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Naming convention of classical pieces
#2804631 01/21/19 09:16 AM
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I have been thinking why classical pieces are named with key signatures? Aren't they identified with opus and number?

It would sound weird if same would me in today's music: Lady Gaga - Poker Face in B major

Last edited by Artur Gajewski; 01/21/19 09:17 AM.

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Re: Naming convention of classical pieces
Artur Gajewski #2804636 01/21/19 09:44 AM
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There are many different ways to name pieces. Some have op numbers or catalogue numbers. Some are named after dances or simply by tempo indications. Many have descriptive names as well. But when it comes to things like preludes, etudes or sonatas, the key signature certainly helps to identify them.

Re: Naming convention of classical pieces
Artur Gajewski #2804652 01/21/19 10:34 AM
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Originally Posted by Artur Gajewski
It would sound weird if same would me in today's music: Lady Gaga - Poker Face in B major

Well of course it would sound weird to you. That is just all wrong. Poker Face is in A minor.


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Re: Naming convention of classical pieces
Tyrone Slothrop #2804662 01/21/19 11:00 AM
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Originally Posted by Tyrone Slothrop

Well of course it would sound weird to you. That is just all wrong. Poker Face is in A minor.


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Re: Naming convention of classical pieces
Artur Gajewski #2804726 01/21/19 02:57 PM
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Hahha that was funny! 😂

I just took the key from here since I don't know any better: https://inwhatkey.com/song/poker-face-by-lady-gaga


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Re: Naming convention of classical pieces
Artur Gajewski #2804733 01/21/19 03:22 PM
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Many pieces never had titles assigned to them by their composers or have titles were added later. For instance, the Bach inventions or preludes and fugues don't have names. Beethoven's sonatas didn't have descriptive names like "Moonlight" and "Pathéthique" and these were named by later critics. Same for Chopin pieces.

Why not opus number? Because when you have sets of many similar pieces it's easier to remember the key than an opus number; almost everyone knows what Bach's C major prelude sounds like but if I told you BWV 846 it wouldn't click immediately.

Pop songs don't really have keys. Well, they may be sung in a particular key that matches the vocalist's range, but the music is usually arranged and transposed, even on the fly, by the accompanying musicians.

Re: Naming convention of classical pieces
Artur Gajewski #2804744 01/21/19 03:54 PM
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Naming of classical pieces boils down to whether said pieces can be confused with any other.

Thus, Für Elise is hardly ever written as "Für Elise in A minor, WoO 59", because no-one else has ever composed a piano piece for Elise (except me, for a previous ex, but that's another story, and too sad to relate here cry).

On the other hand, Chopin's E minor concerto benefits from its key being given, because it was the second to be composed, yet it's known as Piano Concerto No.1, Op.11, whereas its predecessor is No.2 in F minor, Op.21 - because the earlier No.2 was the second to be published.

Ditto for Beethoven's first and second piano concertos. No.1 in C major was composed after No.2 in B flat major. So, best to give the keys, as nobody remembers the opus numbers. Anyone who knows those concertos can easily discern that No.2 is the more juvenile of the two.

Then, there are works which are not really in a specific key, though they might superficially seem so, like Berg's sonata, no nobody identifies it as "Sonata in B minor", unlike for Liszt (or Chopin). And then there are works that starts in one key but finishes in another, like many of Mahler's symphonies. So, we just name them Symphony No.x, where x is a number between one and nine (inclusive), as Gustav didn't give opus numbers to his music. On the other hand, his Das Lied von der Erde is a symphony in all but name, but his superstition (common to all great people wink ) forbade him from calling it No.9 - with good reason, because he didn't live to complete No.10. The moral? Don't compose your ninth symphony until you're ready to depart......

Scriabin starts his piano sonata cycle with key-centred pieces but then gradually abandons tonality from No.5 onwards, so we don't name them by their keys. But though we use numbers for identification, his last sonata was No.10, yet he composed twelve sonatas........ grin


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Re: Naming convention of classical pieces
bennevis #2804746 01/21/19 04:08 PM
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Originally Posted by bennevis

Thus, Für Elise is hardly ever written as "Für Elise in A minor, WoO 59", because no-one else has ever composed a piano piece for Elise (except me, for a previous ex, but that's another story, and too sad to relate here cry)


Your next piece will be in D minor? 😂


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Re: Naming convention of classical pieces
Artur Gajewski #2804849 01/21/19 09:56 PM
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A piece of music can be referred by the name, number or Key or any combination of the 3. Certain pieces are referred to by number for many years so if you say "K467" of Mozart people know you're referring to the Concerto #21 with the famous slow movement nicknamed "Elvira Madigan" as in the 1967 film. Some pieces are commonly referred to by name like Bach's "Sheep May Safely Grace" people know you are referring to the Cantata #208. Some pieces has the Key attached to it like the Pachelbel "Canon in D". People are so used to calling the piece by that name even when the piece is transposed or rearranged in another Key, the original name stays. The Violin Concerto in E of Mendelssohn is commonly performed and usually goes by that name without the Opus 64 after.

Some pieces has an odd name like "Air on G String" from the Orchestral Suite #3 by Bach. Originally Bach wrote the Air as the second movement in D (2 sharps). The nick name "on G String" came from a later arrangement for solo violin & string ensemble by August Wilhelmj in the 19th century.

Re: Naming convention of classical pieces
thepianoplayer416 #2804857 01/21/19 10:33 PM
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Originally Posted by thepianoplayer416
A piece of music can be referred by the name, number or Key or any combination of the 3. Certain pieces are referred to by number for many years so if you say "K467" of Mozart people know you're referring to the Concerto #21 with the famous slow movement nicknamed "Elvira Madigan" as in the 1967 film. Some pieces are commonly referred to by name like Bach's "Sheep May Safely Grace" people know you are referring to the Cantata #208. Some pieces has the Key attached to it like the Pachelbel "Canon in D". People are so used to calling the piece by that name even when the piece is transposed or rearranged in another Key, the original name stays. The Violin Concerto in E of Mendelssohn is commonly performed and usually goes by that name without the Opus 64 after.
Not everyone agrees on how some pieces are named.

I think of and have heard the Mozart Concerto referred to only by its number #21 and not by its K number. I know Bach's Sheep May Safely Graze but could not name which Cantata it's from. Many/most people refer to Mendelssohn's Concerto without mentioning its key since Mendelssohn wrote only one violin concerto.

Last edited by pianoloverus; 01/21/19 10:38 PM.
Re: Naming convention of classical pieces
Artur Gajewski #2804872 01/21/19 11:38 PM
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Originally Posted by Artur Gajewski
I have been thinking why classical pieces are named with key signatures? Aren't they identified with opus and number?

It would sound weird if same would me in today's music: Lady Gaga - Poker Face in B major

Don’t discount the fact that you can act superior to everyone else in the room by adding the key signature to the end of anything ...


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Re: Naming convention of classical pieces
pianoloverus #2804956 01/22/19 09:29 AM
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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
Many/most people refer to Mendelssohn's Concerto without mentioning its key since Mendelssohn wrote only one violin concerto.

That's not quite right - Felix did write an earlier violin concerto in D minor (which has been performed and recorded a few times), and people who know that will say which key of the concerto they're referring to.

Though of course, when people casually say the Mendelssohn violin concerto, or the Bruch concerto, they usually mean the "popular" one. Or the only one that most people know of......

Naming of classical pieces is a curious phenomenom, and doesn't apply similarly in every country. For instance, Beethoven's "Emperor" is not generally called that in many other European countries. And don't forget there's an Emperor Waltz and Emperor Quartet smirk.

On the other hand, everyone knows what you're referring to when you say the Appassionata or Waldstein or Pathétique or Hammerklavier, or even (possibly wink ) Moonlight and Tempest and Pastoral. You don't need to say which number (and in fact, opus numbers rather than numbers are used these days to identify no-name ones, because someone published an edition with 35 sonatas). But when you say 'Kreutzer Sonata', do you mean Luddy or Janáček?

As for Chopin études, let's not get started...... mad


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Re: Naming convention of classical pieces
bennevis #2804961 01/22/19 09:51 AM
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Originally Posted by bennevis

On the other hand, everyone knows what you're referring to when you say the Appassionata or Waldstein or Pathétique or Hammerklavier, or even (possibly wink ) Moonlight and Tempest and Pastoral. You don't need to say which number (and in fact, opus numbers rather than numbers are used these days to identify no-name ones, because someone published an edition with 35 sonatas).


Forgot to add: that's in reference to Luddy sonatas. Of course Pastoral is also a symphony, and so is Pathetique. And Tempest is also used by other composers.

Strangely, Clair de lune is never translated into English - just as well........ grin


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Re: Naming convention of classical pieces
bennevis #2804997 01/22/19 11:34 AM
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Originally Posted by bennevis

On the other hand, everyone knows what you're referring to when you say the Appassionata or Waldstein or Pathétique or Hammerklavier, or even (possibly wink ) Moonlight and Tempest and Pastoral. You don't need to say which number (and in fact, opus numbers rather than numbers are used these days to identify no-name ones, because someone published an edition with 35 sonatas).


Everyone except me I guess...I have a vague idea of the op numbers, but the only one I know by name is moonlight...the rest of the names say nothing to me smile


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