Expanding my repertoire
September 5, 2013 7:28 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for classical piano sheet music recommendations.

I'm an amateur classical pianist. I've played since I was eight years old.

I like the following:

Bach: Well-Tempered Clavier, English Suites, Goldberg variations
Beethoven: Sonatas
Chopin: his entire works (nocturnes, mazurkas, preludes, waltzes, impromptus, etc.)
John Adams: Phrygian Gates
Alban Berg: Sonata No. 2
Shostakovich: Preludes and Fugues op. 87
Milhaud: Saudades do Brazil
Schubert: Die Forelle
Gershwin: Preludes
Takemitsu: Rain Tree Sketch

I feel a little trapped by my repertoire. I discovered that I liked Bach recently and I I like how it has added a bit of subtlety to my playing, as I was accustomed to banging out the romantics -- especially in my angsty teen years. The same with the Shostakovich. I just picked up some Scriabin and I'm excited to explore his music.

I also feel like I've plateaued and would like to push my playing to the next level.

I'd appreciate recommendations that:
1. expose me more to the "canon"
2. provide a new challenge and a new approach to musicality

Recommendations from any period of piano music would be great. More generally, if there's a good book (on the history of classical piano) or online forum you'd like to recommend that would also be greatly appreciated.

Thanks y'all!
posted by mammary16 to Media & Arts (15 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Schumann? Brahms? Liszt? All Romantic biggies.


Buxtehude, Scarlatti and others who were heavily harpsichord-based?

Schoenberg? Try Piano Pieces, Op. 11, 19, 23, and 33.

You seem to lean towards very mathematical stuff; I like the complement of Bach to "Saudades do Brasil." How about going a bit in the other direction and trying Debussy and (some) Ravel? Impressionism was a reaction, in part, to the heaviness of German expressionism and pieces like Mahler's "Symphony of a Thousand" that built layer upon layer upon layer. Something like "Clair de lune" is much more precise even as it's more intimate and emotional: you have to concentrate on HOW you play much more than WHAT you play.

Have you considered working on your collaborative skills, either full-on accompanying of a soloist or performing more of a duo role (sonatas, duets, etc.)? You're forced to rein in your own sensitivity and meld it with that of another person, but you also get exposure to whole new ways of expressing the same music. I am a MUCH better singer because I was a cellist.
posted by Madamina at 7:56 AM on September 5, 2013

Based on the Chopin and Takemitsu — two of my favorites back when I played — I suggest digging into Eric Satie. You've probably heard the Gymnopedies, which are plenty good, but he's got a lot of other good stuff too.

If you like the Shostakovich preludes and fugues you'll probably like Hindemith's Ludus Tonalis.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 7:57 AM on September 5, 2013

Best answer: So this is high-level already.

For new styles or composers, look into Schumann (Papillons, Kreisleriana, Humoresque, Carneval) and Brahms (pretty much everything, but the sonatas are a bit unwieldy);
Impressionists: Debussy (Preludes) and Ravel obviously, but also maybe composers like Albeniz (Iberia. Difficult stuff).
Additionally, may I suggest Schubert's sonatas and the Wanderer Fantasy, J.S.Bach's Partitas, Rachmaninoff Preludes, and if you're up to it, Etudes tableaux.
You also didn't mention Liszt. The first two books of the Années de Pelerinage contain a lot of lovely music.

As to the "Plateau", what a professional player would do is revisit some old pieces, adding levels of subtlety and refining the technical approach. Bach's WTC and Beethoven's sonatas especially warrant a lifetime of re-visiting. You haven't played them all, have you? WTC II has more of the subtle stuff, everything Beethoven from Op. 101 on is sorta extra difficult and multi-layered...
posted by Namlit at 8:13 AM on September 5, 2013

Seconding Satie.

For something completely different, there's always Percy Grainger's marches and folk songs arrangements for piano. Oh, and Ives wrote some great stuff for piano too.
posted by Gygesringtone at 8:20 AM on September 5, 2013

Oh blast, I forgot the most important of them all: Bartok!
posted by Namlit at 8:23 AM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also maybe Rameau or Lully if you're getting into the Baroque? The French stuff is lusher and less contrapuntal than Bach, and — especially when you put it on the piano — some of it sounds almost like it belongs in the early Romantic era, or like Chopin in an uncharacteristically conservative mood. Makes for an interesting stylistic comparison with the some of the stuff that's already on your list.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 8:24 AM on September 5, 2013

Ok, to be fair, Lully wasn't a keyboard composer at all, and it might be difficult to find interesting pieces by him that aren't arrangements,

But Rameau is a great suggestion. Add Francois Couperin, and make a special study of French ornaments of the time, and there's your new project all right.
posted by Namlit at 8:28 AM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I would add one of the well-known Spanish/Hispanic piano suites to your repertoire by bits and pieces, such as Granados, Albéniz or Cuban Lecuona's Suite Andalucía. There are a number of different alternatives at varying levels of difficulty (e.g., Albéniz's Suite Española is quite approachable, but his Iberia is a monster).
posted by drlith at 8:41 AM on September 5, 2013

Professional classical pianist boyfriend recommends Webern and Brik Satie for new ways of handling voice.

Additionally work from Liszt's final year of life, such as Nuages gris.

Barbara Strozzi (female baroque composer) has some fascinating stuff. Chinary Ung is a living composer (teaches at UCSD) who has done some very interesting work - boyfriend's favorite work to play is Khse Buon (which is for solo cello/viola, sorry) but Seven Mirrors is also great.
posted by arnicae at 9:17 AM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Ok, to be fair, Lully wasn't a keyboard composer at all, and it might be difficult to find interesting pieces by him that aren't arrangements,

But Rameau is a great suggestion. Add Francois Couperin...

Derp. Yes. What he said.

posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 9:50 AM on September 5, 2013

Actually seems like you have the "canon" covered well enough. The WTC, Beethoven sonatas, Chopin etudes/nocturnes. You could add Mozart sonatas I guess but why? They're so boring.

Some of my favorite piano pieces you didn't list are:
Rzewski, The People United Will Never Be Defeated
Copland, Piano Variations
Schoenberg, Opus 23.
Ives, Piano Sonata 2.
Bartok Etudes.
Cage, Feldman, Terry Riley.
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:49 AM on September 5, 2013

Oh, and Debussy's Golliwogg's Cakewalk is another favorite.
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:51 AM on September 5, 2013

Best answer: You could explore composers you already like some more:

Bach: French Overture; Inventions; Partitas
Beethoven: Diabelli Variations

If you like Shostakovich, maybe try Prokofiev (sonatas are hard; something like Visions fugitives or Sarcasms are more manageable).

Mozart piano concertos, 271 and on.

Bartok is great, as mentioned above - maybe try the Improvisations or bagatelles.

Schoenberg or Webern? Dallapicolo was a contemporary of Schoenberg's and his stuff is 12-tone but has nice "vocal" lines.

For books:

David Dubal - entertaining, lighter reading

Men, Women, and Pianos: A Social History by Arthur Loesser - interesting and thoughtful

Charles Rosen's books are great - written for a more sophisticated audience, but shouldn't be a problem if you're a serious amateur

John Gillespie for a sort of standard text on piano literature
posted by taupe at 12:14 PM on September 5, 2013

Here is a off-the-beaten-track suggestion for a contemporary of Beethoven: Jan Ladislav Dussek. Great music, quite difficult to play. You should find some of his stuff at IMSLP.
posted by Namlit at 5:41 PM on September 5, 2013

I love my book of Brahms's shorter pieces (intermezzi, rhapsodies, etc). They vary widely in their levels of difficulty, and many are beautiful to play. The book I have is decades old, but it looks like there is a newer book on Amazon that has a similar collection of his short pieces and it is being sold for dirt cheap.
posted by wondermouse at 7:23 AM on September 6, 2013

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