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MHST 301: Introduction to Music Research and Writing

What are uniform titles?

In a library catalog, you expect to find all the different versions of the same work filed alphabetically together under the author's or composer's name. This is usually easy to do for books, which are unlikely to change title from one edition to another. But a musical work may be printed or recorded with titles that vary as to language or wording.

For example, different title pages of the same ballet by Stravinsky might vary depending upon the language of the country of publication, or particular wording used by the publisher.

Orpheus: ballet in three scenes
Orpheus: ballet en trois tableaux

To bring all these different titles together alphabetically in the catalog, a distinctive or Uniform Title is created by the library cataloger according to fixed rules. This uniform title appears as the title on the catalog records for that composition.


Collective Titles

If you don't find the piece you are seeking using a form title or a distinctive title, there may be another option.

The library owns many editions and recordings that contain multiple compositions by the same composer. Often, a particular composition will be available only in such a collection. For example, several of Beethoven's piano sonatas will be found only in collections containing all thirty-two of his sonatas. In this and similar instances, the catalog often will not list individual pieces, and no cross-reference will show you the proper uniform title to search. You must use a bit of imagination to find a collection that contains the piece you want, because, for the collection of any one composer, the uniform title may be:

  1. a form collective title--for collections containing works of the same form
  2. a performance medium collective title--for collections with the same performance medium
  3. a general collective title--for collections with various forms and media

If you have not found your piece under its individual uniform title, ask yourself what the form of the composition is, and see if there is a collection of pieces by this composer with the same form.

1. Form collective titles consist of the form name, and--if necessary--the medium of performance.


  • Schubert, Franz, 1797-1828.
    Gesange: fur Singstimme mit Klavier = Songs: for voice and piano...
    (including works all of one type [song] and performance medium [voice and piano])

2. Performance medium collective titles consist of the name of the performance medium (instrument, voice, or instrumental group), followed by "music." The performance medium can be specific ("Piano music," "Orchestra music," etc.), or broad ("Keyboard music" if the collection includes both harpsichord and piano music, "Vocal music" if the collection includes both songs and duets, etc.).


  • Bach, Johann Sebastian, 1685-1750.
    Organ music
    Complete organ music: a critical edition in eight volumes...
    (includes multiple forms [fugues, chorales, etc.] in a single performance medium)

Finally, if you haven't yet found your piece, try using a general collective title.

3. General collective titles: Some collections of a composer's works contain both instrumental and vocal music in various forms. Most often such a collection will contain all of the composer's works, will consist of several volumes, and will be intended primarily for scholarly study rather than for use in performance. It sometimes happens that the composition you want is available only in such a collection. The collective uniform title for collections of a composer's complete works consists of the single word "Works."

Two example:

  1. Joplin, Scott, 1868-1917.
    The complete works of Scott Joplin...
    (includes operas, piano rags, etc.)

The collection of a composer's complete works usually consists of many volumes, and the title pages and contents pages often are in a foreign language. If you suspect that the composition you want can be found only in such a collection, you may want to ask a library staff member to help you locate the particular volume and pages that you need.


Practice what you've learned with this online quiz!