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Doing Historical Research in Music: Thematic Catalogs

What's a thematic catalog?

Most major composers' works have been cataloged and numbered by scholars. This information has been published in thematic catalogs (called "thematic" because they include the musical notation for the principle themes (tunes) of each work, to aid in identification).

It's from these catalogs that we get the opus numbers used to identify classical musical works. (Some composers' work numbers have become associated with the name of the scholar who cataloged his works -- for instance, "Koechel" numbers for Mozart).

Thematic catalogs also contain a lot of useful information on the primary sources (manuscripts, early editions) of a composer's works.

Some major composers' thematic catalogs


Bach, J.S.

Cataloged by Schmieder (BWV numbers)

Call no.: ML134 B1 S3 1958



Cataloged by Koechel (K. numbers, "Koechel" numbers)

Call no.: ML134 M9 A22 1937x



Cataloged by Hoboken (H. numbers)

Call no.: ML134 h272 H6



Cataloged by Kinsky

Call no.: ML134 B4 K5



Cataloged by Deutsch (D. numbers, "Deutsch" numbers)

Call no.: ML134 S38 D44 1951a

Anatomy of a thematic catalog entry

For any given work in a thematic catalog, you can expect to see the following data. (Many catalogs are in German, so German terms are given here, with translations):

Title and catalog number

Komponiert (date of composition)

For vocal music:

  • Text (source of the text)
  • Gedicht (the original poem; source of the text)
  • Dichter (poet/author of the text)

Music incipit (the first few bars of the music); or principle theme(s)

Descriptions of:

Autograph (the composer's original manuscript)

Abschriften (others' handwritten copies)

Erstausgabe / Originalausgabe (first edition)

Ausgaben / Nachdrucke (other early editions)

Gesamtausgabe / Samtliche Werke (collected edition of the composer's complete works)

Anmerkungen (notes, remarks)

Literatur (bibliography)


A thematic catalog may also have:

Anhang (appendix)

Register (index)

Finding composers' thematic catalogs

Search the Library's catalog using this subject heading:

[Composer's name] -- Thematic catalogs.

If we don't own it, you can use the same search terms to search WorldCat (a database of other libraries' catalogs, available on our "Databases" page), then place an interlibrary loan request.

Subject Guide

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Leslie McCall
Office: 251 ZSR Library
Phone: 336-758-5474