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30 years in the making

What’s What in Titles of Classical Music... and beyond is the culmination of over 30 years of arduous research and compilation.

Critics agree:

“Most interesting and scholarly. Highly detailed, informational and a vital resource for libraries, schools, universities, orchestras and opera companies.  I recommend it to anyone who wishes to be fully informed in their appreciation of music.”

Boris Brott, National Academy Orchestra of Canada, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

« Il fallait y penser : un dictionnaire des titres d’œuvres de musique classique... Rechercher l’auteur d’un titre de partition, sa source, les tonalités, découvrir les compositeurs qui ont laissé des pièces homonymes devient un jeu d’enfant.  Qui plus est, les index des compositeurs et celui des auteurs, poètes, paroliers, chefs d’orchestre... sont fort utiles.  Impossible donc d’oublier le numéro d’une cantate de Bach, car elles sont toutes répertoriées... »

La Lettre du Musicien

"Very impressive. A grand job. A very useful reference book."

Dr. François Mai, author of Diagnosing Genius: The Life and Death of Beethoven (2007).

Background

The main purpose of this document is that any music lover listening to a piece of music and hearing the title at the end, or encountering a title in a reading or a conversation, etc., can refer to this reference book and discover who composed the piece, what it may have been part of, in what year it was written and other miscellaneous information. For the professional or amateur musician, other details may be included, such as the key or the opus number, which might help in the search for the music score in a library or a bookstore.

History

This whole project started with Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony. When I was young, my parents used to listen to the very few long-playing records which they had proudly acquired and were carefully handling as precious objects. This is when I learned about grooves, tone arm, needle, scratches... but also, and above all, about composers and their music. Many works were simply called sonatas for piano, concertos for violin and orchestra, symphonies, with various opus numbers and key signatures. However, others possessed evocative titles: A Little Night Music and The Nutcracker, of course, but also Eroica, Moonlight Sonata, Jardins sous la pluie, Valse triste and... the Pastoral.

Later, in my late teens and early twenties, I started to investigate various works to purchase my own stereophonic records and build up my collection. And I discovered that one word or two was not enough to differentiate one particular piece from others bearing a similar title. In the case of the Pastoral, I had always thought this word belonged, or should belong only, to Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6, in F major, opus 68. I soon found out that it was also being used as a title for different works by Torelli, Brahms, Vaughan Williams, Milhaud... to name just a few. This word was even used for Beethoven’s piano sonata No. 15, in D major, opus 28 (although that title was not given by the composer, but later by a publisher).

Other names or titles seemed firmly attached to a particular work, i.e. Romantic was Bruckner’s Symphony No. 4; Faust could only describe Gounod’s opera; and the good old Unfinished meant Schubert’s Symphony No. 8. But there too, those titles could also refer to other works. There lies my growing involvement with the titles of classical music compositions. This was helped by my family and friends who, knowing my interest in this field, would occasionally query me about particular titles.

All this led to an attempt to find a reference book which would list classical music works by their titles. None was to be found. Thus I decided I would try to create one, at least for my own reference, with the vague idea of publishing for the benefit of others. Therefore, over thirty years after the first thought on this project, I present What’s What in Titles of Classical Music... and beyond.

This document is almost as much a musical reference dictionary as a multilingual dictionary of sorts. Here one can browse and find lots of interesting information, with many cross-references, covering various subjects, persons, places, events in literature, history, geography, religion, mythology, with titles and words connected with music. And aren’t language and music two powerful means of communication which help tame this human world, unfortunately often caught up with wars, greed, misuse of money, and other evils? But I am digressing...

In summary

One main point to remember is that this book exclusively lists works which are known under specific titles, whether given by the composer or not. Hence, one will not find any reference to or about untitled compositions, such as various symphonies or sonatas which are only known by a number or a key signature.

So then, while thanking Beethoven for his Pastoral Symphony and other works, and the other composers for their valuable contributions to life in general, let us discover, read, peruse, check, and comment on this reference book, What’s What in Titles of Classical Music... and beyond, ... all for the love of music.