Many piano pieces have survived the ages and become part of our lives today. They are also the soundtrack to many famous film scenes and TV shows. It will probably take you less than two seconds to recognize each of these famous works for their superb piano sounds.
From the classical period to the end of the Romantic era Here are some of the best-known piano pieces!
Moonlight Sonata by Ludwig Van Beethoven
There’s no classical composer whose music conveys emotions more effectively than Beethoven. One of the most important musicians of the Romantic period, Beethoven wove a complex emotional landscape into his compositions. Ultimately, his music is empathetic, sombre and full of emotion.
The breathtakingly beautiful first movement of the Moonlight Sonata is Beethoven’s best-known composition. True to the title used by the piece, this tune offers an incredible mental image of a dark, moonlit night.
Clair de Lune by Claude Debussy
French composer Debussy is the epitome of impressionist music. His piano tones are light and gentle, evoking the beauty of the sea and a serene natural environment.
Clair de lune is in fact the third part of his Suite bergamasque, a larger piano composition. It is one of the most popular piano works of the classical genre, having been used in numerous TV and film programs to depict a tranquil dream state.
Don’t let its simple appearance fool you. Debussy took 15 years to compose it, and the end product is a piece that may seem easy, but demands the very best from its performers. When played correctly, it allows the most gifted pianists to shine.
Ludwig Van Beethoven’s Letter to Elise
Beethoven’s piano music has become so widely admired and adored as to merit an additional mention in this list! The full title of this work is Bagatelle in A minor, but most people will identify it as La lettre à Élise.
This light, brief piece for solo piano is known not only for its beautiful melody and lyrical harmonies, but also because it’s an all-time classic for piano students beginning to master more complex music.
The score was discovered by Beethoven expert Ludwig Nohl and published in 1867, forty years after Beethoven’s death. Nohl claims to have discovered the dedication “Fur Elise” on the original autograph, but it has since disappeared, giving rise to speculation as to the identity of the mysterious Elise. Some believe it to be a former Beethoven muse, while others claim it is a soprano for whom he composed the piece.
The Turkish March by Wolfgand Amadeus Mozartd
Everyone knows the name Mozart, recognized as one of the most famous composers and pianists in the history of music.
But few know that he was a gifted child, composing and touring across Europe when he was just five years old! He lived at a time when Eastern influence, particularly from Turkey, was extremely popular in Western Europe.
These elements are wonderfully combined in the 3rd section of his Piano Sonata No. 11 in A major, K. 331, entitled Rondo alla Turca and nicknamed the Turkish March. The music is lively, fast-paced, fun and rhythmic.
Nocturne in E flat Major (OP. 9 No. 2) by Frédéric Chopin
Any discussion of classical piano music would be incomplete without a mention of Chopin. This great Franco-Polish composer wrote a number of piano concertos and chamber music. Among his best-known works is his Nocturne in E flat major (Op. 9 No. 2). Chopin composed this piece at the age of twenty, which may give some idea of its rapidity.
The construction of the theme and the waltz that accompanies the dramatic, trill-filled finale make this an outstanding possibility for first place as the most astonishing piano piece ever composed.
Hungarian Rhapsody N°2 by Franz Liszt
This is the second and best-known of the 19 Hungarian Rhapsodies composed for piano by Franz Liszt between 1846 and 1853.
The piece begins in a dark, dramatic mood, with powerful low chords. Dotted rhythms, alternating long and short notes, taken directly from Hungarian folk dances, soon take over. Slow beginnings eventually lead to lively, animated passages, just as folk dances can accelerate in time. In this sense, this rhapsody resembles the Hungarian dance known as Csardas.
Whether in the original piano version or in the version adapted for orchestra by Liszt’s friend Franz Doppler, this is music deeply influenced by Hungarian heritage.
Gymnopédie n°1 by Érik Satie
This serene but somewhat tame piano solo is the very first of the three Gymnopédies composed by French composer Erik Satie. Anyone who watches movies will recognize it, as it has appeared in a number of films, including Woody Allen’s Another Woman and Neuilly sa mere!
It’s easy to see why: all three pieces are cinematic in their approach, sharing the same unique, unsettling mood, achieved through slight differences in harmony and specific performance instructions that call for each composition to be performed “painfully” as well as “sadly”. The Gymnopédies are often regarded as an important prelude to the equally peaceful and profound ambient sound.
Prelude in C Major by Johann Sebastian Bach
There’s something unique about the purity of J-S Bach’s Prelude in C Major. One might even say that it is with the first gentle development of the C major chord that the whole history of modern Western music begins…
Philipp Spitta, the first great scholar of this artist, described the Prelude in C major as an eminent, impressive piece, with a grandiose, powerful melody that seems like the song of an angel heard in the stillness of the night, through the hum of groves, trees and water.
This melody, however, is much more eloquent than explicit. The piece is simply a harmony, created from a constant recurrence of broken chords.
Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy by Pitor Ilyich Tchaikovsky
It was in Paris, in 1891, that Tchaikovsky discovered a brand-new instrument: the celesta, whose clear, bell-like timbre was perfect for the fairytale setting of The Nutcracker, his most famous ballet, from which the music is taken. Tchaikovsky identified the “voice” of his Sugar Plum Fairy in the ethereal notes of the celesta, and immediately wrote to his publisher asking him to buy the instrument so he could perform it.
The film was a huge success and has been used in many areas, including cartoons and children’s films. It is also used in many commercials broadcast during the Christmas vacations.
Comptine d’un autre été by Yann Tiersen
Composed for the soundtrack to the 2001 film Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulainin, Comptine d’un autre eteis one of the film’s most recognizable works. Yann Tiersen composed most of the music for the soundtrack, including this one. The soundtrack includes music from Tiersen’s three previous piano albums, as well as new compositions specially conceived for the film.
A simple yet powerful piano piece that evokes feelings of hope and nostalgia, also found on screen. Tiersen’s style is non-intrusive, making it an ideal accompaniment to a film. It’s a pleasure to listen to in any circumstances.
Marche funèbre by Frédéric Chopin
When TV and movies call for music that instantly evokes an atmosphere of horror and ambience, they usually turn to the second movement of Chopin’s Piano Sonata No. 2. Aptly named the Funeral March.
This instantly recognizable melody is slow and strong. It evokes the experience of walking slowly down the street with the coffin. Marche funebre is undoubtedly one of the best classical piano tunes for creating an oppressive, somber mood.
The Entertainer by Scott Joplin
The Entertainer is an incredibly well-known ragtime number with a two-beat tempo, written and published in 1902 by American pianist Scott Joplin (1868-1917). It is one of the most popular songs of the Belle Époque, ranked No. 10 out of 100 songs of the century by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).
Polonaise, Op. 53 by Chopin
The Polonaise “Eroica” Op. 53 is a polonaise for piano written by Frédéric Chopin and composed in 1842. It is one of the Polish composer’s best-known works, and one of the most popular in today’s classical piano repertoire. It requires a great deal of skill on the part of the performer, as well as great dexterity to play it well. It is one of the most difficult pieces in the solo piano repertoire.