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9 classical pieces from easy to advanced

classical piano pieces

Classical music is beautiful and timeless. The range of emotion, depth of character, and intriguing shifts in dynamic and mood have helped cement classical piano music’s place in music history. 

Many pianists study these classical pieces for a number of reasons. They are part of the vocabulary of piano music, they help improve all facets of technique and musicality, and they sound great! Check out this list of 9 classical piano songs from easy to difficult and get started on your journey through the classics this week!

Sonata No. 11 by Mozart

Mozart’s Piano Sonata No. 11 in A Major, K 331, is a three-movement sonata for solo piano written between 1781 and 1783. It is best known for its third movement, which is widely heard in transcriptions for instruments other than the piano and is written “in the Turkish style.”

From approximately 1775 through 1789, Mozart created about 20 solo piano sonatas. The Sonata in A, K 331, appears about halfway through the cycle. (The “K” stands for Ludwig Ritter von Köchel, an Austrian musicologist who published the most comprehensive chronological list of Mozart’s works in the 19th century.) This sonata was one of three that were published as Opus 6 in 1784, despite the fact that Mozart had completed over 300 pieces by that time.

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The Blue Danube by Strauss

The Blue Danube is a waltz composed by the famous German composer Johann Strauss in 1866. Originally set as a choir piece, it has since become one of the most popular easy classical piano songs. You will commonly find this piece in any graded piano curriculum and in online piano lessons, even though its initial performance was reportedly underwhelming at best.

This piece was famously used in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey as the Pan-Am spaceship flies through orbit to dock at the space station. After its initial performance in 1866, Strauss decided to arrange the piece for orchestra for the 1867 World’s Fair in Paris, to great success.

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Symphony No. 5 by Beethoven

Symphony No. 5 by Ludwig van Beethoven features perhaps the most iconic opening theme in music history. The descending intervals of a major third followed by a minor third have become a sort of proxy for dramatic cues. Beethoven composed the symphony between the years 1804 and 1808 and it finally premiered in Vienna in 1808.

The piece was reportedly a near-instant hit.

Like other symphonies of the Romantic era, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 features 4 movements with various developments on the central motif. Today, the piece is a staple of classical repertoire for both orchestras and is a perfect easy piano song for beginning pianists.

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Swan Lake by Tchaikovsky

Swan Lake by Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky is one of the most popular and well-loved ballets of all time. Originally composed from 1875-76 and premiered by the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow in 1877, the work was initially a flop. The work gained traction about 20 years after its initial performance when the ballet in St. Petersburg took up the work. There are many themes from Swan Lake that students learn, but the primary theme is the Swan Theme, presented in this lesson in the key of A minor. 

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William Tell Overture by Rossini

The William Tell Overture by Gioacchino Rossini is actually the overture piece to the opera William Tell also by Rossini. The opera debuted in 1829 and was the final opera Rossini composed before he entered semi-retirement. The overture is the piece the orchestra performs before the first act of the opera which helps to set the mood for the story and themes of the opera. The William Tell Overture has since been used in films and TV shows and is often used as a proxy for horseback riding scenes and other action sequences, sometimes in a joking or ironic way. However, the piece is still a great choice for the intermediate pianist!

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In the Hall of the Mountain King by Grieg

In the Hall of the Mountain King by the Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg was originally composed to accompany the play Peer Gynt by Henrik Ibsen. The famous melody has since gained popular culture status and serves a proxy for mysterious scenes. The orchestral piece begins primarily in the key of B minor with extensive use of minor chords with the low strings and bassoon. As the piece progresses, the motif moves up in both register and orchestration into the higher ranges of the orchestra.

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Canon in D by Pachelbel 

Canon in D by Johan Pachelbel is one of the most famous classical piano songs. The oldest surviving manuscript of the piece dates from the 19th century and estimates for its composition range from 1680 to 1706. It is an old melody in music!

The piece was lost to the changing tastes of music in Europe for centuries until a 1968 recording helped propel the piece back into the popular imagination. It has since become common for many piano students to learn and its chord progression, chord inversions, and melody have been widely used in films and also served as inspiration for pop and rock music.

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Für Elise by Beethoven

Nearly every pianist at some point in their studies will come across the iconic Fur Elise by Ludwig van Beethoven. The piece is almost synonymous with classical piano repertoire. The haunting melody that dances around A minor arpeggios has captured the imaginations and propelled the fingers of pianists for hundreds of years. 

However, the piece was not even published during Beethoven’s lifetime! It was discovered nearly 40 years after his death, further adding to the mystery of the music. Historians and musicologists have speculated on the identity of Elise to no avail.

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Nocturne in E Flat, Op. 9 No. 2 by Chopin

Composed when he was only 20 years old, Nocturne in E Flat is the second nocturne in a series of three by the virtuoso pianist published in 1832. The pieces were the first published works of Chopin and No. 2 is widely regarded as one of his best compositions.

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The main melodic motif is heard several times throughout the piece, with increasing ornamentation each time. This nocturne is also a great example of Chopin’s use of rubato, a piano playing style where the rhythm in the music ebbs and flows.

 

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Author of this blog post:

Edward Bond

Eddie Bond is a multi-instrumentalist performer, composer, and music instructor currently based in Seattle, Washington USA. He has performed extensively in the US, Canada, Argentina, and China, released over 40 albums, and has over a decade experience working with music students of all ages and ability levels.

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