How music is catalogued

To help us identify and organise pieces of music by a particular composer, individual compositions or sets are usually given an “Opus” number. The word “opus” is Latin and means “work” or “work of art”. The abbreviation is “Op.”, or “Opp.” in the plural. The practice of assigning an “opus number” to a work or set of works when the work or set was published began in the seventeenth century. Opus numbers were not usually used in chronological order and did not necessarily denote when a work was actually composed. Unpublished works often were left without opus numbers.

From the 1800s onwards, Beethoven in particular assigned opus numbers to individual works and sets (including piano pieces, songs and other short works) as they were completed and published: low opus numbers indicate early works, while high opus numbers (for example, the Piano Sonata Opus 110) are works composed and published at the end of Beethoven’s life. Works published posthumousaly (after death) were also assigned high opus numbers, while some works were not given an opus number at all, and were later catalogued in the 1950s as WoO (Werke ohne opus/’works without opus number’). These include the three ‘Electoral’ piano sonatas, written when Beethoven was a very young man, which are not usually included with the main body of the Piano Sonatas (32 in total, whose opus numbers range from Opus 2 to Opus 111).

Not all music has an opus number. The music of Bach is given a ‘BWV’ number, which is an abbreviation of “Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis” (literally, “directory of Bach’s works”), and was the cataloguing system for Bach’s music used by Wolfgang Smieder in the 1950s.

Similarly, Mozart’s music is catalogued with “K numbers” from the name of the cataloguer, Köchel. A low K number indicates a piece written when Mozart was very young, while a high number indicates a piece written at the end of his life. Some people know the works by their K numbers alone.

Ralph Kirkpatrick catalogued the numerous works of Domenico Scarlatti in a facsimile edition, and so these pieces are also given a K number, usually written “Kk” to distinguish it from Mozart’s Köchel number. To make matters slightly more confusing, Scarlatti’s works also have a “Longo number” after Alessandro Longo’s edition for the piano. The Kk and Longo numbers do not correspond, which can make identifying a particular work by Scarlatti tricky; fortunately, there are tables of Kk and Longo numbers available online to help clear up such discrepancies.

Confused? Read on…..

Haydn’s works are generally referred to by their Hob or Hoboken numbers, after the cataloguer Anthony von Hoboken’s classification, though some have Opus numbers alone. The works are also grouped into categories, for example, I for symphonies, or XVI for the piano sonatas. The Piano Sonatas have both a work number and a Hob. number, which, like the works of Scarlatti, make identification more confusing.

Schubert’s works have both Opus and “Deutsch” numbers (after Otto Erich Deutsch’s catalogue). The first set of Impromptus for piano, for example, are both Opus 90 and D899. (I tend to refer to Schubert’s piano music by its D number, because that is how I have always known it.)

Music specialists and academics often also refer to the “autographed score” or “autograph version”. These are original scores, written out by the composer, or transcribed by an assistant, and represent the first finished version, and are important historical documents in the scholarship of a particular composer’s works (over the years, music is subjected to editing; in recent years, scholars have gone back to autographed editions to understand the composer’s original intentions or to clear up questions of attribution or interpretation). Very occasionally, an original autographed score will come to light, which was previously thought to be lost, or non-existent, which can create a lot of excitement amongst music specialists and academics, as well as fetching significant sums at auction. In 2009, researchers unearthed two pieces of music thought to have been written by Mozart when he was still a boy, and earlier this year a ‘new’ piece by Mozart was premiered, after an autographed notebook was found in the attic of a house in Austria.

Autograph score sheet of 10th Bagatelle Opus 119 by Ludwig van Beethoven

This post first appeared on my piano studio blog

This is not a post about how to transcribe piano music for a full orchestra, or ensemble, but rather some thoughts on how imagining certain instruments and visualising sounds can help shape piano music, creating an exciting and contrasting sound world.

I often remind my students that the piano can be “any instrument you want it to be”: a trumpet, a cello, a bass drum, shimmering violins, mellow woodwind, a pure soprano voice. And beyond, to the sounds of the natural world: rain dripping, ice creaking, birdsong, fluttering wings, sighing trees, a dog barking, a horse’s hooves. Some students just look blankly at me – and then at the piano. “It’s just a piano”, they seem to be thinking. “How can it be anything else?”. Others are quick to embrace this idea, and a short exercise in which we “imagine the sound” before we play can make a huge difference to the kind of sound produced. This exercise has been particularly helpful in two pieces I am teaching for Trinity Guildhall graded exams, Fanfare for the Common Cold (Grade 2) and Song of Twilight (Grade 3), about which I have written on my piano studio blog (see posts here and here). The piano is a percussive instrument: the sound it produces comes from the mechanical action of a hammer hitting a string, a set of actions initiated by the finger striking a key. The balance, timbre and quality of the sound is controlled by the pianist; the suggestion of other instruments comes from the imagination of the pianist.

A great deal of piano music naturally lends itself to “orchestration”, and you can easily hear within its measures the other instruments the composer had in mind: bright, shiny trumpets in the opening of Rachmaninoff’s Etude-Tableaux Op 33 No. 4 (sometimes also listed at No. 7); tremolo strings in the repeated triplet figures in the exposition of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata, Op. 31 No. 2, the ‘Tempest’, the purity of the human voice in many of Chopin’s work, and particularly in Schubert. Such effects are not only to imply other instruments, but also to help create atmosphere.

Sometimes, a piece is a direct transcription from an orchestral work, such as Bach’s D minor Concerto after Marcello BWV 974, which I have been studying. Bach obviously knew the original work and his transcription for keyboard retains many of the features and textures of Marcello’s original concerto, while also taking advantage of the textural and sonic possibilities of the harpsichord. One makes another leap of interpretation when playing this music on the piano: I don’t try to imitate the harpsichord because that is impossible, but there are certain textural gestures which suggest a harpsichord.

French composer Olivier Messiaen often includes directions in his scores to help the pianist imagine and recreate the sound he wanted: “xylophone” and “oiseaux” (birds) both appear in my score of the Vingt Regard IV. (Messiaen also annotated his scores with colours, but that is another blog post…..!)

I gave this post the title “Orchestrating Mozart….” because it is Mozart’s A minor Rondo K511 which has received the most detailed “orchestration” from me in the course of my study of it. This late work offers so many of the key elements of Mozart’s music in the microcosm of a piano miniature: the beautiful aria of the Rondo theme; later on, string quartet textures and articulation, solo violin and ‘cello, grand operatic statements, even trumpets and woodwind. With all these different sounds – coming together, answering one another, or playing solo – a most interesting and contrasting piece of music is created. This “orchestrating” of the music does not make it any more complicated to play; if anything, it has simplified the music for me, bringing what I hope is a purer, more ‘musically aware’ interpretation.

Alongside this orchestration exercise, it is always worth listening around the piece you are studying to set the music in context of the composer’s other works. For the Mozart Rondo, the following pieces are particularly helpful:

from The Magic Flute, Act II – ‘Ach, ich fühls, es ist entschwunden’ (Pamina)

Piano Sonata, No. 8 in A minor, K 310 – II Andante Cantabile

Piano Concerto No. 23 in A, K 485 – II Adagio

Here is Mitsuko Uchida in the Rondo in A minor, K511, for me the best performance of this work (link opens in Spotify):

Mozart: Rondo in A minor, K.511


“Die Bildung des Ohres ist wichtiger, als die der Hand.”

(“The cultivation of the ear is more important that that of the hand”)

Robert Schumann (1810-1856)

Rachmaninoff composed his Opus 33 Études-Tableaux between August and September of 1911, the year after he completed his Opus 32 Preludes, and while the Opus 33 shares some stylistic points with the Preludes, the pieces are very unlike them.

The pieces are intended as “picture studies”, evocations in music of visual stimuli, though Rachmaninoff was never specific about what inspired each piece; he preferred to leave such interpretations to listener and performer, suggesting they should “paint for themselves what it most suggests”, rather as Debussy does in his Études, and Préludes (whose titles appeared at the end of the piece in Debussy’s original score). And like the piano Études of Scriabin, Debussy and Messiaen, Rachmaninoff used these pieces to explore and exploit a wide variety of themes, textures and sonorities, the possibilities of the modern piano, and how music for it should be written. They are also related to Chopin’s Études Opp 10 and 25, for they make technical demands on the pianist, while also offering characterful, beautiful and varied writing for the instrument. (It is no accident that Rachmaninoff greatly admired Chopin, especially his ability to write exquisite piano miniatures.)

Performing all eight Études-Tableaux together could be considered to run counter to the composer’s original intentions: he published only six in his lifetime. Numbers three and five were published posthumously, though are often inserted amongst the six etudes in modern editions. Number four was transferred to the Opus 39 set. The works make various demands on the pianist: syncopations, alternating hands, changing time signatures, awkward extensions, brisk tempos, expressive melodies, large hand leaps and massive chords. Many require strength, precision, endurance, rhythmic control, and dynamic and tonal balance. They push the boundaries of the Étude even further than Chopin or Liszt did, and are virtuosic in the extreme, with passionate character and vivid rhythmic vitality.

I hadn’t really explored these pieces until I heard the No. 2 of the Opus 33, in C Major, played as an encore by Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes in a recent recital on the Southbank. He played it with a Chopinesque tenderness, yet it was unmistakably Russian, the arpeggios in open fifths of the first bar, which form a recurring motif and accompaniment throughout, lending a slightly folksy feel to this work, and putting us in touch, as Rachmaninoff does with a great deal of his music, with the vastness of his native land.

The LTCL repertoire list asks for “two contrasting Études-Tableaux‘ from either Opus 33 or Opus 39, so I selected the No. 2 and No. 7 (sometimes listed in editions as No. 4) from the Opus 33. The No. 2 is a beautiful nocturne, a soaring melody over an arpeggiated accompaniment. The study elements of this piece are achieving a balance between the hands, and coping with some awkward extensions in the arpeggios. By contrast, the No. 7 in E flat, a brilliant and triumphant march, opens with a bright, brassy fanfare, and wild alternating chords, and bells at its close. It’s full of wit and humour, redolent of the Prelude in E, Opus 32, No. 3, and, to me, suggests an aristocratic rider, liveried in gold and scarlet, on a lively, prancing horse. Rachmaninoff himself actually nicknamed it “Scene at the Fair” when discussing it with Respighi (who orchestrated the Études-Tableaux‘). Its principal difficulty lies in the middle section where huge leaps and chords of 10ths make playing it up to tempo tricky. I’ve found practising it slowly and quietly protects the hands, and ensures accuracy when pushing the tempo up.

As for a recording, look no further that British pianist John Lill, who has recorded both Opuses. He gives a big, bright, full sound when required, and retains a strong sense of line and the dramatic impact of these pieces throughout, yet he never over-interprets.

Here is Sviatoslav Richter in the Opus 33, No. 4 (which I am also planning to learn)

And Hélène Grimaud in the No. 2 and No. 1

I am reblogging this post from pianist Melanie Spanswick’s ClassicalMel blog as it contains some very helpful advice for anyone preparing for a performance (or exam), whether amateur or professional. It is related to my earlier post on performance anxiety.

Over the past few days I have had several requests from readers for a blog post dealing with stress and nerves associated with performance. I have written on this subject before but there is always plenty to write about.

Nerves can a big problem for many musicians; it really doesn’t matter whether pianists (or any instrumentalists for that matter) are amateur or professional. Sometimes professionals can get even more nervous because so much depends on the quality of their performances. I have frequently suffered from nerves during my career as a pianist so here are a few tips to implement in your daily practice regime to help combat this problem.

  1. Before feeling comfortable in front of an audience, you really need to know the piece or pieces that you are going to play inside out – literally. Practise them every day (both slowly and up to speed) and then make sure you play them through to yourself at least once at the end of the practise session. Whilst doing this don’t stop to correct mistakes – just keep going as though you are already playing to an audience. This will help you become accustomed to ‘giving a performance’.
  2. Once you have done the above, try to ‘talk’ yourself through your piece. We all have a little voice in our head that is often very uncooperative under pressure. Tame this voice! Tell yourself that you already play your piece very well and nothing is going to stop you sharing it with your audience. This technique can be amazingly effective. I have used it many times as you can probably tell.
  3. It can be useful to locate different points in the music (this is especially important if you play from memory) where you can ‘regroup’ in your head. It might be a favourite section or passage. It really doesn’t matter where or what it is in the score but thinking about it or acknowledging it at a certain point (or points) can give amazing confidence. I don’t know how that works but it does so try it!
  4. Cultivate the practice of ‘thinking’ under pressure; the ability to ignore your audience to a degree and concentrate fully on the music. This is why it’s so important to love what you are playing and lose yourself in the music. Points 2 & 3 will help with this but you can also focus on what you particularly enjoy about your piece. List all the elements or features that you love and then mark them on the score (your music). Again, this will keep your mind occupied during your performance; more time focused on the music is less time worrying about your audience and potential mistakes.
  5. One of the most effective ways of learning to perform is to arrange a little piano group (if the piano is your instrument). Even if you are taking Grades 1 or 2, you can still find a few others who are a similar level to yourself and play to them – preferably once a week. You may be able to persuade your teacher to arrange a group for you. After a few (probably wobbly) sessions you will gradually become much more confident. It may even cure your nerves completely.

One other point that I feel is important and often ignored; never play pieces that are too difficult for you at your present level. This will merely make you miserable when faced with the huge and stressful task of performing them. Pick easier works so you play them well and with confidence.

If you are taking a music exam or planning a public performance don’t leave it too late to prepare – if you leave it to the day of your performance you may be very nervous indeed and will not play your best. My book, So you want to play the piano? has many helpful hints about performing and is especially designed for beginners. It will be available as an ebook soon.

Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and make it your career?

My grandfather was a coal miner who loved music. He encouraged me to get involved. He and my mum talked music a lot, and I gradually began to find out about composers. From the first day I picked up an instrument I knew I wanted to be a composer, although at that stage I did not know what that would mean.

Who or what are the most important influences on your composing?

As a young boy it was Beethoven and Wagner. Later it was the great contrapuntalists like Palestrina and Bach who taught me about complexity. In the 20th century it was my fellow Catholic Messiaen.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

I have never thought of it as a career. I have a wide range of interests, including politics, which sometime impinge directly on my work. Being a ‘public figure’ in Scotland can bring unwelcome aggression, and while it may have nothing to do with music, it can’t help interfere with my life and work sometimes.

Which compositions/recordings are you most proud of?

I am pleased with all the recordings I have made but I only regard them as a secondary activity to composing. I am usually most absorbed in the most recent works, which are a new orchestral work for Marin Alsop, a setting of the Credo for this year’s BBC Proms and a new work for the Edinburgh Festival.

Do you have a favourite concert venue?

The Concertgebouw, Amsterdam.

Who are your favourite musicians?

I have a special admiration for choirs, and especially those choirs which have children on the top line, producing music of the highest quality and complexity. Therefore some of the British ‘church’ choirs like Westminster Cathedral and King’s College Cambridge, who have sung my music recently, are near the top of my list.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Conducting my St John Passion in Copenhagen, Brussels and Liverpool.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians/composers?

They should learn how to handle complexity – study Palestrina and Bach!

What are you working on at the moment?

I have just finished a brass band piece for Black Dyke Mills, and I have now embarked on a setting of the St Luke Passion.

What is your most treasured possession?

An actual relic of Blessed John Henry Newman.

What is your present state of mind?

Fulfilled and chilled!


James MacMillan is one of today’s most successful living composers and is also internationally active as a conductor. His musical language is flooded with influences from his Scottish heritage, Catholic faith, social conscience and close connection with Celtic folk music, blended with influences from Far Eastern, Scandinavian and Eastern European music. His major works include percussion concerto Veni, Veni, Emmanuel, which has received more than 400 performances, a cello concerto for Mstislav Rostropovich, large scale choral-orchestral work Quickening, and three symphonies. Recent major works include his St John Passion, co-commissioned by the London Symphony Orchestra, Concertgebouw Orchestra, Boston Symphony and Rundfunkchor Berlin, and his Violin Concerto, co-commissioned by the London Symphony Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra, Concertgebouw Zaterdag Matinee and the Ensemble Orchestral de Paris.

James MacMillan at Boosey & Hawkes

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano, and make it your career?
Growing up in a house where the piano was always being played by my mother and grandmother was very influential. I just wanted to join in all the time!

Who or what were the most important influences on your playing?
Mozart Concert Rondo for Piano and Orchestra K382. I played this with a chamber orchestra when I was 13. The expressive d minor variation has a 4 bar piano solo before the orchestra joins in; in the rehearsal I was suddenly aware of the orchestral sound swelling around me, carrying me with it, and hooking me for life.

And I was fortunate to have inspirational teachers, Roy Shepherd and Stephen MacIntyre, who had studied with legends such as Cortot and Michelangeli, and also to study with Ronald Smith.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
Having moved around a lot, it has always been a challenge to retain former contacts and performance opportunities as well as forging new links in a new location. As part of the research before we move, I have always checked out what’s on where, and started to make contacts with likely promoters.

In this digital age the exciting challenge has been to use the internet and social networks as part of that process, without the limitations of physical geography.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?
I was delighted to mark 2011, Liszt’s Bicentenary, by recording his Annees de Pelerinage  – Italie on CD, by writing a blog about the music, and by performing his works in concerts in the UK and Australia.

In 2012, the year of the London Olympics, I will be performing in the world premiere and recording of ‘The Same Flame’, a song cycle of 5 songs based on the Olympic values of Courage, Inspiration, Excellence, Friendship, and Respect and Equality, for massed choirs and piano, with words by Matt Harvey and music by Thomas Hewitt Jones. And I’ve been the pianist on the soundtrack of 3 Olympic Mascots animated films featuring Wenlock and Mandeville, with a story by Michael Morpurgo. It’s always exciting to be involved in something new, fresh and contemporary.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?
Anywhere with a good piano and a receptive audience!

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?
Liszt is always a favourite, and Chopin. I listen to a very wide range of music, often choral, orchestral and operatic, as it broadens my aural horizons and colours all that I play.

Who are your favourite musicians?
Musicians who serve the music they perform, and who make me think – ‘I must get the score and see what the composer wrote there.’  Even better if they are pianists, and if they make me think, ‘I have to learn that piece!’

What is your most memorable concert experience?
In 2009 I gave a charity recital in Mbabane in Swaziland. The local piano teacher’s upright piano could not be transported to the venue, so I played Moussorgsky’s ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’ on a Yamaha Clavinova. Whenever there was a silence in the music, the sounds of the African night floated in through the open windows – frogs and crickets.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
Never give up – priceless advice from Churchill.

What are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on pieces by Debussy, whom I think of as being ‘The French Connection’ between Chopin and Liszt. I’m playing two of his studies, dedicated to the memory of Chopin, as well as Masques, and La Plus que Lente.

What is your most treasured possession?
A Maelzel metronome belonging to my grandmother. It set a musical pulse for her, for my mother, for me, and now for my children.


Christine Stevenson enjoys a distinguished career as a piano recitalist and concerto soloist throughout the UK and abroad. Winner of the prestigious Dom Polski Chopin competition, her wide experience extends from making the premiere recording of Alkan’s Rondo Brillant with members of the London Mozart Players, to being the pianist on the soundtrack of the latest animated film featuring the 2012 Olympic Mascots.

Recent projects in the UK and in Australia have included concerts and broadcasts celebrating Liszt’s bicentenary, and the release of Christine’s recording of ‘Années de Pèlerinage – II – Italie’  on CD and iTunes, which has received excellent reviews. Recitals this season explore ‘The French Connection’ – Debussy, his influences and contemporaries, and Christine is currently blogging her way through an ABC of Debussy’s piano music at notesfromapianist

In July 2012 Christine will be the pianist in the world premiere performance and recording of ‘The Same Flame’, a song cycle based on Olympic Values for massed choirs and piano, with words by Matt Harvey and music by Thomas Hewitt Jones.

An inspiring communicator, she is on the staff of the Junior Department of the Royal College of Music in London, and is a tutor at the annual Hereford Summer School for Pianists. She has given masterclasses at Morley College, Hindhead Music Centre, Jackdaws Music Education Trust and the City Lit.

Born in Melbourne, Christine graduated from the Victorian College of the Arts with distinction, being twice awarded the Gaitskell prize for the most outstanding student. She studied with pupils of Cortot, of Nadia Boulanger and of Michelangeli, and with the celebrated English pianist, Ronald Smith, also participating in masterclasses given by Sergei Dorensky, Aldo Ciccolini and Vlado Perlemuter.