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Preferred Titles

If you want your searches for musical works to be as complete as possible, it is useful to understand the concept of authorized access points and preferred titles. Preferred titles are a type of authorized access point assigned by library catalogers so that all manifestations of a work can be retrieved in a single search. This is useful because musical works can be published with variants in the title wording and can appear in any language.

For example, Beethoven's Fifth Symphony appears in the catalog with these titles:

  • Cinquième sinfonie en ut mineur = C moll : oeuvre 67
  • Fünfte Symphonie, c-Moll, Opus 67
  • Sinfonie Nr. 5, C-moll, Opus 67
  • Symphonie Nr. 5, c-moll
  • Symphony no. 5, C minor, op. 67
  • Fünfte Symphonie, nach der Handschrift im Besitz der Preussischen Staatsbibliothek
  • Fourth and Fifth Symphonies

You need not search on variant spellings if you construct your search with the preferred title in mind. The preferred title is under "Record Info" within an item's bibliographic record.

Search Tip: An effective search strategy is to begin with a keyword search on the terms you know. If that does not retrieve adequate results, look for the preferred title within a relevant result and then revise your search according to the preferred title. Using the example above, one successful search for this work would be the Keyword search: beethoven AND symphonies AND 67.

Form Titles

There are three main types of preferred titles: form, distinctive, and collective. Form titles are used when the title of a work is a musical form or type, such as concerto, symphony, or quartet. These titles consist of:

  • the form of the work
  • the instrumentation (unless the form implies the instrumentation)
  • the thematic catalog number, opus number, or other numbering
  • the key

Below are a few examples. The preferred title is in bold.

Beethoven, Ludwig van, 1770-1827
Sonatas, piano, no. 18, op. 31, no. 3, E♭ major
Piano Sonata in E-flat, op. 31, no. 3

Schubert, Franz, 1797-1828
Quintets, piano, violin, viola, violoncello, double bass, D. 667, A major
Trout Quintet

Mozart, Wolfgang, Amadeus, 1756-1791
Symphonies, K. 504, D major
Symphony No. 38, "Prague"

Schoenberg, Arnold, 1874-1951
Stücke, orchestra, op. 16
Five Pieces for Orchestra

Distinctive Titles

Distinctive titles are used when the composer has assigned the work a non-form title. These appear in the original language. Below are a few examples. The preferred title is in bold.

Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus, 1756-1791
The Magic Flute

Messiaen, Olivier, 1908-1992
Quatuor pour le fin du temps
Quartet for the End of Time

Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, Felix, 1809-1847
A Midsummer Night's Dream

Stravinsky, Igor, 1882-1971

Bach, Johann Sebastian, 1685-1750
Wohltemperierte Klavier
The Well-Tempered Clavier

Collective Titles

Collective titles are used for collections that contain multiple pieces by the same composer. The collective title may refer to the form or the performance medium of the works, or it may indicate that the works are of mixed types.

Below are a few examples. The preferred title is in bold.

I. Single musical form/type

Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus, 1756-1791
Sonatas, violin, piano
Complete sonatas for violin & piano

II. Single performance medium

Chopin, Frederic, 1810-1849
Piano music
Complete works for piano

III. Mixture of forms and media

Liszt, Franz, 1811-1886
Complete works


Any kind of preferred title may have a qualifier at the end to distinguish one kind of edition from another.

Common examples of qualifiers:

  • "Selections"
  • "arr."
  • "Vocal score"
  • "Libretto"
  • part of a larger work
  • language(s) of translation from original text

Below are some examples. The preferred title is in bold.

Rossini, Gioacchino, 1792-1868
Guillaume Tell. Vocal score. English & French
vocal score of William Tell, with text translated into English and French

Sibelius, Jean, 1865-1957
Concerto, violin, orchestra, op. 47, D minor; arr.
Violin Concerto, arranged for piano and violin

Schubert, Franz, 1797-1828
Songs. Selections
a collection of some of Schubert's songs

Bach, Johann Sebastian, 1685-1750
Wohltemperierte Klavier. 1. T.
the first book of the Well-Tempered Clavier

Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, Felix, 1809-1847
Sommernachtstraum. Hochzeitsmarsch
the wedding march from A Midsummer Night's Dream

Sondheim, Stephen
Into the Woods. Libretto
the script of the musical Into the Woods