Skip to Main Content newdropdown newmenu
MSM Logo Library Name

Tips for Searching the Catalog

Introduction to Searching by Title

Musical compositions often have a generic title (Piano sonata no. 3) rather than a distinctive one like books often have (A tale of two cities). Moreover, they may exist in a variety of languages, arrangements, and media. For instance, here are several examples of how the title of Beethoven's Third symphony appears on several recordings and scores in our collection:


Symphony nos. 2 & 3
Symphony no. 3, Eroica, op. 55 in E flat major
Sinfonie Nr. 3, Es-dur: Sinfonia eroica, op. 55
Symphonie III, Es dur, Eroica, op. 55

All of these titles are perfectly legitimate; none is more correct than the others. But if we listed the work by all these titles in the catalog, you would have to look in four places to find them—and many more to find every other manifestation we own. Moreover, you would somehow have to know in advance what versions of the title exist, or poke around the catalog guessing at them.

Obviously, some sort of unifying principle is needed. To bring all versions of a work together, regardless of the title the publisher has assigned it, librarians invented a concept we call the “preferred title” (formerly "uniform title"). In the case of Beethoven's Eroica, it is:


  Symphonies, no. 3, op. 55, E♭ major

Every single version of Beethoven's Third that we own has this title attached to it. Thus, if you take a look at the the full catalog record for the Bärenreiter score, it looks like this:


  Name   Beethoven, Ludwig van, 1770-1827.
  Preferred Title   Symphonies, no. 3, op. 55, E♭ major
  Title Page   Symphonie Nr. 3 in Es-Dur = Symphony no. 3 in E-flat major : Eroica : op. 55 / Ludwig van Beethoven ; herausgegeben von Jonathan Del Mar.
  Publication   Kassel ; New York : Bärenreiter, [1997]

You notice we did not discard the publisher's title. We merely added a preferred title on top of it. By assigning these to each instance of every work, all works by Beethoven collate and sort logically and clearly when you perform an author search:


  Beethoven, Ludwig van, 1770-1827.
  Symphonies; arranged
  Symphonies, nos. 1-4
  Symphonies, no. 1, op. 21, C major
  Symphonies, no. 1, op. 21, C major; arranged
  Symphonies, no. 2, op. 36, D major
  Symphonies, no. 2, op. 36, D major; arranged
  Symphonies, no. 2, op. 36, D major; Larghetto; arranged
  Symphonies, no. 3, op. 55, E♭ major

Note that the plural form is used even when an individual work is being named. Looks strange, but once you get used to it you'll see how it all works in the same genre sort alpha-numerically, with (in this instance) collections containing multiple symphonies at the top.

Another example: Catalog entries for editions in different languages of Giuseppe Verdi's opera Un ballo in maschera (known in English as A masked ball) appear as follows:


Name       Verdi, Giuseppe, 1813-1901.
Preferred Title       Ballo in maschera
Title Page       Un ballo in maschera … [title page in Italian]
Name       Verdi, Giuseppe, 1813-1901.
Preferred Title       Ballo in maschera
Title Page       A masked ball …[title page in English]
Name       Verdi, Giuseppe, 1813-1901.
Preferred Title       Ballo in maschera
Title Page       Ein Maskenball … [title page in German]

Note that the composer's original language (in this case, Italian) is used for the preferred title, and that the initial article "Un" is omitted. (Articles are omitted in all languages.)

There are three general types of preferred titles: 


  Form titles
  Concerto, sonata, symphony, etc.
  Distinctive titles
  Opera titles (Un ballo in maschera), named works (Symphonie fantastique), etc. 
  Collective titles
  Collections or recordings containing multiple works by a composer.

Each of these is considered in turn in the following pages, with an explanation of how they are constructed.