The piano is a great instrument for playing solo arrangements in any style. There is no shortage of sheet music and collections of piano hits from rock, jazz, folk and other popular styles. Player’s favorite songs include Hey Jude, Candle in the Wind, Bohemian Rhapsody, among others. But what about pieces from the classical repertoire? You may be studying piano from an online course like Rocket Piano, and wondering what are the names of some of those classical pieces that you hear all the time, and how hard are they to play?
This article presents an overview of a few of the more popular piano hits from the classical repertoire. They range in difficulty from relatively easy to a little more challenging. This is not a countdown list from easiest to hardest, nor to most popular, just a gloss of a few pieces that you will probably want to learn at some point in your piano-playing life.
You have more than likely heard Pachelbel’s Canon in D. Technically speaking, its not actually a canon, but a set of variations over a ground bass. This extremely popular piece of the classical world was originally written for violins with keyboard accompaniment. This piece is now part of the standard wedding repertoire, often used as an alternative to the more traditional Bridal Chorus by Wagner. You can readily find any number of arrangements of the Canon in D for solo piano ranging from very easy to quite challenging.
One of my personal favorite piano works is The Goldberg Variations by J.S. Bach. The opening Aria is a very accessible piece that initiates a set of thirty-two variations for the keyboard. This work was made famous by the Canadian pianist Glenn Gould’s watershed recording from the 1950s. Technically uncomplicated, the Aria provides the player the opportunity to utilize incredible subtlety of touch and interpretation. Players at an intermediate level should be able to manage its demands with a modest amount of practice.
Beethoven wrote several works for solo piano including the short work Fur Elise. You will recognize this piece’s opening theme, which has been used in many movies as well as in television. Its form is a five part rondo – A B A C A. Depending on the tempo you take, the B section offers a few technical challenges. Otherwise, it is a fairly uncomplicated work to play that is easy to memorize. As a piano player you will probably learn this favorite among the piano hits relatively early in your studies.
The Prelude in E Minor Op. 28 No. 4, by Chopin is a beautiful, and famously enigmatic short piece. It comes in at around two minutes, written on a single page of music. Note-wise it is fairly easy to learn, but its interpretation will prove challenging with its turns of phrase, harmony, and need for a sophisticated use of rubato.
The French composer Eric Satie wrote three Gymnopedies for solo piano. These pieces, all sounding quite similar, have come to epitomize the French esthetic in movies. Claude Debussy arranged two of the Gymnopedies for orchestra. These short pieces are not for all tastes, but they are a must for players sensitive to the impressionistic style.
The Prelude No. 1 in C major, from Book 1 of the Well Tempered Clavier is another of J.S. Bach’s most played works. It forms the opening music for a cycle of twenty-four preludes and fugues, one for each major and minor key. Other composers have used this opening prelude as an accompaniment to their own works, most famously the Ave Maria by Charles Gounod.
The Prelude in C sharp minor Opus 3 No. 2, by Sergei Rachmaninoff is a dark and brooding piece not for the technically shy musician. It is often used as a showpiece by more advanced students to highlight their technical prowess and interpretive skills. A favorite for examinations and competitions, as a piano player, you will hear it performed many times by many different musicians.
Mozart’s Rondo alla turca from the third movement of his Piano Sonata No. 11 is the last offering in this short list of classical piano hits. As to be expected with Mozart, this work is extremely tuneful and appealing to all audiences. You will have undoubtedly hear its opening melody in a variety of contexts. This rondo is a great encore piece for a young pianist’s recital program.
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