Types of Composition for Use in Authorized Access Points for Music: a manual for use with RDA

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For music catalogers following the guidelines in RDA: Resource Description and Access for constructing access points to represent musical works, the question of what constitutes the name of a generic “type of musical composition” is an important one.

Depending on whether a preferred title is the name of a type or is a distinctive title, different RDA instructions apply for making additions to the title when constructing an authorized access point (RDA versus The distinction between generic types and distinctive titles also affects the choice of language used for the preferred title (RDA and which elements to include when recording the title proper (RDA A “type of composition” is defined in the RDA Glossary as a “form, a genre, or a generic term used frequently by different composers (e.g., capriccio, concerto, intermezzo, Magnificat, mass, movement, muziek, nocturne, requiem, Stück, symphony, suite, Te Deum, trio sonata).” A “distinctive title” is defined as “a title that is not just a form or musical genre, a tempo indication, a number of performers, or a type of liturgical text.”

While it is often obvious whether a title is distinctive or is a generic type, this is not always the case. Many titles are ambiguous and difficult to categorize, such as titles that look like generic titles but are not defined in reference sources as such, e.g., divertissement. Some of these terms may be treated as types of compositions, in accordance with RDA’s definition of a type, if they are used frequently by different composers; others may not.

RDA instructs catalogers to record the accepted form of name of a type of composition in a language preferred by the agency creating the data if the name has a cognate form in that language or the same name is used in that language. Thus, for English-language cataloging agencies, the name of the type is recorded in English if the name has an English cognate form, regardless of how the composer spelled it. For instance “symphony” is used, not symphonie, Sinfonie, or sinfonia; thus, the cataloger must know if the term is generic in order to know what language to use. For those types of compositions without English cognates, one must ascertain what language the composer originally used, and use the plural in that language if it is known that the composer has written more than one composition of that type.

The present list is intended to assist music catalogers in determining which terms are to be considered names of types and which are to be considered distinctive. For those cataloging in agencies whose preferred language is English, this list provides guidance on choosing the language to be used for a given preferred title. In addition, the list may also be used as a quick-reference source for plural forms of titles in several languages.

Types of Composition for Use in Authorized Access Points for Musical Works is a revision of Types of Compositions for Use in Music Uniform Titles: A Manual for Use with AACR2 Chapter 25, which was originally created in 1992 and last revised in 2002. The original list and historical information on the rationale and process for developing the list are archived at The present version is maintained by the Vocabularies Subcommittee of the MLA Cataloging and Metadata Committee.

For a complete list of changes from the AACR2 List of types to the current RDA List, please see

Principles of the List

The following list of terms includes equivalent terms in English, French, German, Italian, Russian, Spanish, and other languages.

Terms identified as “types” are listed with their plurals, along with the designation “TYPE,” followed by language.


TYPE (English, French); use for arabesca, arabesco, arabeska, Arabeske.

If a term (with or without plural form) is followed by a note beginning “use …”, it is a cognate of a preferred term, and the cataloger should refer to that other term to determine its usage.


(Italian, Spanish); use arabesque

Terms that are “distinctive” are followed by the designation “DISTINCTIVE” and language.



Many terms include a brief explanation of their usage. It is essential to read this information before constructing an authorized access point.

The list should be used in conjunction with: RDA: Resource Description and Access; Library of Congress-Program for Cooperative Cataloging Policy Statements (LC-PCC PS); Best practices for music cataloging using RDA and MARC 21. Throughout this list there are many references to elements contained in these standards. To facilitate use of the list, excerpts from the most frequently cited are included below. Some principles of the list simply reflect historical practice that is undocumented in the current standards, but is nevertheless RDA-compliant. In such cases, Uniform Titles for Music by Michelle Koth (Scarecrow Press, 2008) was consulted.

Best practices for music cataloging using RDA and MARC 21

MLA recommendation: When a composer uses a word which is normally the name of a type of composition as the title of a work which is definitely not a work of the type designated by the word, do not consider the [preferred] title to be the name of a type of composition.

RDA (Cognates)

Instructs catalogers to translate terms for types of composition when there is a cognate in the language of the cataloging agency. For English-language cataloging agencies, an English term is used, and when more than one cognate is available in English, the form of term found in a controlled vocabulary such as LCSH is preferred.

RDA (Treatment of Specific Terms)

The treatment of three specific terms and their cognates are recorded in this list in accordance with RDA For works called étude, fantasia, or sinfonia concertante or their cognates, record the form of the name in the original language. This is an exception in RDA to the default treatment of using the English cognate. So, for example, “étude” is used when it is the original title, even though there is an English cognate for it.

RDA (Combination terms)

Combination terms (e.g., “Theme and variations,” “Prelude and fugue”) do not appear on this list and are addressed in RDA
Make additions to access points if the preferred title for the work (see 6.14.2) consists solely of the name of a type, or of two or more types, of composition. Add the following elements (in this order), as applicable:

  1. medium of performance (see
  2. numeric designation (see
  3. key (see

Best practices for music cataloging using RDA and MARC 21 A title consisting of two words, each of which alone would be the name of a type of composition, may in combination produce a distinctive title. Generally treat such a compound title as a distinctive title. The treatment of combination terms may also be guided by historical practice as recorded in Koth, Uniform Titles for Music, p. 36-38, including the following points: Treat two or more names of types of composition, when each type is individually present in the work, as generic (e.g., “Scherzo, intermezzo, toccata,” “Arietta con variazioni,” “Songs or ayres”).

When two or more names of types of composition are used together, and one of the types is not present in the work but instead functions as an adjective, generally treat the title as distinctive (e.g., “Sonate alla fuga,” “Symphonic prelude”). Two exceptions are “trio sonata” and “chorale prelude”; these have each been treated as a type of composition historically per Library of Congress Rule Interpretation (LCRI) 5.1B1. While this LCRI has not been carried over into RDA, it is not in conflict with RDA and should still be followed. Modifiers other than medium of performance or number make the phrase a distinctive title–no matter how generic sounding it is (e.g., “Short sonata”).

LC-PCC PS for 6.28.1, section on Liturgical Words or Phrases LC practice/PCC practice:

When the preferred title is a Latin liturgical word or phrase (e.g., “Gloria,” “Salve Regina,” “Te Deum”), record it in the singular. Exception: Use the plural form “Magnificats,” “Masses,” or “Requiems” when appropriate. Generally, do not add the medium of performance in the authorized access point.

Tempo markings as types of composition

Tempo markings should be considered types of composition. RDA Glossary: Distinctive Title — In the context of musical works, a title that is not just a form or musical genre, a tempo indication, a number of performers, or a type of liturgical text. [emphasis added] When the preferred title is a tempo marking with modifying word(s) (e.g., “Andante sostenuto,” “Allegro con brio,” “Moderato ma non tanto”), record it in the singular. Titles that include and look similar to tempo markings but are not (e.g., Beethoven’s Andante favori or Wieniawski’s Adagio élégiaque) are considered distinctive. In case of doubt, consider the title to be a type.


Several diacritics are not available as text, only as images, in Web format. When a term includes a diacritic that is not available, the affected letters in the term will be linked to its image in this section of the document.

  •  These two letters should have a ligature over them.
  •  These two letters should have a ligature over them.
  •  These two letters should have a ligature over them.
  •  These two letters should have a ligature over them.
  •  These letters should have a ligature over them.
  •  These letters should have a ligature over them.

There should be a miagkii znak (not available as an image) at the apostrophe (representing the miagkii znak) from which this is linked. The miagkii znak occupies a space rather than appearing over a letter. A miagkii znak can appear in the following languages appearing in this document: Russian

Use of “double,” “triple,” etc. in titles of musical works

Words like “double,” “triple,” etc., in titles of musical works may have various meanings and therefore should be considered in the context of the entire title of each individual work. For example, the word “double” in the titles “Double canon” and “Double fugue” refer to compositional techniques. These titles are types of compositions. A double quartet is not a quartet but an octet, and the title is distinctive. “Double concerto” is more ambiguous, since the word “double” does not refer to a compositional technique, and the work is still a concerto. According to a statement issued on March 7, 1991 by Richard Hunter, the Library of Congress does not consider that the word “double” refers to the statement of medium of performance and therefore “Double concerto” should be treated as distinctive.

Submitting terms for consideration

Do you have a term or title that is being treated inconsistently or about which you are uncertain? Is there a term you would like to see added to the list? Do you have a question about the manual? Send your question or proposal. Questions and terms or titles for consideration will be reviewed by the task group coordinator for the Vocabularies Subcommittee’s Types of Composition List Maintenance Task Group. Any supporting citations or documentation you can provide will be appreciated.