Piano for showoffs
June 15, 2016 1:31 PM   Subscribe

Please direct me to the sheet music for the flashiest, show-offy, fun piano pieces you know. (solo piano or 2 pianos/4 hands, any genre)

Like many people, I took years and years and years of piano lessons as a kid/adolescent and was never particularly enthused about it: I derived lots of satisfaction from being able to play lots of complicated notes fast, but I was never really able to naturally project much subtlety or musicality into it. I've recently come into possession of a very decent keyboard and decided that fuck it, no one's evaluating performance anymore so I should be able to enjoy the piano however I want.

Some examples of what I find fun (also probably the absolute upper bound for difficulty: I'm not sure if I would still have the discipline to sit down and learn some of these that I did back when I had entire free summers to play piano):
  • Beethoven Sonata Pathetique, 1st movement (but see below for a note re: big dramatic tremolos)
  • The fast bits of Chopin's Fantasie-Impromptu (I have to restrain myself from going "wheeeee!" at the start, and then I butcher the melodic part while spending most of the time staring at my clock on the wall)
  • On the 2p/4h front, definitely looking for more "fun to play" than technically challenging as above: my brother and I enjoy cranking out Anderson and Roe's arrangement of Sleigh Ride when the season is appropriate, and would like other suggestions that are maybe not so.. seasonally dependent?
Some extra criteria:
  • Easily available as sheet music, either online or at a brick & mortar music store. Bonus if there is/are recording(s) available to listen to online.
  • Relatively high reward-to-effort ratio (answerer's judgement)
  • No extended big tremolos (I have small hands and over-practicing Sonata Pathetique in high school gave me an RSI in my left wrist, would prefer for that not to happen again)
  • Any genre welcome, but stuff outside the "classical"/dead-white-guys milieu would be especially appreciated.
posted by btfreek to Media & Arts (24 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Linus and Lucy.
posted by Melismata at 1:35 PM on June 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

How do you feel about Joplin? Lots of fun, showy, ragtime songs.

Mozart's Fantasia in D Minor gives you a lot of bang for your buck, but it takes a while to get going.
posted by mskyle at 1:43 PM on June 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

For 4 hands, it may be a bit more challenging than you want, but... *takes deep breath, and boomingly intones* LEBENSSTURME, by Schubert. It's very fun to bang out those opening chords together.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 1:48 PM on June 15, 2016

Best answer: Schubert's Impromptu D. 899 no. 2 in E♭ (sheet music, performance by Murray Perahia) is a lot of fun to play and a lot easier than it sounds.

Gershwin's Prelude no. 1 (sheet music, performance by Krystian Zimerman) is another crowd-pleaser.
posted by dfan at 1:52 PM on June 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

Also, it might be too much for your left hand, but James P. Johnson's stride classic Carolina Shout (transcription by Ethan Iverson et al. about halfway down the page), 1921 recording by the composer) is a hell of a lot of fun both to play and listen to. I laughed out loud a few times the first time I heard it.
posted by dfan at 1:59 PM on June 15, 2016

Linus and Lucy.

This was the last recital piece I ever played before quitting piano forever and people kept asking me to play it for years. Ate that shit up. It's a very popular, fun tune that everyone loves. And it can't be too hard, I quit when I was 11 and have no discernible musical talent.
posted by phunniemee at 2:16 PM on June 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

Flight of the Bumblebee, natürlisch!

Bartók suite opus 14
posted by fraula at 2:23 PM on June 15, 2016

Also, you didn't ask, but re: tremolos, don't use your wrist, use your full forearm :) Takes some practice but gives you a more stable base and better control. And no injuries.
posted by fraula at 2:31 PM on June 15, 2016

Joplin's Maple Leaf Rag. Notoriously, devilishly difficult to play, at least the latter two sections are.
posted by holborne at 2:33 PM on June 15, 2016

Leroy Anderson wrote, or arranged, lots of other things e.g. The Typewriter.

Horowitz used to play The Stars and Stripes Forever as an encore piece. (nice pants!)

If you can find a piano score for the On The Trail part of the Grand Canyon Suite, that could work. By the way, despite his European-looking name, Ferde Grofe was thoroughly American, and had a career as an arranger/composer similar to Leroy Anderson. He worked with Paul Whiteman for long time. Incidentally, his Wikipedia page notes that George Gershwin originally wrote Rhapsody In Blue for 2 pianos.
posted by SemiSalt at 4:07 PM on June 15, 2016

Response by poster: YAAAS I'm not marking anything as best answer yet because I don't want to discourage further suggestions, but I just wanted to express my overwhelming enthusiasm for these answers! Some of them I have already played and enjoyed (Linus and Lucy, Fantasia in Dm), others I'm looking forward to plonking out in due time (I have a solo arrangement of Rhapsody in Blue kicking around my hard drive somewhere and I might steal my brother's copy of Gershwin's complete keyboard works, and how could I forget Schubert, and thanks to everyone who reminded me that ragtime, like, exists) and I'm listening to all these recordings and grinning at my desk. Yay pianos!
posted by btfreek at 4:25 PM on June 15, 2016

James Bond Theme. I don't think this performance is as good as it could be.
posted by SemiSalt at 4:33 PM on June 15, 2016

Response by poster: (Oh, and I'd like to point out that the 2-piano arrangement of Sleigh Ride I mentioned above is an arrangement of the Leroy Anderson classic by (confusingly) Greg Anderson, not because it matters but because watching them hamming it up for the video is absurdly cute and lots of fun.)
posted by btfreek at 4:34 PM on June 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona's Malagueña is a fun "show pony" piece with a high reward-to-effort ratio IMHO. It's probably the flashiest piece was able to get back into not-embarrassing shape when I came back to piano a while back, after studying piano fairly seriously through to the end of high school and then playing very little for the next 25 years.
posted by drlith at 4:59 PM on June 15, 2016

Moritz Moszkowski apparently was paid by the note.
posted by falsedmitri at 6:48 PM on June 15, 2016

Bach's prelude in c-minor Is quite high reward to effort ratio - fast and brooding, but a repetitive motif that's easy to get rather quickly
posted by baniak at 9:29 PM on June 15, 2016

Those who fight from Final Fantasy has been my favourite for a long time: it's big gamer / pop culture reference, never bored playing or listening to it, lots of tonal variety, big wow factor, it always turns heads. Sheet music is readily available from google search.
posted by xdvesper at 9:42 PM on June 15, 2016

I think you might enjoy "All Of Me" by Jon Schmidt (maybe better known as one of The Piano Guys).
Here's the sheet music
and here's him playing the piece
It's not so difficult but it somehow LOOKS difficult and people love it.

Another thing I'd recommend is "Bugatti Step" by Jaroslav Ježek, not too difficult either but one of my favourites.
Sheet music
Youtube (but I like to play it a little bit slower)

And maybe you'd also like Liszt's "Les cloches de Genève" (it's mostly slow and easy but I personally love this one, especially the "ff" part)
Sheet music (you can download the pdf here)

And also Liszt's "Liebestraum"
Sheet music

And maybe you'd also enjoy the 3rd movement of Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata"
Sheet music
posted by U.N.Owen at 11:55 PM on June 15, 2016

Any 12-bar blues-style boogie (think Pine Top Smith) with a walking-octave bass lends itself well to an easy four-hander with lots of improvisation options.
posted by Thistledown at 8:54 AM on June 16, 2016

Best answer: They don't really meet your 'high reward for minimal effort' criterium but, the most fun I've had in recent years has been learning Stephen Hough's song transcriptions of Rodgers and Hammerstein songs. Imagine Liszt interpreting Broadway showtunes and you're pretty much there.

Here's an example: My Favourite Things (eagle-eyed/eared viewers/listeners may notice that the music shown isn't exactly what's played in a couple of places, but hey, he wrote it, so he get's to mess about, I say!)

They were an absolute PITA to learn and made my arms (and brain!) ache, so little and often is the key. But if you want the ultimate 'show-off' piece, these are your go-to, imo.
posted by dogsbody at 12:35 PM on June 16, 2016

How about Khachaturian Toccata goodness?
posted by storybored at 12:48 PM on June 16, 2016

Rachmaninoff's Barcarolle (Op. 10 No. 3) sounds much harder than it is, and I say that as someone who also has small hands and got the repetitive strain injury as a sixth-grader by over-practicing Mozart's Turkish March. The repetitive octaves in that song killed me.

So in Rachmaninoff's Barcarolle, there are lots of impressive fast notes once you're past the opening part, and not a lot of big jumps or big chords. The run at the very end is especially fun once you get it under your fingers.
Vitaly Margulis plays Rachmaninoff Barcarolle Op.10 No. 3
Here's a different interpretation of the song played on bayan: Artem Nyzhnyk plays Rachmaninov Barcarolle

Another good one, coincidentally also by Rachmaninoff, is his prelude in C-sharp minor. (Here it is played by a child. When I was a kid I knew another kid in 6th grade who could play this song really well. It sounds super impressive but again is not actually that hard when compared to piano music that is... well, harder.) This song is especially great if you want to sound furious.
posted by bananana at 8:03 PM on June 16, 2016

Debussy's Pour le piano is flashy and not as hard as it looks/sounds! Plus you get to do fun glissandi across the keyboard and stuff.
posted by speicus at 1:03 AM on June 17, 2016

I have always loved Mozart's Rondo alla Turca.
posted by freezer cake at 5:03 PM on June 17, 2016

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