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Music : Finding Classical Music

Everything you need to know about music resources and how to find them in the ECU library

Finding Classical Music

Finding classical music can be difficult, this page provides you resources and techniques to help you find both known, and unknown works.

Tips for finding known works:

  • Use any unique number or name wherever possible (e.g., mozart 331 will find scores and recordings of Mozart's piano sonata in A K331)
  • To find a recording with a particular performer, add the performer's last name to the search (e.g., mozart 331 brendel)
  • Searching by genre can also be helpful if you don't know a unique number, but it is best to use plurals (e.g., to find a flute concerto by Quantz, search: quantz concertos flute - then you can browse the results and narrow the search down)
  • Remember that many music titles are not in English, and are often known by a number of names:
    • Mozart Zauberflöte / Mozart Magic Flute
    • Stravinsky Firebird / Stravinskii Feuervogel / Strawinsky L'Oiseau de Feu
    • For complete works, try language variants such as "werk', "gesam", "sammlung", "ausgab" or "oeuvre"
    • If looking for an edition of a specific musical form such as motet, foreign variants may be applied or use truncation (in this instance): "motet*" which will also yield results for "motetta"
  • Uniform Titles are also a powerful way to find different versions of a known work (see details on Uniform Titles below)

Finding other works

It can be difficult to search for themes, styles, or by subject, see the techniques to the right:

  • Thematic catologues for searching via style, provenance, or incipit (the first few bars of the piece)
  • Collected or Monumental Editions of a composer, region, or era, or
  • Via the power of a search Database

Finding Classical Music Overview

Building a Search for Print Music

ECU Library Services Centre


ECU Worlsearch Tour

See Library Essentials for more details

Keyword Seaching

To search any field in a record

See Library Essentials for more details

Advanced Search

Boolean search operators

Searching individual Fields such as "Author / Composer" and "Title"

See Library Essentials for more details

Subject Headings

Advanced search Field

Form and Instrumentation


Uniform Titles

Plural Subject Headings and Uniform Titles

Opus Numbers Redux

Catalogues & Collections

Opus numbers

An opus number is a unique number assigned by a composer or by publishers to some or all of that composer's work or group of works.

According to New Grove, opus number were, until 1800, more common in instrumental music than in vocal music and stage works. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, opus numbers frequently were assigned by the publisher at the time of publication. It was not uncommon for different publishers to issue the same work under different opus numbers or to assign the same opus number to different works by the same composer. Considering all this, it is not safe to assume that opus numbering represents chronological order.

Opus numbers may appear in Arabic or roman form. The word "opus" may be in another language ("œuvre," "soch.," etc.), may be abbreviated ("op.," "œuv.," etc.), or may be another word meaning with the same meaning ("Werk").

WoO numbers

“WoO" is used when most, but not all, of a composer's works have opus numbers. The works that cannot be identified numerically are arranged chronologically or by form or genre and assigned numbers preceded by "WoO." This stands for Werke ohne Opuszahl, or "works without opus numbers." WoO numbers for a composer's works are used in authorized access points for music when they appear in a thematic index, in reference sources, or on published works.

Serial numbers

Serial numbers are usually assigned by the composer to a group of work of the same type of composition or in the same form in the order in which the works were written. Serial numbers that have been assigned posthumously are generally not used in authorized access points for music.

Work numbers

Work numbers (or thematic index numbers) are assigned by the person who creates a catalog of a composer's works. A "thematic index" or "thematic catalog" may be arranged chronologically, by medium of performance, by type of composition, or by some other criterion.

Thematic index numbers generally have an alphabetic prefix in the form of an initial or acronym. An initial may be first initial of the compiler's last name. The "K." in Mozart's thematic index number stands for Ludwig Köchel, the organizer of Mozart's works. When the numbers are taken from a reference source other than a thematic index, the first initial of the last name of the author of the article or book may be used. The thematic index numbers for Michel de Lalande are taken from the article by Sawkins in New Grove and are preceded by the letter "S." Two letters may represent the first initials of the composer's first and last names, as is the case with "MH," for Michael Haydn, or multiple authors of the composer's thematic index, such as "BI," standing for Bianchi and Inzaghi's index of Alessandro Rolla's works.

A thematic index number may also be an acronym representing the title of the thematic index. The letters in the thematic index numbers for J. S. Bach's works, "BWV," stand for Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis [Bach Work List], compiled by Wolfgang Schmieder.

A Uniform Title brings like-items together in the catalogue and on the shelf. In music, this is especially important as the same musical score or recording can have very different published titles. For example, look at the following titles for the same Bach piece:

  • 6 sonatas and partitas for violin solo​

  • Preludium (Partita III - Violino solo), E dur = E major = Mi majeur : Pianoforte

  • Partita, no. 1. Tempo di borea; arranged

  • Bourrée 

How would you find all forms of Beethoven's work when the titles are so different? By use of the Uniform Title. The Uniform Title is included in such works so the user can find all versions of that work. The titles above represent what is printed on either the score or recording which can vary depending on where it is published. Instead, each publication is also matched with the same Uniform Title:

  • Uniform Title: Sonaten und Partiten

Each individual title has the same Uniform Title which identifies each entry as being the same work. In addition, the Uniform Title in the library catalogue is a clickable link which will bring you to all of the versions of that work that the library owns.

Finding Uniform Titles

Works with Distinctive Titles
If the work's title is distinctive, the uniform title consists of the original title (from the manuscript or first edition) in the original language.

NOTE: This only applies if the distinctive title was given by the composer themselves, not merely a popularly understood name for the work.

Single Movements from Larger Works

Sometimes a single movement or section of a larger work is published or recorded separately from the whole composition. For example, the "Hallelujah chorus" from Handel's oratorio Messiah may be published separately for performance by a church choir; or the movement "Claire de lune" from Debussy's Suite bergamasque for piano is sometimes performed separately. In a preferred title for such separately published or recorded movements, the entire work is named first, and then the part is named.

Handel, George Frederic, 1685-1759.
The Hallelujah chorus, from Messiah …
Messiah. Hallelujah

Debussy, Claude, 1862-1918.
Clair de lune : from the Suite bergamasque for piano …

Suite bergamasque. Clair de lune

Works with Form or Genre Titles
If the composer's original title is simply a form name or genre (with or without key and number), the title is considered non-distinctive. The first word of the uniform title is the form or genre, and it's always in the plural except when the composer wrote only one sonata, nocturne, etc. The instrumentation, number (ordinal, opus, and or catalogue number) and key are often added to the form name.

For example: Sonatas, flute, A minor (include AND Bach to return Partita in A minor (BWV 1013) for solo flute)

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)

  5. Extra information

Here are a couple of examples:

Beethoven, Ludwig van, 1770-1827. Quartets, violins (2), viola, cello, no. 16, op. 135, F major
Bach, Johann Sebastian, 1685-1750. Masses, BWV 232, B minor

"Extra Information" can be used for a variety of useful bits of information. For example, any kind of preferred title (form, distinctive, or collective) may have qualifiers added at the end in order to distinguish one kind of edition from another. Five qualifiers are encountered frequently in the catalogue:

  • "Selections"

  • "Arranged"

  • "Vocal score" or "Chorus score"

  • "Libretto" or "Text"

  • Language(s) of translation(s) from the original language

Palestrina, Giovanni Pierluigi da, 1525?-1594. Masses, book 3. English and Latin

A thematic catalogue systematically organizes and lists the entire output of a composer's works (sometimes the works of an institution or school), including information such as the original title, date and place of composition, an incipit (first few bars of the music) for each piece, the provenance of manuscript copies, early published editions, and other details to aid scholarly research.

Note: Look in ECU Worldsearch under Subject: Thematic Catalogues to identify thematic catalogs in our Library.

RISM : Repertoire internationale des sources musicales

International inventory of musical sources.

Established in 1952, RISM is an ongoing inventory of the universe of musical literature created prior to 1800.

  • Pre-19th century books on music
  • Manuscript treatises on musicTheoretical writings from a variety of sources on music
  • Printed music
  • Printed music collections
  • Music in manuscript form

Citations include a complete description of the material, and the library/archival location at which these unique resource materials can be found.

Collected works (or Gesamtausgabe) are of a particular composer, whereas Monumental works (Denkmaler) are collections of music from a particular time, or place.

Our Catalogue lists many individual works in Collected and Monumental editions (as well as in Anthology editions), however, not all catalogue entries include the full works listed. To locate a piece in the collected works of a composer:

  • Use Oxford Music Online / Grove Dictionary of Music, search by COMPOSER, use the WORKS LIST in the composer article to find the title of the piece, then the volume and page of the complete works edition that contains the particular piece you are looking for.
  • Note the Collected works titles at the top of the works listing, and the initials for each:

  • Find the piece you are looking for in the works list. The right-hand columns will tell you where in the composer's collected works you can find that piece:

  • Then, check ECU Worldsearch, Wigmore Library, or the State Library to look for the publication.

Note: Some Collected Editions can also be found online, such as the Neue Mozart-Ausgabe

Or use Heyer's work on Historical sets, collected editions, and monuments of music: A guide to their contents. Find it at Mount Lawley Main Collection Call Number 780.263 HEY. The book includes a list of complete editions of the music of individual composers and the major collections of music that have been published or are in the process of publication.

You can find a free (non-printable) copy online at the Hathi Trust Digital Library: Historical sets, collected editions, and monuments of music: A guide to their contents

Whilst most of our databases are text-based, some of them have downloadable scores, or help you to find sheet music in print by composer, title, part(s), etc.

Searchable online databases of sheet music in print

Check out the page on using Databases in the tabs above.

Tools and services that promote access to and use of online sheet music collections by scholars, students, and the general public. An Open Archives Initiative Protocol for Metadata Harvesting.