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What is a complete works edition?

Complete works editions (or collected works) aim to contain all of the works of a particular composer. Sometimes, scholars realize that an earlier complete works edition either contains mistakes or leaves out newly discovered pieces, and they decide to create a new complete works edition to address these issues. For this reason, several complete works editions may exist for a particular composer.

Key points to remember when using complete works editions

1) A composer’s complete works edition will not necessarily contain every single work by that particular composer.

2) Several complete works editions for a given composer may exist. You need to know which edition you are using and/or which one you need to use.

3) Recognize the term for ‘complete works’ in languages other than English: Samtliche Werke (German), Oeuvres completes (French), Opere complete (Italian), Opera omina (Latin). You can use these terms as keywords when searching for complete works editions.

4) Remember that the library does not generally hold multiple editions of complete works for a particular composer.

5) If ordering scores contained in complete works editions via ILL, remember that most libraries do not allow their complete works editions to be checked out, either in person or via ILL. At OCU, we are unusual in allowing volumes from complete works editions to circulate outside of the library.

How to locate and use complete works editions

In the Library of Congress classification (LCC) system, complete works editions are found under the call number M3. In M3, the editions are shelved alphabetically by composer (see Finding Scores Using a Composer's Cutter Number). Each complete works edition consists of a set of volumes.

So, how do you find the volume you need? Looking at the catalog record for a composer’s complete works edition, you will notice that no table of contents is provided. To find the volume that contains the piece you want, you need to turn to Grove, accessible via Oxford Music Online.

First, in Oxford Music Online, limit the source to Grove and search for your composer by last name.

You may need to click down into the record several times to get to the composer you need. For example, with Bach, there are several musicians in the Bach family: Once in the result for Bach, you will need to click on the link to Johann Sebastian Bach.

Next, once you are in the composer’s record, click on the ‘Works’ link.

Under the heading, ‘Editions’, a list of complete works editions for your composer will be listed. In the case, of Bach, two editions are listed: the Bach-Gesellschaft and the Neue Bach Ausgabe. Note that at the end of each edition’s record, an abbreviation is listed in square brackets.

Refer to the list of complete works editions held by the music library and make a note of the abbreviation for the particular complete works edition we own. In the case of J. S. Bach, we own a Kalmus reprint version of the Bach-Gesellschaft and its abbreviation is [BG] (Click picture to see larger view).

Now scroll down the ‘Works’ record until you get to the first listings of pieces. Locate the column with the heading BG. The volume and page number in that volume is listed for each piece in this column. For example, BWV 4, the cantata, ‘Christ lag in Todes Banden', is found in volume one on page 97 of the Bach-Gesellschaft complete works edition (Click picture to see larger view).

Remember that not all pieces are necessarily contained in a composer’s complete works editions. For example, BWV 70a is found in the Neue Bach Ausgabe, but not in the Bach-Gesellschaft (Click picture to see larger view).

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