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I don't know if this has been asked before, but I was unable to find anything about it with the forum search. Googling didn't help either.

So, my rather basic question is how do you read the names of classical pieces? More specifically I'd like to know the meaning of 'No.' and 'Op.' and how they relate to each other. For example, in this Beethoven piece: "Romance for Violin & Orchestra No 1 in G, Op. 40", does the "No 1" mean that this piece is the first of its type by Beethoven, and "Op 40" that this piece is Beethoven's 40th work (of all of his works)?

Another example: "Piano Sonata No. 21 in C Major ("Waldstein") Op. 53: I. Allegro con brio". Does the "No 21" here mean that this is Beethoven's 21st piano sonata, and "Op 53" that this is 53rd of all of his works?

Thanks,
Juha
 

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This is a big subject for the musicologists (and helps keep them off the welfare benefits queue) since they are largely responsible for some of the latest developments in this field.

Basically, Opus numbers are applied by the composer / publisher / musicologist to a work or group of works published / made available at the same time.

The No.1 etc refers to the number of the piece within that opus. So Beethoven's Opus 27 comprises 2 sonatas Op 27, No 1 in E flat, No 2 in C# minor.

It gets slightly confusing with some works (like those sonatas) because people also have a habit of numbering sonatas/nocturnes etc in sequence, regardless of the opus numbers. So the sonatas I quoted are sometimes called the Sonata 13 in E-flat and the Sonata 14 in C# minor (moonlight). But properly, these are Op27 Nos 1 and 2.

So with your Waldstein example, this should be referred to as "Sonata in C, Op 53, or you can call it his 21st piano sonata as it was (presumably) the 21st one he wrote. If you call it Sonata 21, Op53, you run the risk of someone thinking it is Op53 No.21. Of course, Beethoven fans would know that's absurd but with less famous composers it could become a problem.

Bach's works are usually catalogued by BWV numbers and Mozart's by Koechel numbers (I suppose Koechel was one of Mozart's groupies determined to cash in on this young prodigy!) Schubert and Liszt are also victims of musicologists and have different numbering sytems.
 

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I would have to disagree with Frasier here, "Romance for Violin & Orchestra No 1 in G, Op. 40" refers to Beethoven's first work of this type (as you had guessed) not the first work in the opus. Though in the example given they are the same thing as Beethoven only ever published one opus of works in this form.

If you want to refer to a work within an opus number, you would say for example Opus 20, No. 2 not Sonata No.2, Opus.20 which is completely different. I don't think there is any ambiguity in using the latter format as Frasier suggest, for example Wikipedia use this format as do a lot of CDs.
 

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To make it yet more confusing, pieces are generally numbered in the order in which they were published, not the order in which they were composed. For Example, Beethoven's String Quartet No. 15, op. 132 was actually written BEFORE his String Quartet No. 13, op. 130 and String Quartet No. 14, op. 131.
 

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(I suppose Koechel was one of Mozart's groupies determined to cash in on this young prodigy!)
That's wicked... :D

I would have to disagree with Frasier here, "Romance for Violin & Orchestra No 1 in G, Op. 40" refers to Beethoven's first work of this type (as you had guessed) not the first work in the opus.
That's right. You usually name the work type, its number (the order among works by the same composer, in the same genre), the tonality, and the opus number. In case there were many works in the same opus number, their order is also mentioned. For example, Beethoven's third piano sonata should be listed as:
Piano sonata Nº 3 in C major, Op. 2 Nº 3.

Some composers do not have opus numbers, but their works are identified with the initials of the musicologist or compiler that ordered them.
The K in Mozart stands for Köchel.
The D in Schubert stands for Deutsch
The K in Scarlatti is for Kirkpatrick
The Sz in Bartok is for Szöllösy.
etc.

To make it yet more confusing, pieces are generally numbered in the order in which they were published, not the order in which they were composed. For Example, Beethoven's String Quartet No. 15, op. 132 was actually written BEFORE his String Quartet No. 13, op. 130 and String Quartet No. 14, op. 131.
What about his Piano concerto Nº 1 in C major, Op. 15? It's actually the third. The concerto Nº 2 is indeed the second, as the first was one in E flat Major.

In Schubert's case, the Opus number shows the publishing order, while the D catalog tries to show the order in which they were composed. In some works the difference between numbers is huge, like the Wanderer Fantasy in C major, Op 15 D.760.
 
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