The Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis (Bach Works Catalogue) is the numbering system identifying compositions by Johann Sebastian Bach
Johann Sebastian Bach
Johann Sebastian Bach was a German composer, organist, harpsichordist, violist, and violinist whose sacred and secular works for choir, orchestra, and solo instruments drew together the strands of the Baroque period and brought it to its ultimate maturity...

. 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
Wolfgang Schmieder
Wolfgang Schmieder was a German musicologist.Schmieder was born in Bromberg. In 1950, he published the BWV, or Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis , a catalog of musical works by Johann Sebastian Bach. The numbering system used in the BWV has since become a nearly universal standard, used by scholars and...

 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). The BWV numbers are universally used and accepted as the standard numbering of Bach's works; for example, 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 occasionally found in older publications as, e.g. S. 232, and referred to as Schmieder Numbers, though Schmieder opposed this nomenclature and usage, not wishing his name overtly linked to the works (as a point of modesty).

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
    Bach Gesellschaft
    The Bach-Gesellschaft was a society formed in 1850 for the express purpose of publishing the complete works of Johann Sebastian Bach without editorial additions. Their collected works are known as the Bach-Gesellschaft-Ausgabe....

     had been publishing Bach's works since 1851 (abbreviation: BGA); these existing publications grouped Bach's works by genre
    Genre , Greek: genos, γένος) is the term for any category of literature or other forms of art or culture, e.g. music, and in general, any type of discourse, whether written or spoken, audial or visual, based on some set of stylistic criteria. Genres are formed by conventions that change over time...

    (or musical form
    Musical form
    The term musical form refers to the overall structure or plan of a piece of music, and it describes the layout of a composition as divided into sections...

    ), 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
Neumeister Chorales
Neumeister Chorales is the name commonly used for a recently discovered set of chorale preludes compiled by Johann Gottfried Neumeister . The manuscript was passed onto Christian Heinrich Rinck , whose library was bought by Lowell Mason in 1852...

 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.

Opus number and publication date

Ordering the complete list of Bach's compositions by opus number
Opus number
An Opus number , pl. opera and opuses, abbreviated, sing. Op. and pl. Opp. refers to a number generally assigned by composers to an individual composition or set of compositions on publication, to help identify their works...

 or by publication
To publish is to make content available to the public. While specific use of the term may vary among countries, it is usually applied to text, images, or other audio-visual content on any medium, including paper or electronic publishing forms such as websites, e-books, Compact Discs and MP3s...

 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:
  • Buxtehude-Werke-Verzeichnis
  • Händel-Werke-Verzeichnis
    The Händel-Werke-Verzeichnis is the Catalogue of Handel's Works. It was published in three volumes by Bernd Baselt between 1978 and 1986, and lists every piece of music known to have been written by George Frideric Handel...

  • Köchel-Verzeichnis, a catalogue of compositions by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
    Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
    Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart , baptismal name Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart , was a prolific and influential composer of the Classical era. He composed over 600 works, many acknowledged as pinnacles of symphonic, concertante, chamber, piano, operatic, and choral music...

  • List of Schubert compositions by D number
  • Ryom-Verzeichnis, a catalogue of compositions by Antonio Vivaldi
    Antonio Vivaldi
    Antonio Lucio Vivaldi , nicknamed because of his red hair, was an Italian Baroque composer, priest, and virtuoso violinist, born in Venice. Vivaldi is recognized as one of the greatest Baroque composers, and his influence during his lifetime was widespread over Europe...

  • Wagner-Werk-Verzeichnis, a catalogue of compositions by Richard Wagner
    Richard Wagner
    Wilhelm Richard Wagner was a German composer, conductor, theatre director, philosopher, music theorist, poet, essayist and writer primarily known for his operas...

  • Schütz-Werke-Verzeichnisses
  • Telemann-Werke-Verzeichnis
    The Telemann-Werke-Verzeichnis , abbreviated TWV, is the numbering system identifying compositions by Georg Philipp Telemann, published by Martin Ruhnke....

  • See also: :Category:Music catalogues

External links

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