Robert Estrin - piano expert

What is an Opus in music?

Learn what "opus" means

In this video, Robert tells you what an Opus is in music and how it is defined, with interesting insights about the history of music. He also improvises his own Opus number 2 for you.

Released on September 25, 2019

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hi, this is Robert Estrin at with a really interesting question for you. What is an opus? You probably have heard this when you go to concerts, you might see, for example, a piano sonata and number seven, opus 10, number three by Beethoven. You wonder what the heck does that mean? I mean, you've got the number of the piece, the key of the piece. What does opus mean? Well, that's a great question. Opus, the numbers started way back in the time of Handel, in the 1700s. And it's a way of organizing music so that you see the numbers and generally speaking, lower opus numbers are earlier works that composers, wrote and higher opus numbers are later works. But it's not quite so simple because obviously if you have sonatas numbered, that already tells you when they were written. So why do you need opus numbers?

Well, a good example is for example, Chopin wrote a whole book of Mazurkas as a whole book of Waltzes and many of them are in the same key. And to be able to identify them, opus numbers can be very handy. Now the way opus numbers works is this. You have, for example, let's say Beethoven had three sonatas he wanted to publish, he goes to his publisher and the last works he published were something like opus 9, so now he presents three piano sonatas, opus 10. So they're opus 10, number one, opus 10 number two, opus 10 number three, and there's a body of work. Next time he composes music will be opus 11 which could be a piano piece. It could be a string quartet, it could be a symphony. Depends what is in that opus. So it could be one work, it could be a group of works.

So there are actually groups of works divided up into opuses as to when they are published. Now here's where it gets a little tricky. Sometimes opuses are out of order. For example, the opus 49 sonatas of Beethoven come to mind. He wrote two sonatas that were published pretty late, opus 49, yet they were written much, much earlier, but he didn't publish them until later. So you can't always go by opus numbers in regards to the date that something was written, but they are a way of clarifying what works you are talking about. That's the whole purpose of opus numbers. Now, why do I bring all this up? Well, it's a little personal story. Years of years ago, I composed the piece and it was kind of a mammoth work for synthesizers, digital pianos, and a whole host of other technologies. And I called it opus one because I thought it was a cool name. Well, I just did an improvisation just in my living room. Just kinda hit. I was just away in Portland, Oregon, visiting my daughter and I hadn't touched the piano in a few days and I just came in, hit record, and sat down and I'm calling it opus two for you. And that is what it's about to follow. I hope you enjoy it. Here's the music for you. Opus two of Robert Estrin

[playing music]

I hope you enjoyed that and this little brief tutorial on what opus means. And if you have any questions, I'm always here for you, Robert at and looking to hear from you. Thanks for joining me again for this little presentation. See you next time
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