K. Why?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010 - 04:53 PM

Adam Delehanty, who keeps our schedules straight at WQXR, just asked, "This may be a naïve question, but why does Mozart's music all have "K." numbers after it?"  It's a great question.

A lot of composers' music is listed by opus number (abbreviated Op.), but back in the 19th century, a musicologist named Köchel (Ludwig Alois Ferdinand Ritter von Köchel, to be exact) did the world a huge favor by cataloguing all of Mozart's music. So Mozart's compositions  have “K. for Köchel” numbers. 

Adam then asked if Mozart was the only composer with "K." numbers, and I said no, the great 20th century harpsichordist Ralph Kirkpatrick catalogued Domenico Scarlatti's music, so it has "K. for Kirkpatrick" numbers. Otto Erich Deutsch put Franz Schubert's music in order, so Schubert gets "D." numbers. And Johann Sebastian Bach's music has three letters: BWV, for Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis, which is German for "Bach Works Catalogue."  Amazingly enough, the BWV numbers have only been around since 1950. 

I think my favorite catalogue letters are "Hob.," short for Hoboken-Verzeichnis. Not because Haydn spent time in the New Jersey city where Frank Sinatra was born -- Anthony van Hoboken was a Dutchman who did for Haydn what Köchel did for Mozart.

And I also have a soft spot for "WoO" (woo!), short for Werke ohne Opuszahl (in English, "works without Opus number"). As the name suggests, those got assigned ex post facto to bits and pieces that Beethoven didn't give an opus number to.

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Comments [7]

Michael Meltzer

I thank Mr. Lubin. Allesandro Longo had perhaps the most difficult job in cataloging Domenico Scarlatti, there was no pre-existing work and over 550 sonatas in publication/non-publication chaos. It's a lot easier to tweak and correct a well organized body such as he left for his successors.
The reason his catalog was largely abandoned was that it was an index to a complete enngraved performing edition in which Longo took great, unwarranted liberties in "correcting" Scarlatti's departures from strict classical harmony and strict symmetrical meter. Modern pianists are all intrigued by how adventurous Scarlatti could be, but Longo homogenized him. My favorite example is the D-minor sonata also called "Toccata"
which imitates a flamenco guitar with rapid repeated notes in the treble and dissonant flamenco strums built in fourths and fifths in the bass. Longo rewrote the strums as perfectly mellifluous triads.
When newer more authentic editions appeared, the Longo cataloguing "baby" was thrown out with the Longo editorial "bathwater."

Aug. 18 2010 05:10 PM
Laurence Lubin from Fort Lee, NJ

Hats off to Mr. Meltzer, he certainly knows his catalogs! I spent three years in musicology sales, both monographs and complete editions worldwide, for a major publisher/distributor, and dealt with every thematic catalog in print and a few out-of-print. They can be fascinating and overwhelming.

Adding to the multi-faceted confusion regarding Scarlatti, there are three catalogues extant: in addition to Ralph Kirkpatrick's eponymon, there is an R for Rinaldi and an L for Longo, the latter being the most complete.

Ever have a yen to peruse the complete output of Amilcare Ponchielli? Not many of us would, but this thick tome is mostly Band Music, written for his day job.

Aug. 18 2010 04:18 PM
Michael Meltzer

A couple of points: not all the cataloguers and biographers followed the same format, or had the same agenda. For instance, Köchel and Deutsch did chronological listings for Mozart's and Schubert's works, respectively, Schmieder's "Bach Werke Verzeichnis" is by musical category, then loosely chronological within each category. A low Köchel or Deutsch number means an early work, a high number means a late work. Not so with Schmieder, BWV 203 is a cantata from 1735, BWV 1030 is a flute sonata from 1720.
Schmieder's concern was getting everything entered, and separating out and either verifying or eliminating the many questionable and contentious works that bore Bach's name. Here it is necessary to cite the "appendix" section, the "BWV Anhang" numbers. There are several categories: fragments and incomplete works, works thought to be complete and authentic but not verifiable, works of doubtful authenticity, works once thought to be Bach's (often still published under Bach's name) but definitely by another composer. You "can't tell the players without a scorecard," you really need to own this book if you are a radio station.
One more point: Kirkpatrick didn't catalog the music of Domenico Scarlatti, just his harpsichord sonatas, most of which were written in Scarlatti's middle and advancing age in the service of his royal patroness. The obligatory vocal, instrumental and stage-work output of the first half of Scarlatti's life wasn't Kirkpatrick's concern or interest, he thought it was "lightweight" and he never got to it.

Aug. 18 2010 10:41 AM
Naomi Lewin

Allen --

Well, I couldn't hit them all, or the blog post would have gone on forever. :-) Peter Ryom (a Danish musicologist) was the one who catalogued Vivaldi's music, so with Vivaldi, RV stands for Ryom-Verzeichnis, rather than recreational vehicle. No idea why the German word for catalogue (Verzeichnis) got attached to Ryom instead of the Danish one, other than the fact that German musicologists probably outnumber Danes.

Oh, and I also forgot another favorite: Op. Posth., short for Opus Posthumous. I know it means something that was catalogued after a composer died, but it kind of sounds like something the composer wrote from beyond the grave!

Aug. 17 2010 08:46 PM
Michael Meltzer

The BWV designation is quite recent. When their creator, Wolfgang Schmieder, was alive, they were "S." Numbers. The changeover happened around 20 years ago, and Breitkopf & Haertel Bach editions from those years may still show "S." No.'s on their covers.
About 8 or so years ago, it fell upon me to host a private N.Y.C. all-Mozart piano recital by early music specialist Edmund Battersby. I also prepared on the computer the printed program, from the handwritten list he had submitted in advance.
It was necessary to revise the program twice before the recital began, and the third time, inadvertantly all the K.-numbers fell out. I didn't catch the error until the programs were on the chairs, so with some embarassment I advised Ed Battersby he would have to announce them.
His comment was, "Don't worry about it! Mozart didn't know those numbers anyway."

Aug. 17 2010 08:32 PM
Maro Mancusi-Ungaro

Dear Naomi:
Not with standing you worldly knowledge and presence, I have the feeling that your comment was probably an offhand NYC "in jest" dig on the urban evolution of the city of the "Oyster Bar". Hoboken is is a southern district of the arrondissement and city of Antwerp, in the Flemish Region of Belgium.. And I believe was a waystop of the Pilgrims on their travels to the New World. "Peg Leg" Peter Minuet
the Buyer of NYC was a known New World enrepreneur that probably knew in ins and outs of that rich city called.Antwerp! So Hoboken was a familiar name to early dutch settlers. And Anthony Van Hoboken freely translater to "that" Anthony "from" Hoboken

Smile great aunt Giovanna Mancusi lived in 22 Garden Street for 50 years.

Love your spirit and program

Best wishes from Madison WI

Aug. 17 2010 06:57 PM
Allen Morton

You defined the "K" for Mozart's works, the "D" for Schubert's, etc. What about the "RV" for Vivaldi's works? What does the "RV" stand for?

Aug. 17 2010 06:45 PM

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