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Thematic Catalogs

 

Thematic catalogs are an essential music research tool, helping to identify details pertaining to a composer's works, including specifics about their creation, first performances, and source materials.

Many musical works cannot be identified by title only. For example: Joseph Haydn wrote 15 different works called Symphony in D. Thematic catalogs are helpful because they include "musical incipits," short passages of musical notation from the beginning of each piece or movement. This is similar to using first lines to identify poems with the title "A Sonnet".

A thematic catalog ideally contains for each work:

  • the authoritative title, opus or other identification number, author or other source of text, date and place of composition, first performance date, place, performer, and other significant details;
  • incipits of each movement, noting the number of bars in each movement where applicable and indicating variants among sources;
  • full description, location and shelf-mark of autographs (manuscripts in the composer's hand), description of significant copies, their shelf-marks, dates, and important differences or special markings;
  • bibliographical description of first editions, including date, imprint, price and plate number and of all subsequent editions or arrangements published in the composer's lifetime or reflecting changes made or sanctioned by him;
  • references to complete editions;
  • bibliography pertaining to the work;
  • references to contemporary diaries, memoirs and newspapers, thematic and non-thematic catalogues; and
  • references to significant citations in scholarly studies.

We routinely see and hear compositions identified by their thematic catalog numbers. The names of the catalog compilers, and their abbreviated forms, quickly become familiar: Hoboken (Hob.) for Haydn, Köchel (K.) for Mozart, Deutsch (D.) for Schubert, Ryom (RV) for Vivaldi, and Schmieder (BWV) for J.S. Bach. Others are less familiar: Baselt (HWV) for Handel.

Many thematic catalogs and related reference resources are classed in ML134, ordered by composer last name. This is a great place to begin discovering information about a certain composer or specific works.

Frequently referenced thematic catalogs

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