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The Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis (Bach Works Catalogue) is the numbering system identifying compositions by Johann Sebastian Bach. The prefix BWV, followed by the work's number, is the shorthand identification for Bach's compositions. The works are grouped thematically, not chronologically.
Wolfgang Schmieder assigned the BWV numbers in 1950, to indicate the work's placement in the Bach works catalogue titled Thematisch-systematisches Verzeichnis der musikalischen Werke von Johann Sebastian Bach (Thematic-Systematic Catalogue of Musical Works of Johann Sebastian Bach). For example, the Mass in B minor is BWV 232. Works believed incomplete or of doubtful authenticity at the time of cataloguing were listed in the BWV Anhang (BWV Appendix), and are identified by BWV Anh number. The BWV catalogue is occasionally updated, with newly discovered works added at its end, though spurious works do not have their numbers removed.
The BWV numbers are universally used and accepted as the standard numbering of Bach's works. Some older publications refer to the BWV numbers as Schmieder numbers and designate them with the prefix S rather than BWV (for example, writing S. 232 instead of BWV 232).
The 1990 edition of the BWV is ISBN 3-7651-0255-5.
Unlike chronologically arranged catalogues for other classical composers, Schmieder's Bach catalogue is arranged by genre. It is a thematical catalogue: choral works first, then organ works, then other keyboard works, and so on; hence, a low BWV number does not necessarily indicate an early work.
Schmieder chose thematical arrangement instead of chronological for several reasons, the two most important probably being:
- Many of Bach's works have uncertain composition dates. Even if the score is dated, it could mean nothing more than the date it was copied, or re-arranged, et cetera. Nonetheless, since Schmieder's original publication of the BWV catalogue, music scholars have established many more probable and certain composition dates than were imaginable in the 1950s (c.f. below).
- The Bach Gesellschaft had been publishing Bach's works since 1851 (abbreviation: BGA); these existing publications grouped Bach's works by genre (or musical form), so listing according to this established practice was less confusing.
Works found after the list's first compilation generally are added to the end of the list, so, for example, the Neumeister organ chorales have numbers around BWV 1100, rather than in the catalogue's organ section numbers, BWV 600. Works found to be spurious or doubtful, such as the little preludes and fugues for organ, BWV 553–560, have not had their BWV numbers removed.
Other cataloguing systems for Bach's compositions
The Bach Compendium is a project started in 1985 to publish critical editions of Bach's entire writing, edited by Hans-Joachim Schulze and Christoph Wolff. Only the vocal works have so far been completed, and the project is believed suspended since 1989. For more details see http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Ref/IndexRef-BC.htm
Opus number and publication date
Ordering the complete list of Bach's compositions by opus number or by publication date were both out of the question: Bach didn't use opus numbers, and few of his works were published in his lifetime.
Philippe (and Gérard) Zwang published an alternate system for numbering the cantatas BWV 1–215 and 248–249, taking a chronology into account.
This list was published in 1982 as Guide pratique des cantates de Bach in Paris, ISBN 2-221-00749-2.
Catalogues of other composers
Catalogues of other composers include:
- Köchel-Verzeichnis, a catalogue of compositions by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
- List of Schubert compositions by D number
- Ryom-Verzeichnis, a catalogue of compositions by Antonio Vivaldi
- Wagner-Werk-Verzeichnis, a catalogue of compositions by Richard Wagner
- See also: Category:Music catalogues
- BWV catalogue (French)
- Wolf's Thematic Index of the Works of the Great Composers (English) (German) (French)