Given the sheer quantity of current piano repertoire, we have determined to cheat, just a bit: strictly talking, that is extra about the very best collections of piano music, reasonably than particular person works.
And naturally, we’re kicking ourselves for leaving out many, many unbelievable items and composers.
Nonetheless, having sifted by means of 4 hundred-odd years of piano historical past, we have made our decisions. See whether or not you agree with them.
Greatest piano music
1. Bach’s 48 Preludes and Fugues (The Nicely-Tempered Clavier).
The essential necessities of the pianist’s repertoire, the 2 books of Bach’s 48 Preludes and Fugues (The Nicely-Tempered Clavier) had been accomplished in 1742, although they weren’t printed in Bach’s lifetime. Meant as a piece for college students to play in all keys and in a variety of kinds and textures, they’re now an indispensable a part of each facet of a pianist’s coaching. Schumann inspired his readers to ‘let the Nicely-Tempered Clavier be your each day bread’.
2. Beethoven’s 32 Piano Sonatas
Written between 1795 and 1822, these us on a journey from Haydn (to whom the primary three are devoted) to the way forward for music (the final three), constituting the primary physique of significant, substantial piano music appropriate for giant live performance halls. They ‘step by step grew to become the idea of the general public repertoire for any pianist with pretensions to severe musicianship’, as wrote pianist Charles Rosen.
3. Schubert’s Impromptus
Schubert Impromptus Composed in 1827, the penultimate yr of Schubert‘s life, this set of eight piano items is taken into account to be one of many best examples of early Romantic music, with most of the eight items discovering their means into films, or offering inspiration for subsequent composers.
The third impromptu in G flat main might be the very best recognized of the set, its serene but sobbing melody painted in numerous shades of gray by pianists from Vladimir Horowitz to Alfred Brendel. However all eight items comprise moments of nice poignancy, tenderness and sweetness.
4. Brahms Intermezzi
These three solo piano works, composed by Brahms in 1892, are recognized for his or her capability to precise feelings of astonishing depth by means of the sotto voce purr of a lullaby.
Brahms himself described them as ‘cradle songs for my sorrows’, prefacing them within the rating with two strains of poetry from a Scottish poem translated into German by Johann Gottfried von Herder: ‘Sleep softly, my little one, sleep softly and properly! It grieves me so to see you weep.’ However what sorrows was Brahms referencing precisely? Maybe his unfulfilled, enduring love for the pianist and composer Clara Schumann, who, as Brahms’s buddy and confidante of forty years, was destined as the primary pianist to see these items.
5. Chopin’s Études
Till Chopin got here alongside, piano Études had been purely utilitarian workout routines, meant solely for the development of approach. In Chopin’s palms, nevertheless, they grew to become creative masterpieces – one of many piano repertoire’s most defining works, which have since embedded themselves in widespread tradition.
Hottest amongst them are Op. 10 No. 3 (‘L’Adieu); ‘Op. 10, No.12 (‘Revolutionary Étude’; Op 10. No. 5 (‘Black Keys’; and Op. 25, No. 11 (‘Winter Wind’) – the latter of which prompted one editor to jot down: ‘Small-souled males, irrespective of how agile their fingers, ought to keep away from it.’
6. Janáček’s Within the Mists
Varied critics have detected the affect of the French, so-called ‘impressionist’ composers on this set of solo piano works, not least of their mysterious, dreamlike ambiance and vivid use of harmonic color. However that is unmistakably Janáček: emotionally turbulent, rhythmically unpredictable – even improvisational, with a folk-infused sound world poised on the boundary between jap and western Europe. Written in 1912, a couple of years after the dying of Janáček’s daughter, this can be a haunting snapshot of a troubled, however brilliantly unique, composer’s thoughts.
7. Mozart’s Piano Sonatas
They could not fairly plumb the identical emotional depths as Beethoven, however Mozart’s piano sonatas – written between 1774 and 1789 – provide a snapshot of an exceptional musical expertise, and one which was by no means extra at house than in dramatic music for the stage: every of his piano sonatas are like mini operas, their floor grace belying their inner drama.
Every tells its personal story, every is populated with dynamic characters that have interaction in, usually passionate, dialogue. And every is a window into Mozart’s character, reminding us that this was somebody who may push boundaries, with out violating them, and who may pack a way of mischief into music of the utmost class and style. Hottest amongst them is the Piano Sonata No. 11 in main, Ok.331, sometimes called the ‘Alla Turca’, however there are 17 different numbered piano sonatas to select from, so get listening!
Reflecting Debussy’s fascination with the connection between sight and sound, this masterpiece was visionary in the way in which it successfully reworked the ear into an eye fixed, creating musical swirls of iridescent color by means of its ingenious pianistic strategies and blurred harmonic focus.
On ending his first collection of Pictures, in 1905, Debussy wrote to his writer, Jacques Durand: ‘With out false satisfaction, I really feel that these three items maintain collectively properly and that they may discover their place within the literature of the piano… to the left of Schumann, or to the correct of Chopin.’ He was not flawed.
9. Liszt’s Piano Sonata in B minor
‘That is nothing however sheer racket…it’s actually terrible,’ wrote Clara Schumann on first listening to Liszt’s B minor sonata. And but, of Liszt’s many, many nice piano items, this ogre of a sonata, written to no typical structural design, is usually acknowledged to be his masterpiece, its very complexity one of many predominant explanation why it’s so properly liked.
Some have urged that it affords a musical portrait of the Faust legend. Others have argued that its wild, intense contrasts mirror the conflicts in Liszt’s personal persona. Both means, it’s a work of extraordinary emotional depth, one thing of a cathartic expertise for a lot of pianists, which can be why, regardless of its ferocious technical issue, there are actually properly over 50 recordings of the sonata within the recording catalogue.
This collection of piano items was written in response to a go to to a retrospective exhibition – that of Mussorgsky’s buddy, the Russian artist Viktor Hartmann, who had died in 1873, aged solely 39.
Mussorgsky, who was recognized to endure artistic agonies through the composition course of, apparently took nice pleasure on this one and it exhibits: encapsulating the concept of a viewer strolling by means of a gallery, this piece is a splendidly playful illustration of picture, with a lot of its tuneful snapshots – together with ‘The Nice Gate of Kiev’ and ‘The Hut on Hen’s Legs (Baba-Yaga)’ – rating among the many heavyweights of the piano repertoire.
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An alcoholic in later life, the composer died earlier than the piece could possibly be printed, and many people are actually extra accustomed to Rimsky-Korsakov’s tidied-up orchestral model. Nonetheless, there’s a lot to be stated for the uncooked, muscular energy of Mussorgsky’s unique.