form and expression.
Ludwig Alois Friedrich Ritter von Köchel was an Austrian musicologist, writer, composer, botanist and publisher. He is best known for cataloguing the works of Mozart and originating the 'KV-numbers' by which they are known.
Franz Peter Schubert was an Austrian composer of the late Classical and early Romantic eras. Despite his short lifetime, Schubert left behind a vast oeuvre, including more than 600 secular vocal works, seven complete symphonies, sacred music, operas, incidental music and a large body of piano and chamber music. His major works include the Piano Quintet in A major, D. 667 , the Symphony No. 8 in B minor, D. 759 , the ”Great” Symphony No. 9 in C major, D. 944, the String Quintet, the three last piano sonatas, the opera Fierrabras, the incidental music to the play Rosamunde, and the song cycles Die schöne Müllerin and Winterreise.
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Antonín Leopold Dvořák was a Czech composer, one of the first to achieve worldwide recognition. Following the Romantic-era nationalist example of his predecessor Bedřich Smetana, Dvořák frequently employed rhythms and other aspects of the folk music of Moravia and his native Bohemia. Dvořák's own style has been described as "the fullest recreation of a national idiom with that of the symphonic tradition, absorbing folk influences and finding effective ways of using them".
Lucien Denis Gabriel Albéric Magnard was a French composer, sometimes referred to as a "French Bruckner", though there are significant differences between the two composers. Magnard became a national hero in 1914 when he refused to surrender his property to German invaders and died defending it.
Ludwig van Beethoven is one of the most influential figures in the history of classical music. Since his lifetime, when he was "universally accepted as the greatest living composer", Beethoven's music has remained among the most performed, discussed and reviewed. Scholarly journals are devoted to analysis of his life and work. He has been the subject of numerous biographies and monographs, and his music was the driving force behind the development of Schenkerian analysis. He is widely considered as among the most important composers, and along with Bach and Mozart, his music is the most frequently recorded.
Ferdinand Ries was a German composer. Ries was a friend, pupil and secretary of Ludwig van Beethoven. He composed eight symphonies, a violin concerto, eight piano concertos, three operas, and numerous other works, including 26 string quartets. In 1838 he published a collection of reminiscences of his teacher Beethoven, co-written with Franz Wegeler. The symphonies, some chamber works—most of them with piano—his violin concerto and his piano concertos have been recorded, exhibiting a style which, given his connection to Beethoven, lies between the Classical and early Romantic styles.
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The Hoboken catalogue is a catalogue of the musical compositions by Joseph Haydn compiled by Anthony van Hoboken. It is intended to cover the composer's entire oeuvre and includes over 750 entries. Its full title in the original German is Joseph Haydn, Thematisch-bibliographisches Werkverzeichnis. The Haydn catalogue that now bears Hoboken's name was begun in card format in 1934; work continued until the publication of the third and final book volume in 1978.
The String Quartet No. 2 in A minor, Op. 13, was composed by Felix Mendelssohn in 1827. Written when he was 18 years old, it was, despite its official number, Mendelssohn's first mature string quartet. One of Mendelssohn's most passionate works, the A minor Quartet is one of the earliest and most significant examples of cyclic form in music.
The Catalogues of Beethoven compositions are all of the different ways in which the musical compositions by Ludwig van Beethoven have been organized by researchers into his music.
This article gives some details of the various catalogues of classical compositions that have come into general use.