Help me find piano music to play.
November 20, 2009 11:57 AM   Subscribe

I want to expand my (intermediate/advanced amateur) piano repertoire. Can you recommend some music?

I finally have some time to play the piano again, and I'm looking for some music recommendations. I used to be pretty good, but my technique has really deteriorated since college. I'll be working on that, but becoming a virtuoso is not really a priority, so what I'm after is interesting pieces that aren't too long or technically demanding. Bonus if they're witty.

Sometimes I feel like I've exhausted everything that's available for someone with my skills, but that can't be true. I've played through most of Beethoven's sonatas and short pieces, some Haydn sonatas (but no Mozart, which I find insipid). Also already in my repertoire are Chopin's Nocturnes, Waltzes, Polonaises (most of the Etudes are too demanding, I think); lots of Schubert, some Brahms, some Schumann. Scarlatti is fun; I don't have the patience for too much Bach polyphony, though I know it's always worth the effort. I loved Gershwin's piano preludes, and a handful of Prokofiev's Visions fugitives. Ravel is a little long-winded, I think. On the other hand, Debussy's Tarantelle styrienne is my latest favorite.

Who else wrote piano music for non-virtuosi? I'd welcome suggestions about almost any style of music except atonal or Philip-Glass-minimalist.
posted by philokalia to Media & Arts (16 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
How about Erik Satie? He's one of my favorites. I think if you like Debussy you'd like his work.
posted by dnash at 12:14 PM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

have you tried rachmaninoff?
posted by chalbe at 12:15 PM on November 20, 2009

Well, if you're looking for witty, I would defo explore some more Haydn. And while I'm no huge Mozart fan either, I would challenge your dismissal of all his piano music as insipid, and it might be worth a second look through some of the sonatas,

A few composers who wrote/write beautiful piano music that isn't, generally, too difficult, and that you might like:

Satie, Liszt, Mussorgsky, Rachmaninoff, Amy Beach, early Stravinsky, early Copland, Bartok(!!!), Bernstein (esp. the Anniversary Pieces), Rzewski, Danielpour (esp. the Enchanted Gardens), Higdon (esp. Secret and Glass gardens), Gandolfi
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:30 PM on November 20, 2009

I'm assuming you wouldn't like the music of Lutoslawski but I think he's just the awesomest.
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:37 PM on November 20, 2009

Debussy's Reverie

Mompou's Musica Callada

(Not sure if this is too advanced, but I'd imagine it's very rewarding if you're up to it:)

Brahms's Rhapsody in B minor, Op 79/1
posted by Jaltcoh at 1:01 PM on November 20, 2009

Sounds a lot like the music I like to play.

There's lots more Debussy to explore. Also Bartok (try the last couple books of Mikrokosmos).

It's not classical, but have you considered Scott Joplin? Those rags are really enjoyable to play.
posted by dfan at 1:47 PM on November 20, 2009

Also there's a lot of great early-20th-century French music I bet you would like. Try Milhaud (the Saudades do Brasil are particularly fun) and Poulenc.
posted by dfan at 1:49 PM on November 20, 2009

2nding Mussorgsky, Pictures at an exhibition is really fun to play through.
posted by Craig at 2:06 PM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Thirding Pictures at an Exhibition. I just pulled it out yesterday after eating at a restaurant called Baba Yega and hearing the orchestra arrangement on the radio on the way home: it seemed the universe was telling me something.

Also, there is a pretty decent Sonatina Album that wont technically challenge you too much, but it also wont bore you. It is, if nothing else, witty.

If you are looking for more of a challenge, check out some classical tango music. I don't have a good rec on publications for that, but if you are browsing in a store that might be something to ask a clerk about. The name you are looking for in that genre is Piazzolla.
posted by greekphilosophy at 3:59 PM on November 20, 2009

Edvard Grieg comes to mind... If you're looking for that unearthly quality (eg Debussy, Prokofief, Satie, ...) check out Gabriel Fauré. also, since you said nearly any genre, jazz standards written out with lush chord substitutions. On the other hand you could play piano reductions of great orchestral works, and try making them up from reading the orchestral score. This can be great fun. I've seen someone do this with amazing skill and realised the piano can definitely make you imagine the sound of a whole orchestra.
posted by yoHighness at 5:57 PM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Isaac Albéniz' Suite Española is a great deal of fun and a nice change of pace.
posted by SomeTrickPony at 7:16 PM on November 20, 2009

Thanks for all the hints so far! These are all great, with lots of names that are new to me, and some I'll have to look up again (I didn't know Amy Beach wrote for piano!). As for Mozart -- well, I thought K330 had its moments, but I've never run across anything else of his that quite measured up. Any others specifically I might consider?

The Brahms B minor rhapsody was something I played in high school, when I had both the chops and the requisite emotional earnestness. It's probably beyond me now on both counts, but who knows? Maybe I'll give it a shot.

Tango and rags will definitely be on the list, too. I do have William Bolcom's piano rags somewhere, so I'll have to dig those out. And any suggestions on where to find "written out" jazz standards? Or do I just go get myself a fake book and figure them out on my own? This sounds like an exciting direction to explore, but I'd be more than a little at sea.....
posted by philokalia at 8:28 PM on November 20, 2009

re: the jazz books, this comment inspired me.
posted by yoHighness at 4:16 AM on November 21, 2009

Re: the jazz books - one amazing book is "Ways of the hand" by David Sudnow. Apart from that, every large music store I go to seems to have a small section of written-out jazz. Usually it always seems to be a collection of too-cute, cheesy standards like say, "The Essential Jazz Collection" by Faber Music - Misty, Embraceable You, My Funny Valentine etc. but then I've also seen madass virtuoso things like a transcription of Keith Jarret's Cologne Concert.
Lastly, "put the printer next to the piano" - googling for "jazz sheet music piano" gives some interesting pages with sheet music for jazz - (free) and bossa...
posted by yoHighness at 4:36 AM on November 21, 2009

I just revisited Samuel Barber's works for solo piano this weekend. The Excursions and Sonata are definitely a few weeks of practicing away from being pleasing for this amateur. The Souvenirs, specifically the Pas de Deux, are really accessible the first few times around and have proven even more satisfactory with a few play throughs. Also, as they were written originally for 4 hands, there are some parts where I can have the Cold Lurkey (spouse edition) play with me.
This is the edition that I have.

Onto other composers, I think the Debussy's preludes would suit you quite nicely as well. Also, if you get off on the Russian kick with Mussorgsky, there are always the Rachmaninoff preludes.
Personally, I just have a bunch of big books of solo works by a given composer. I.e. Schubert, Mozart, Rachmaninoff, Liszt, Barber, Brahms. and work my way through them finding neat pieces to play.
(an aside) I'm actually a bit defensively dubious that you've exhausted Schubert. really? All the Klavierstucke and impromptus and everything? Because then there's the dances... and 4 handed... and ok. I just love Schubert and could never really exhaust him.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 8:02 PM on November 29, 2009

Some works most people end up truly loving, but do not know beforehand:

Roughly from easy to medium:

- Sibelius: Pieces op.75 (esp. no.5 The Spruce)
- Sibelius: Etude in A minor op. 76 no. 2
- Grieg: Butterfly Op. 42 no.1
- Sibelius: Caprice op. 24. no.3
- Chopin's Mazurka in B-minor Opus. 33 No. 4 (some teachers don't give it to their students, bec. they want to save it to themselves :D It's musically really rewarding).
- Rachmaninoff: Prelude Op. 3 no.2 C#-minor
- Brahms: Intermezzos op.118 no.2, op.117, no.2
- Moszkowsky: Etudes not musically as deep, but better than Czernys etc. and good for your technique.

A bit / a lot more tricky:
- Rachmaninoff's Etudes are one of the most musical and fun to play (more difficult too)
- Chopin's: Etude op. 25 no.12 ("Ocean") This is great place to start for a little bit more demanding. ("Revolution" op. 10 no. 12 is far more difficult, but almost everybody wants to try still at some point :)

* * *

Some Bach that you still might like

- play partd of the French / English Suites. They are short and you can choose the ones that you like. Do not contain difficult polyphony most of the time. (Easy to medium)
- J.S.Bach: Das Wohltemperierte Klavier (I) Prelude and Fugue in b flat minor, BWV 867
(Don't play the fuga if too difficult.)
- Also WTK II, A-minor (only if you like chromatic stuff)

More modern:
- Rautavaara: Sonate n° 1 pour piano, « Kristus ja kalastajat » (L eChrist et le pêcheur) 1969
(also no. 2 is great) and of medium/high medium difficulty
- Skrjabin has lots of small piano pieces, which are good. Not all difficult.

posted by Doggiebreath at 6:24 PM on December 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

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