home | news | roster | MadAminA! | about maa | contact maa      

Ritter von Köchel's Katalog

by Daniel N. Leeson

Many Mozart lovers have never seen a Köchel catalogue and may not understand what it is or what it does. Their awareness of it may be limited to the use of the first letter of Köchel's last name, as in, for example, K.522, the listing for "A Musical Joke." What is the history of the Köchel catalogue, what purpose does it serve, and what does the future hold for it?

Confusion exists even at the outset because there are many Köchel catalogues, three of which have special importance. Their influence, in terms of what gets performed and with what historical perspective, is considerable. For example, a work ejected from the catalogue because of inauthenticity (such as the symphony that used to be called number 37) receives fewer and fewer performances. Eventually, it disappears from the repertoire. Alternatively, because entries are chronological, the movement of a work from the early to the later part of the catalogue-or vice-versa quickly changes the public's view of the work's musical maturity as this new perspective appears in biographical writings and program notes. Heady stuff!

Ironically, we begin not with Mozart's music or even his life, but with his death. Despite his own efforts and those of a small body of contemporaries, Mozart's musical estate was in disorder. As a result, more than a half-century would pass before serious taxonomic study of his compositions began. This disarray defined the problem for which the Köchel catalogue was the solution: what did Mozart write and when did he write it?

Mozart made only a limited contribution to an understanding of his musical legacy. In the final eight years of his life he attempted to itemize his compositions by entering new works into a homespun catalogue begun in 1784. Works created before that date were not accounted for except, occasionally, in correspondence. Even Mozart forgot about many of them. It took a scientist to begin straightening this out, for that was the training and profession of Dr. Ludwig Alois Ferdinand Ritter von Köchel. He was a botanist and mineralogist whose foray into Mozart study came only after an anonymous 1851 pamphlet decried the unsatisfactory state of knowledge about Mozart's music. Sixty years after Mozart's death, there was still no complete or reliable edition of his compositions. In its absence, serious problems existed. For example, some compositions remained unknown. Without an accurate inventory, it was impossible to know if works were lost. Forgeries presented themselves under Mozart's authorship. And performances of his music, particularly the operas, were often subjected to scandalous alterations. To sum up, one could only speculate on the extent of what Mozart wrote, to say nothing about the circumstances of where, when, why, and for whom.

Dr. Ludwig Ritter von Kochel

Köchel worked 12 years (1851-1862) to bring order to this chaos. The result was a gigantic book-it weighs almost ten pounds — with title to match: "Chronological and Thematic Catalogue of the Complete Works of Wolfgang Amade Mozart, Together with an Enumeration of His Lost, Unfinished, Transcribed, Dubious, and Spurious Compositions." This was the first edition of the Köchel catalogue.

What an amazing work it was and remains, even to this day! It was the first of its kind on such a scale and it set a standard to be emulated by every music cataloguer. In one stroke, Köchel transformed confusion into order and created a cornerstone of Mozart research that has been of immeasurable benefit to all Mozart lovers, even if they do not appreciate the insight on which it rests or the weight of its scholarship. For what Köchel did, with limited expertise and scanty, even occasionally inaccurate sources, was to enumerate and date every composition that he believed Mozart wrote and, further, to identify and isolate those he held to be dubious or spurious.

The catalogue consisted of a main body with 626 entries, and an appendix with a variety of entry types, such as lost compositions and works of questionable authenticity. The main body's first entry, K. 1, was a minuet for piano written in 1761. The last, K.626, was the Requiem begun in 1791 and never finished. Each entry included the music of the first few measures of every movement of that composition, in the case of an opera, every aria and ensemble. Köchel also gave information about the work, such as published editions and location of the manuscript.

Köchel's determination of chronological order was his most challenging task, for it involved the bulk of the research and a great deal of ancillary detective work. Because of his scientific training, his datings were based on evidence, not musical intuition, a laudable practice that would soon change.

Despite the catalogue's extraordinary value in structuring what had been an almost completely undisciplined domain, the work was not without its share of problems. Some, such as the numbering system, lay within the catalogue's design. Others, such as the chronology, were independent of it and would have arisen no matter what the catalogue's structure.

As new information became available, the catalogue's value as the official listing of Mozart's music began to diminish. This is a common problem; the perceived accuracy of much printed information almost always deteriorates with time. The solution usually involves the printing of a new edition. Unfortunately, the success of that solution depends on the tolerance to change of the thing being revised. Herein lies the catalogue's principal weakness: its design lacks that tolerance.

It is unfair to be critical of Köchel by using the benefit of 20-20 hindsight. Since the catalogue was the first of its kind on such a scale, he had no model for his work. Furthermore, he may not have appreciated the extraordinary step he was taking. In either case, he probably did not anticipate either the catalogue's universal acceptance or the development of a Mozart industry.

After Köchel's death, Paul Graf von Waldersee undertook a revision of the catalogue. Waldersee, a Prussian aristocrat, army officer, and passionate music lover, completed the second edition in 1905. To distinguish Köchel's original catalogue from Waldersee's revision, the former is referred to as K1 and the latter as K2. Waldersee, intimidated by Köchel's reputation, made few substantive changes to K1. For example, Köchel placed lost works in an appendix. After the printing of K1, almost a dozen of these — the ballet music to Les Petits Riens, to name just one — were rediscovered. Such compositions needed to be moved to the main body of the catalogue and Waldersee was faced with the problem of how to do that. This was a considerable challenge because Köchel's numbering system had no expansion slots into which new works could conveniently slip. The alternative-renumbering everything-would have caused chaos because the Köchel numbers had become a standard. Waldersee's resolution of the problem was straightforward: leave well-enough alone. He did not alter Köchel 's chronology and restricted himself to commentary in the existing entries.

Such a solution was unacceptable to Alfred Einstein, the editor of K3. Between 1925 and 1936 this experienced musicologist grappled with the numbering problem. While he kept the K' numbers for works whose chronology were unchallenged, he gave a new listing to redated and rediscovered works. Einstein invented a numeric-alphabetic system that enabled each new entry to fit between the K' numbers and coexist with them.

For example, according to Köchel the popular "Gran Partitta" [the B-flat major wind serenade] was the 361st work in the Mozart chronology. Therefore, it bore the listing K.361. However, Einstein concluded that Mozart wrote it later, just before the fragmentary rondo for horn and orchestra, K.371. So he assigned it a listing of 370a, thus placing its chronology between K.370 and K. 371.

Unfortunately, complications arose. The "Gran Partitta" is, again, both typical and illustrative: K.370, the quartet for oboe and strings that should logically have preceded K.370a, was also redated. This caused K.370a to fall between K.369 and K.371. To compound the problem, renumbered works would now bear two Köchel listings, the old and the new, for example K.361/370a.

It would be wrong to think that Einstein's legacy is an unusable system, but the schema became more complicated than it had been with K1. This was because of Einstein's wish to avoid a redoing of all the listings in Köchel's chronology. Oh well, that's progress. One cannot make a cake without breaking a few eggs.

After the conclusion of the Second World War, Mozart research took on an accelerated pace. An important motivation for this was the disappearance of and search for many of his manuscripts lost in the war. Other reasons included the 1956 celebration of the bicentennial of his birth, the increased popularity of his music, the influence of the Central Institute for Mozart Research of the Salzburg Mozarteum, and the launching of a new edition of his complete works. New materials were discovered. Many works were redated, some for the second time. There were questions raised about the authenticity of many previously accepted compositions. All these things mandated a significant revision of the Köchel catalogue.

The next edition was called K6, following on K4 and K5, which were unaltered reprints of K3. Work on K6 ended in 1963 with the effort occupying not one but three editors: Franz Giegling of Zurich, Alexander Weinmann of Vienna, and Gerd Sievers of Wiesbaden. While the new catalogue contained many improvements over its predecessors, the editors chose to continue the use of Köchel's numbering system as modified by Einstein. Its inflexibility became even more apparent in K6. For instance, some works would now bear three Köchel listings. That was not supposed to happen. The unstated assumption was that only the most recent listing would be used. In practice a work's listings became cumulative. Other compositions would have K6 listings fitting between the K3 listings that were themselves constructed to fit between the K1 listings, for example, K. 173dB. Some works, said by Köchel to be spurious (and, thus, not in the main body of K1), but said by Einstein to be genuine (and, thus, moved to the main body of K3), were redeclared as spurious by K6 (and, thus, moved back into the appendix reserved for works of doubtful authenticity).

An example of the confusion that can surround the Köchel listings for a Mozart work may be found in the popular but very controversial Sinfonie Concertante for four wind instruments and orchestra. One must specify four Köchel listings when referring to this composition: two for the original said to be lost (K' Appendix No. 9 and K6 297B), and two for the composition said to be of questionable authenticity (K3 297b and K6 Appendix No. C 14.01). Only considerable knowledge of the controversy surrounding this work allow these entries to make sense. The average Mozart lover cannot avoid confronting such unclear numbers on record jackets and program notes. In any case, the numbers convey only limited chronological information, something that Köchel listings are thought and were designed to do. It should not require fluency in descending hexadecimal arithmetic to understand that K.383C was composed earlier than K.383c. More seriously, the reshuffling of numbers invalidates the assumption that, for example, K.382 was composed before K.383.

There have been two unaltered reprints of the Köchel catalogue since K6. Today we are at K6. After the 1991 commemorative year, the Central Institute of Mozart Research will come to grips with what to do next. In doing so, they may have to think about the unthinkable: the current numbering system, begun by Köchel more than a century ago and modified by Einstein 50 years ago, should not continue. The tool has become a weighty thing. It confuses more than it clarifies and is no longer effective in doing what it is supposed to do. Ever since K3, the numbering system has been cumbersome for the non-specialist. With K6 it became unwieldy even for the specialist. So much new dating information has turned up that another reordering of the chronology using the K3/K6 technique would be counterproductive.

We have had an average of 50 years between significant revisions of the Köchel catalogue (1862, 1936, 1963). The next century probably will see two more. And if the bullet is bitten, we are all going to have to learn new Köchel listings. Will they still be called "Köchel" listings?

Where is all this new dating information coming from? One cannot speak kindly of historical methods that appear to be researcher dependent. Yet the dating of Mozart's compositions has often been based on the prejudices of the researcher. In the absence of hard evidence (sometimes even in its presence) the dating techniques frequently included musical speculation. Einstein, who had an extraordinarily broad knowledge of Mozart's music, based many of his chronological decisions on how works sounded to him. If he perceived a certain musical character in a work, he would ascribe it to the same period as securely datable works that he believed had the same musical character. Consequently, Einstein's decisions about chronology coincide less and less with the ever-emerging body of physical and documentary evidence. It has been a valuable lesson: knowing every nook and cranny of Mozart's oeuvre does not, by itself, generate correct chronological conclusions. Unfortunately, a profound love and respect for Mozart's music yields little insight into its history.

Contemporary chronological studies tend to be objective and scientific. Germany's Wolfgang Plath dates Mozart works by handwriting analysis. England's Alan Tyson examines paper types and watermarks of Mozart's manuscripts. Both men have revised traditional datings of certain works by as much as ten years. Typical results include the reordering of the horn concerti (the order is now believed to be 2, 4, 3, 1) and the redating of the violin concerti from 1775 to 1773.

If, because of these things, the Central Institute for Mozart Research discards the old numbering system in favor of a new one, things are going to be hectic and dicey for a while. It probably will take years for the public to get used to a new numbering system. Also, there would still have to be a concordance to the old system, since 150 years of Mozart research will become unapproachable without one. One interesting question that would be resolved is the number of works Mozart wrote. For example, if one renumbered today's entire Mozart oeuvre from 1 to "n," squeezing the alphabet out of listings such as K. 173dB and K.370a, no one is certain what "n" would be. An informed guess puts it at around 850. There is little precedent for a chronological revision on this scale. As a contrast, the recent renumbering of the Dvorak symphonies is piddlingly small when compared with something of this magnitude. But that may be the price we have to pay to prevent a reversion to the chaos that existed before K'.

The fundamental assumption is that Mozart's music is worth the effort.

This is the first in a series of four articles by Daniel N. Leeson to commemorate the Mozart jubilee. Daniel N. Leeson is a retired professional businessman who worked for the IBM Corporation for 30 years. He is also a leading Mozart scholar and co-editor of the volume of the Neue Mozart-Ausgabe which contains the wind serenades. He plays bass clarinet with the San Jose Symphony Orchestra and is a busy basset hornist throughout California. He also teaches mathematics at De Anza College.

home  |  about maa  |  roster  |  MadAminA!  | news & events  |  contact us

© 2002-2005by Music Associates of America. All Rights Reserved
music associates of america // 224 king street // englewood // new jersey // 07631