Classical Style Guide for German [STYLE-148]

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I had some discussion earlier on an edit about the German capitalisation of “op.”, and that reminded me (again!) that we’ve had a proposal for classical guidelines for German for around four years now.

The comments on the relevant ticket mention some issues, but nobody has edited the document to improve them, and since I don’t speak German I don’t want to go guessing around.

Can we get some German eyes on this (ideally classical editors) and finally make something official? I’m happy to drop any sections that seem unnecessary, but I’d like it to have at least something comparable to the English version: the bit about catalogue and number, something about keys and how to enter them, capitalisation (can just be “follow the standard German guidelines” with a link) and something about quotation marks if useful (I’m assuming “use double quotes” doesn’t apply for German, but should a specific quotation style be used?).



I’m not a German native speaker, but I am a classical editor, so here are my two cents:

Sinfonie vs Symphonie: The Duden dictionary has both and it doesn’t give a preference, but Sinfonie does seem to be used much more often in German (that’s the Häufigkeit). I wouldn’t set a preference for use in releases: the editor can use what’s printed. For works I’d say Sinfonie, but I don’t think it should be set in stone either (if the original score is somewhere, use what’s used there).

In: In seems to be omitted usually. Again, if the release and the original score use it: use it. Else leave it out.

Op: Odd that the proposal says that op should be lower case. That doesn’t sound logical to me, and “op. Nr” looks weird because of the mix of upper and lower case.


If I understand the German correctly, that’s the usage suggested here:


Well that’s odd. But Duden agrees (under “Bedeutungen, Beispiele und Wendungen”). It seems that the abbreviation “op.” is in lower case in a musical context (though “Op. posth.” isn’t).

I’m afraid the advice I gave you a couple a weeks ago was wrong. :wink:


(Austrian here with a negligable collection of Classical music)

From a prescriptive standpoint, I don’t see a reason to prefer Sinfonie over Symphonie. Hell, even Symfonie would have something going for it. Guess they didn’t want to have the conservative concertgoers (even more) up-in-arms against them during the last orthographic reform, and left Symphonie alone (a number of other words lost their „ph“).

Regarding „op.“, is the general expanding of abbreviations out of the window, already? „Op.“ and „Opus“ (only one character more!) both are more logical to me, but „op.“ seems to be used much more often.

Finally, if we want to have this guideline applied mainly to Work titles, we should say so.


I’m native German.

My opinion:

  • “Nr.” vs “nr.”: The spelling “nr.” is definitely wrong, so it makes sense to dictate “Nr.”

  • Same for Dur and Moll: Though spellings like “D-dur” show up sometimes, they are not correct. Forcing the spelling “-Dur” and “-Moll” makes sense.

  • “Op.” vs. “op.”: Both are fine and regularly used (note that the Duden only says that the frequency of “op.” is higher). In my opinion, it would be better not to declare one of them as correct and the other one as wrong. Instead, follow the spelling on the track list.

  • “Symphonie” vs. “Sinfonie”: Same situation. Why not advise to follow the spelling on the track list?


To bring this forward, I created a new suggestion.

I tried to address all the comments that have been made. Furthermore, at a few points I liberalized the rules a bit: For example, the abbreviation “No.” is correct and sometimes used in German, so it should be allowed alongside “Nr.”. Also, in the rare cases that “opus” is not abbreviated, why not keep it in this spelling (compare to the usage of “Vol.” and “Volume”).


Non-native with roots.

The thing I do not get is why, with regard to what I perceive as noun (Substantiv), ‘Dur/Moll’ is capitalized and ‘opus’ not.


I guess “opus” has a special role since it is a Latin loanword.
Checking it again, “op.” and “Op.” are certainly ok, as well as “Opus”.
For “opus”, it is not entirely clear. On the one hand, I can’t find a suitable entry on, on the other hand, at “op.” they tell us that it is an abbreviation of “opus”.


Well, all 3 are loaned-in from Latin (‘durum/molle’ perceived as adjectiv in both languages, but ‘opus’ Substantiv). So maybe I am mistaken, ‘Dur/Moll’ is perceived Substantiv and ‘op.’ adjectiv (when abbreviated)? But “op.” and “Op.” should not be both correct.


Yes, but “Dur” and “Moll” have been “Germanized”, while “opus” is just the original Latin spelling. Anyway, that’s just my weak attempt to find a justification and I don’t say that I find these capitalization rules overly consistent. But in the end, it’s the official status quo that we have to follow.


Agreed, I just find it courious that both lexika report practices in conflict with basic grammar (No such thing, I know), and that the conflicting alternative is leading by frequency, but do not propose an explanation why. Any MB guideline is OK by convention, even those illogical at first sight (as language typically), but oneself being able to outline it helps. ‘When in doubt, quote.’


Now that you made me rethinking and -checking this opus issue, I’ve removed the lowercase “opus” from my suggestion. Apparently “opus” is not correct German, so the situation is quite consistent: Opus is a substantive and hence capitalized. The only inconsistent point is the frequently used lowercase abbreviation “op.”.


Oh, that was not my intention, but at least easing it a bit for non-native editors.


I think it should be easy in both versions also for non-native editors: With high probability, the tracklist will either show “op.” or “Op.”, and this is simply copied to musicbrainz.


Agreed, and regardless of what single alternative could be chosen for MB standard, one would soon run into inconsistency with the copy ‘disclaimer quote’ (newcomer fed up with the Guideline threshold, or non-native not noticing misprint, and other far-fetched cases). We can only try so hard, and of more importance is the opus number (that is, not the word). Well met.


I’m very happy with liberalising “No.” vs. “Nr.”, but my feeling is that given we’re standardising to “op.” in every other language and “op.” is correct in German, it’d make figuring out the guidelines much simpler if we did the same here.


The situation in German is a bit different as the abbreviation “Op.” is quite frequent, perfectly legal and more language-consistent than “op.” (see the discussion above). It feels quite artificial to forbid it.

A further remark:
In the style update of 2015-6-2 I read:

“The guidelines mandating expanding abbreviations like “Vol.” and “Pt.” have been removed (the special exception of “feat.” has not changed). Titles should, in general, follow the release/track title.”

To me, this came as a relief. On release level, “Follow the release/track title” (as long as it is ok language-wise and reasonably structured) feels so much better than forced reformatting. Why not apply the same reasoning to “opus”?
(On recording / work level, the situation is different. Here, standardization makes more sense.)


I just remembered that Google’s Ngram Viewer allows you to look at the frequency of words in books over time. Selecting “opus”, “Opus”, “Op” and “op” gives these results. It looks like all variations are relatively common, with “Opus” and “op” as winners (what happened in the 1920s?!)

So it makes sense to at least allow all possibilities. I would prefer to use “Opus” and “Op” myself, simply because lower-case “op” looks really weird to me in contrast to all the caps surrounding it in a German work title. :slight_smile: