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Using Uniform Titles

Uniform titles identify and bring together works that either have no distinctive title of their own or which have a number of different titles. Uniform titles are sometimes used for works of literature (the Bible, Mother Goose, or the Arabian Nights, for example); they are used extensively with music. Understanding uniform titles will help you find scores and recordings of musical works in the HSU Library Catalog.

When a musical work has no distinctive title, a uniform title is created for it using these elements:

form + instrumentation + thematic catalog/serial/opus number + key

A famous piano sonata by Beethoven might have any of the following titles, or perhaps others:

Moonlight Sonata
Piano sonata no. 14
Sonata in C# minor
Sonata no. 14
Sonata quasi una fantasia
Sonate fuer das Pianoforte

Any of these could appear on the title page of a score or on the label of a recording (these are the preferred placed for obtaining the title of a work for cataloging purposes). If there were no uniform titles, it would be very difficult to find copies of this piece; the title used would depend on which edition or recording an individual library owned. To solve this problem, all libraries use the following uniform title for this piece:

[Sonatas, piano, no. 14, op.27, no. 2, C# minor]

Moonlight Sonata is a nickname for this piece. Many musical works have such popular titles, but they cannot be reliably used for finding the works in a library. A book by Berkowitz, Popular Titles and Subtitles of Musical Compositions (ref ML 113 B39 1975) can help find the uniform titles for compositions when only the popular name or nickname is known.

Uniform titles are also needed for many musical works that have unique, distinctive titles because music exists in an international environment, and the titles are of works are usually known in several languages. There is also the problem of non-Roman alphabets. Librarians have decided that the uniform title for named pieces of music will be in the original language of the work, but alphabets will be Romanized. Thus, Bach's Art of the Fugue has the uniform title [Kunst der fuge], and Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition is given the uniform title [Kartinki s vystavki].

Uniform titles are also given to collections of musical works. The composer may have created the collection, or the publisher of the score or the recording may have put it together. Selections from an individual work or from the works of one composer also have uniform titles. The uniform titles for collections are usually not very descriptive. They may be simply [Works], for example, or [Instrumental music. Selections], or perhaps [Sonatas, violin, piano. Selections]. [Don Giovanni. Selections] is used for various excerpts from this opera. An individual aria would have this uniform title: [Don Giovanni. Il mio tesoro].

Send comments and suggestions about this page to: Martha Johansen
Last Updated: April 20, 2004

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