Best pieces for solo piano: Top 10 of the best

The piano repertoire is the largest of all instruments except the voice. With millions of works to choose from, where do you start? Whether you’re a listener, learner or performer in your own right, scroll down to discover our selection of the best solo piano pieces ever composed.

to listen piano masters to Apple Music and Spotify and scroll down to discover our selection of the best solo piano pieces.

Best pieces for solo piano: Top 10 of the best

The piano repertoire often seems limitless in size and scope. Consider the range: from by Bach great contrapuntal works for keyboard to the visionary cycles of Messiaen; from Beethoven and Schubertfrom the greatest sonatas to the groundbreaking achievements of the best composers of the 20th century; the world of pianist-composers Chopin, Liszt, Rachmaninoff and Scriabin; the possibilities seem endless. Therefore, we ask that you please treat this list not as a definitive assembly, but rather as suggested starting points for exploring the finest piano pieces.

You will notice, however, that some major names are missing – notably mozart, Haydn, and Tchaikovsky. While their best pieces for solo piano are undoubtedly gratifying, they are not necessarily representative of any of them at their best and are difficult to stand in comparison to works such as Schumannit is Fantasy in C and Beethoven “Hammerklavier” Sonata. And although as wide a range of composers as possible has been included in terms of era and nationality, you will still find two entries for Chopin and three for Beethoven; it would, indeed, have been tempting to draw the whole list of the best pieces for solo piano from their unequaled output.

10: Chopin: Polonaise-Fantasy, op. 61

Most of Chopin’s piano music deserves to be on this list, but the Polish-Fantasy (published in 1846), one of the best pieces for solo piano, remains unique in its production. Combining Chopin’s passion for the music of his native Poland with his fondness for groundbreaking structures, it’s a focused, meditative piece that constantly defeats those who try to nail down its meaning once and for all. A Polish theme appears after an improvisation-like overture; after exploring this for a long time, the music seems to unravel before sinking into a hypnotic middle section full of extraordinary modulations. When the Polonaise returns, it reaches triumphant heights before fading away with a few quivering trills – like a puff of smoke.

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9: Debussy: Preludes, Books 1 & 2

These are perhaps the most subtle and mellow pieces on our list of the best solo piano pieces. In two books of 12 pieces each, composed between 1909 and 1913, the work of Debussy Preludes are each followed by an evocative title, drawing on a range of inspirations from the natural forces of wind, mist and snow, to acrobats, a bottle of wine from Capri, the poetry of Baudelaire and Burns , and Charles Dickens The Pickwick Papers. Debussy is such a perfectionist that there is no excessive note in any piece. Creating atmosphere is absolutely paramount, and the range of imagination seems limitless, as well as filled with humor and tenderness.

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8: Brahms: 6 Clavierstücke Op. 118

It’s hard to choose one set of Brahms’ late piano pieces over another, so beautifully crafted are they all. Brahms turned to these short form pieces – interludes, rhapsodies and simple keyboardstücke – late in life, with Clara Schumann in mind. Suffering from arthritis in her hands as she grew older, she was no longer able to play works that required virtuosity and endurance. Brahms – who had been close to her since they first met when he was 20 – wrote some of his most intimate and thoughtful music for her. Op.118 (1893) contains six pieces of contrasting character, including the famous Intermezzo in A major (n°2) and, to close, a captivating and compassionate piece in E flat minor.

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7: Schubert: Sonata in A major, D959

Schubert’s piano sonatas are a treasure trove of intensely personal music. the Sonata in A major, D959 is his penultimate work in the genre, written in the spring of 1828. If either of its two immediate sisters – the Sonatas in C minor and B flat major – could equally deserve the title of the greatest, the major, one of the best pieces for solo piano, is notable for its slow movement, composed of a meditative barcarolle that implodes into a passage of chaotic improvisation, in which Schubert seems to stare into the abyss. Yet this apocalyptic vision is soon countered by a scintillating scherzo and a final rondo in which the generous flow of a long, spun melody takes us to the opposite extreme.

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6: Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 21 in C, Op.53, “Waldstein”

Yes, more Beethoven. Almost any of the remaining 31 sonatas could fill this spot, but the “Waldstein”, one of the best pieces for solo piano, encapsulates perhaps the quests of Beethoven’s great “middle period” sonatas: an orchestral scale of concept, an elemental force with an irresistible and galvanizing forward movement, and a vision of something just beyond the horizon, towards which he seems about to take off and fly. The opening movement is pure energy, sparkling through the muffled repeated chords, then exploding. There is no slow movement; instead, there is only a quiet introduction to the finale, with its simple but unforgettable melody and its episodes of great drama, during which the mixture of tension and the flow of confidence to overcome continues to grow. astonish.

5: Schumann: Fantasy in C, Op.17

Much of Schumann’s piano music dated from the start of his career as a composer, much of it for the young pianist Clara Wieck, with whom he was hopelessly in love (they would later marry). Forbidden by her father to see each other, the couple communicated through music, Schumann sending Clara music often containing musical numbers; in the C major Fantasy, a quote from Beethoven’s song cycle An Die Ferne Geliebte (To the distant beloved). But even without such significant moments, the Fancy would still be a masterpiece. The first movement takes place virtually in a stream of consciousness, swirling through a myriad of states of mind and heart; the second is a triumphal march with a coda that makes the pianist’s hands jump on the keyboard like the proverbial flea in a jam jar, but with much more precision; and the finale, though limited to the piano, is perhaps this composer’s finest love song.

4: Chopin: Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor

There is a dark side to Chopin. Far from the angelic image of a calm, dreamy man coughing at the keyboard, Chopin’s imagination, when fully unleashed, can deliver music of terrifying demonic power. His Piano Sonata No. 2 dating from 1839, one of the best pieces for solo piano, is perhaps the most original of all his major works and baffled the critics of his time. Two movements in which the thematic material is fragmented and feverishly driven are followed by the famous “Funeral March” – written some two years earlier, but cleverly incorporated here – and the finale, a muffled beat from the pianist’s two hands in unison , was once described by Anton Rubinstein as evocative of “night winds sweeping the graves of cemeteries”.

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3: Beethoven: Diabelli Variations

With whiplashes of a rare musical quality – humor – Beethoven takes a rather offhand little waltz by composer Antonio Diabelli and spins it through a musical hall of mirrors, transforming its character in every way. A glorious feat of imagination, dating from 1819-23, this piece should never fail to sound fresh and surprising. It was written, according to Beethoven’s first biographer, Anton Schindler, in “a rosy mood” and “amused Beethoven to a rare degree”. A variation even opens with a quote from Mozart Don Giovanni. The set ends, after a swirling, hammering fugue, settling into a stately minuet, closing the set in a state of grace – in every way.

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2: Bach: Goldberg Variations

This 1741 JS Bach masterpiece was composed for the two-manual harpsichord, but that has never deterred pianists from adding it to their repertoire. Indeed, most of its greatest performers have played it on the modern grand piano. The tune and 30 variations, according to the story, were created for Count Keyserlingk, who suffered from insomnia and asked the immensely accomplished court keyboardist, Johann Gottlieb Goldberg, to play him to cheer him up. The structure is one of the many remarkable qualities: every third variation is a canon, the space of the interval between the voices increasing by one step each time. The variation after each canon is a genre piece – a baroque dance, a fughetta, an air, etc. – and it is followed by an “arabesque”, often a lively and brilliant virtuoso piece. The final variation is a ‘quodlibet’, a contrapuntal mixture of excerpts from two popular songs of the time. Finally the aria returns – its notes are the same as when it was first heard, but its meaning, at least for us, is transformed.

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1: Beethoven: Sonata Op.106 in B flat major, ‘Keyboard Hammer’

The mighty Op.106, the largest and densest of Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas, lies just before the last three – possibly the north face of the Eiger to the top of the Jungfrau from Op.111. With a slow movement that alone stretches for about 18 minutes (depending on the tempo), it pushes the piano and the performer to the limits of their abilities. Rachmaninoff may demand faster fingers and Liszt more outright virtuosity, but Beethoven challenges the brain above all else, in terms of everything from endurance to understanding counterpoint (the final Fugue could probably stun Bach himself) in control of the longest and quietest lines ever given. to the instrument at that time.

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