Classical Metadata: Track Titles

Classical music highly relies on works that are played over and over again. The oldest recordings are from the early 20th century (Enrico Caruso being the earliest famous recorded tenor).

A classical work doesn’t have a proper title. It’s title is thus created from several elements. Let’s dissect this full example:

Beethoven: Symphony No.9 In D Minor, Op. 125 – “Choral” – 1. Allegro ma non troppo, un poco maestoso

  • « Beethoven » is not really part of the title. It is usually added to the tracks by the provider because they fear that it does not appear properly elsewhere. A track title without the composer’s name is almost useless in classical music.
  • « Symphony » is the type of the work. A Symphony has several characteristics, such as key polarities, number of movements, and instrumentation.
  • « No. 9 » is the number of this work’s type that Beethoven composed.
  • « D minor » is the key in which this composition has been written. It can give to listeners a clue about the atmosphere, and it is also a way to remember a piece as the numbers can be hard to recall.
  • « Op. 125 » is the catalog number. It is generated by the music publisher. It basically means that it is the 125th work from Beethoven that has been published. This number is unique per composer, and is enough to identify a work. « Beethoven’s Op. 125 » is this work and nothing else. Op. means Opus (work in latin), but sometimes catalogs can be identified by another nomenclature like K for Mozart (Köchel was the name of its publisher), BB for Bela Bartok, BWV for Bach, etc.
  • « Choral ». I know I said that classical works don’t have title, but sometimes they do! Title is usually invented by music editors (to sell more, probably) or by the audience, from the characteristics of the piece. This symphony has a choral part in its last movement, which is unusual for a symphony (the first time in the classical history in fact), thus « Choral » identifies quite well this symphony and help us to talk about it without saying No 9. or Op. 125.
  • « 1 » is the number of the movement. This symphony has four movements. Movements are essential in classical music and can be compared to chapters in a book: you need all the chapters when you read the book, and you don’t read an isolated chapter that often. There is generally a track per movement, which means a work is divided into several tracks.
  • « Allegro ma non troppo, un poco maestoso » is the movement’s name. Again, movements don’t have names, and are identify by their musical indication, written on the score by the composer and given to all the performers. It helps identifying a movement in a more human understandable way (we still have the number), and gives an indication of what’s in the music. It’s written in Italian as a convention (here it means : quickly, but not to much, a little bit majestic). .

This put together gives you the work title, more exactly the composer + work + movement title. One implication is that it makes very long titles! On a short screen (think mobiles), it does not fit: the beginning of each track generally does not give clues what we are listening to…

The work title and composer is obviously the same for the 4 movements. It could easily be prefixed and displayed on top, as a subtitle, as following:

Beethoven: Symphony No.9 In D Minor, Op. 125 – “Choral”
► 1. Allegro ma non troppo
► 2. Molto vivace
► 3. Adagio molto e cantabile
► 4. Presto

Another implication is that names are translatable. A Symphony is a common noun in English and could be translated as Symphonie in French or Sinfonia in Spanish. The same applies to « Choral » and « In D minor ». In French, this track could be said as « Beethoven : Symphonie n°9 en ré mineur Op. 125 – Chorale – 1. Allegro ma non troppo… », identifying the exact same work.

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