Whether you’re just now getting into classical music, or you’ve been playing and listening to the genre since childhood, knowing the top 50 classical piano pieces of all time is a must for the musically-inclined.
This article has short and accurate descriptions of the most well-known and famous classical pieces in history. Here is your chance to move from being a classical novice to an expert!
Perhaps one of the most famous classical pieces of all time, Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata is a must-know for all serious pianists. Its technical name is Piano Sonata no. 14 in C minor, and it earned its nickname due to how deeply melancholic it is.
You’re probably familiar with the emotional hymn, but did you know that the piano piece is just as popular? Schubert’s Ave Maria is a beautiful song written as a prayer. The music is usually played during Roman Catholic ceremonies.
Piano Concerto No. 20
Mozart’s Piano Concerto is one of his most famous pieces because they reveal his dark side. The piece also exhibits his range as a composer because it moves from dark and moody to joyful in the D Major finale. Some experts claim that Beethoven loved this piece so much that it influenced some of his work. It’s no surprise that this concerto makes it to the list of the top 50 classical piano pieces.
Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring
Another gospel hymn, the arrangement for Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring is made into four parts. Unlike the other pieces, it’s brighter, and it’s often played during joyous occasions. You’ll most likely hear it at weddings and during Christmas and Easter celebrations.
Brahms wrote this soothing piece to celebrate the birth of his friend’s son. The tune is highly relaxing for babies, and it often plays in babies’ toys and mobiles hanging over their cribs. If you’re having trouble relaxing or falling asleep, playing this piece might help.
Another composition meant to relax the listener, Bach wrote these variations to help a German count with his insomnia. The piece consists of an aria and a set of 30 variations. The variations are named after Johann Gottlieb Goldberg, who was the first person to play the melody.
March From the Nutcracker
Perhaps Tchaikovsky’s most famous work, March was first performed as part of the ballet. This rousing piece is played right during a party scene during the first act. It’s supposed to make you feel joyful, and it often puts listeners in an uplifted mood.
Even though the name refers to a collection of pieces, everyone should identify at least one Nocturne. Chopin wrote 21 of them, and no contemporary piano concert is complete without at least one.
Piano Sonata in B Minor
Sonatas were clearly favored in the 19th century. Their popularity was due to their simple three or four-part movement. Liszt was one of the best composers, and his Sonata in B minor is one of his best works. The rhythmic piece resembles a symphonic poem.
William Tell Overture
Gioacchino Rossini wrote this composition for the opera Guilliame Tell. This was his last, and perhaps most exciting, opera. If it sounds familiar, it’s because the piece is used for the theme music for the Lone Ranger series and movies. If it’s good enough for Lone Ranger, then it’s good enough for us; we had to add it to our lists of the top 50 classical piano pieces.
Waltz in A Minor
This well-known and approachable composition is one of the easiest Chopin pieces to learn. It’s ideal for beginners because it’s easy to understand, but it also has complex parts that you can use to show off. You’ll get bonus points because Chopin is often associated with complex pieces.
Borodin’s Polovtsian Dance is an intricate piece of work that requires perfect timing. Missing one four-count could ruin the rest of the piece. However, when played perfectly, this is an exhilarating piece that leaves an audience in awe.
To a Wild Rose
Edward MacDowell wrote this song while he was sitting in his cabin and admiring the beautiful surroundings. The song is played in A major and at a tempo of 88 BPM. If you’re looking for a song that reminds you of the great outdoors and makes you feel serene, this is the perfect piece for you.
This is another Beethoven classic that’s meant to match your mood. This melody is deeply melancholic and makes you feel like wallowing. The sonata perfectly captures dark days and stormy moods. Beethoven outdid himself by using a unique motif line throughout the song.
Rondo Alla Turca
This is the most popular movement in the Piano Sonata No.11. It’s often played by itself because it sounds similar to Turkish military bands, and it’s a great way to rouse the masses. The sonata sounds like a battle song, and it’s bound to keep your audience thoroughly entertained.
Handel wrote this piece for the Church. The chorus is still used in modern churches, and anyone who wants to play for a choir should know how to play it. Most people stand up whenever the chorus plays because the King & Queen used to stand up during this part, which meant that everyone else had to stand up, as well.
If you’re looking for something a little closer to our time, this 20th-century piece by Rebecca Clarke is bound to be a hit with any audience. The song starts with a dark theme, slows down in the middle, and ends off on a bright note.
Pictures at an Exhibition
Like Nocturne, this is a collection of pieces rather than a single piece. The group is Modest Mussorgsky’s most famous work, and it’s popularly used as a showpiece by expert pianists. Mussorgsky wrote the composition after being inspired by pictures from the artist Viktor Hartmann.
Clair de Lune
Even though the song’s title also means moonlight, this song couldn’t be more different from Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. Clair de Lune has gained popularity because it has influences from poetry, Baroque music, and Impressionism. Debussy introduced a new style of playing that moved from the 19th-century Romantic style.
Burgmuller’s song is rated level 3 (early intermediate) on the difficulty ratings. You need to practice playing fast passages if you want to master this song. Most teachers consider it a must-play for their students.
Canon in D
Pachelbel’s Canon in D is often played at weddings. It’s a popular wedding song because it’s the perfect song to walk down the aisle to. It’s calming and yet celebratory. No symphony captures the romance as well as Canon in D. It’s one of the most serene songs in the Top 50 classical piano pieces.
Classified as one of the most exciting piano pieces ever, Offenbach’s Can-Can represents everything that is fun about listening to and playing the piano. The tune is easily recognizable (even to the untrained ear), and the variations lift the mood.
Scenes From Childhood (Kinderszenen)
Schumann’s piece addresses different parts of childhood, such as bedtime stories, nighttime horrors, and chasing games — the most famous movement is No. 7, Träumerei. The nostalgic collection is long, but you can choose which movements you’re most interested in. The song is easily compared to his other collections like Carnaval.
Rhapsody in Blue
Though it received negative reviews in 1926, Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue rose to critical acclaim in recent years. The jazz influences make the song more exciting and creates a sultry and indulgent feel.
Named after a little bell, this composition borrows its melody from Paganini’s Violin Concerto No.2. Known as one of Liszt’s best works, it has tinkling bell-like sounds. It might take time to learn, but you’ll be proud of yourself once you master it.
In classical music terms, an arioso is a solo vocal piece that usually appears as part of an opera. Bach similarly used the term when he made Arioso part of cantata and the middle movement for Harpsichord Concerto, BWV 1056. The sound is light and airy.
Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor
This composition makes our Top 50 classical piano pieces list because it reflects Rachmaninov’s unquestionable genius. The first movement has an interesting contrast between solo piano passages and storming orchestral themes. The second movement is quite emotional, hence its usage as the Brief Encounters soundtrack.
Lastly, the third movement is a rousing finale that only expert pianists can crack.
Fantasie Impromptu is a solo piano composition that was published posthumously. Chopin wrote it in 1834, and it was published in 1855 (despite his insistence that none of his unpublished work gets published). It’s rumored that he chose not to publish it because it sounds similar to Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata.
Piano Concerto No. 2 (Emperor)
This piece was one of Beethoven’s last compositions. Some people refer to it as the most remarkable piano composition ever. Any pianist who can play this tune is talented because it shows talent, range, and skill.
The Well-Tempered Clavier
The Well-Tempered Clavier is a must-know for every beginner and expert alike. Bach worked hard on these innovative pieces, and they continue to inspire composers hundreds of years later.
Many piano teachers around the world teach this as a first piece. It’s popular because the movements are relatively easy to master. The Fur Elise melody is light, airy, and it’s repeated throughout the song. The piece starts off light, gets dark and broody in the middle, and ends happily.
Dvorak wrote Humoresque in the summer of 1894, and it’s as popular as Beethoven’s Fur Elise. It’s an American-style composition that is the essence of New Year’s Eve in New York. Unlike other compositions, Humoresque focuses on the exploration of non-musical ideas.
Gymnopedie No. 1
Even though the Gymnopédies come in a trio, the first one is the most important. Erik Satie published it, together with the third one, in 1888. If it sounds familiar, it’s because Janet Jackson looped it in the chorus of her song Someone to Call My Lover.
Hungarian Dance No. 5
Johannes Brahms wrote a collection of 21 Hungarian dances after finding inspiration from a violinist in a tavern. He was fascinated by the melodic rhythms that Hungarian bands played, and he converted them to piano pieces. Hungarian Dance no.5 is lively and full of energy.
Méditation from Thäis
This concerto shares a name with a violin solo. Pianists usually play Meditation as part of an orchestra or for an opera. It’s so rare that you seldom hear modern pianists play it, and mastering the rhythm could set you apart.
Morning Mood is played in E Major. Edvard Grieg wrote it as incidental music for a play by the same name. The melodies mimic a flute and an obe. It’s a beautiful song because the climax appears early and signifies a sunrise.
Habanera is a solo piano piece from the play Carmen. It plays in the opening scene of the fifth act. Bizet writes it in D minor, and each refrain is in the tonic major.
Eine kleine Nachtmusik
Wolfgang Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik means “a little night music” when it’s translated. Two violins and a cello often play it because he originally wrote it for string orchestras. Piano sheet music with the same tune surfaced eventually.
Robert Schumann wrote this level 3 skill level piece during the Romantic era. Happy Farmer is about a farmer coming back from work and is happy to see his sons. As a father of eight, this is a feeling that Schumann was familiar with.
La donna e mobile
Giuseppe Verdi wrote this song for the opera Rigoletto. The song is much more popular than the opera, so people often know the melody but not the origin. Like most songs from the Romantic era, La donna e mobile is full of emotion.
In The Hall of The Mountain King
Grieg wrote this full song as an orchestral piece for the play Peer Gynt. It’s inspired by Norweigian folk tunes from his home. In The Hall of The Mountain King is a reflection of how Grieg uses the piano to describe simple stories and events.
Minuet in G
Minuet in G is slightly controversial because it used to be attributed to Bach, but it’s now attributed to Petzold. Bach wrote it in a notebook that he gave to his wife, but he originally got it from Petzold when he visited Dresden.
Pomp and Circumstance
This song, usually played by a full orchestra, is the unofficial graduation song. Sir Edward Elgar wrote Pomp and Circumstance as part of a series of military marches. Nowadays, it’s played when graduates walk in.
Romeo and Juliet
Tchaikovsky wrote this symphony for the Shakespearean play by a similar name. The overture is usually played by a full orchestra, but you can also play Romeo and Juliet as a piano solo.
Symphony No. 94
Symphony No. 94 is one of the 12 pieces written by Joseph Haydn. It’s popularly known as the Surprise Symphony. It offers a surprise in how there’s a fortissimo chord at the end of the first movement, and then it goes back to a quiet dynamic.
Ode to Joy
Beethoven wrote this song to encourage peace. It praises brotherhood and unity. Some people refer to it as the European anthem.
Symphony No. 9
Dvořák composed Symphony No. 9 while he was working for the National Conservatory of Music of America. It’s one of the symphonies that Neil Armstrong later took with him on the Apollo 11 mission.
Debussy was well-known for his ability to create dream-like atmospheres with his piano music, and Reverie is no different. It has a gentle repetitive theme that makes you descend into a sleepy calm.
Fauré originally wrote Sicilienne as a full theatre production but later abandoned the idea. It’s well known for its feature in Better Call Saul.
Sonatina in C Major
This is one of six sonatinas that are perfect for beginners. Clementi wrote Sonatina in C Major with a slow and gentle rhythm that’s relatively easy to master.
Knowing the Top 50 classical piano pieces will impress any music crowd, and if you’re considering picking up piano, this is a great place to start. You can also use this list if you’re an intermediate or expert looking for a way to improve their repertoire. Whatever your reasons, we’ve got you covered!
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