Most pianists get their start in classical music, and for good reason. Classical pieces are the most readily available, and they’ve been played enough times that teachers can pick out where you deviate. They also lend themselves well to personalization, which is important when you’ve started to develop your own style. Needless to say, a good grasp of the classics can go a long way when you’re learning the piano. Here are some of the genres you might want to be familiar with.
Etudes: The word étude is French for study, and obviously is designed for students. These are actually part of a larger body of piano solos, which includes ballades, waltzes, nocturnes and preludes. The earliest études were very technical and repetitive, but towards the mid-19th century composers began to design études that could be used for performance as well as training. Frederic Chopin’s études are commonly regarded as the best of all time, and are the most frequently used in piano schools.
Sonata: The definitions vary depending on who you ask, but the generally accepted view is that sonatas must be from the classical period and be made up of three to four movements. This is not the official standard, but most sonatas fit this description. It’s an unaccompanied piece which means it’s not meant to be performed with any other instruments. Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata is probably the most well-known. Joseph Haydn’s Sonata in C and Mozart’s Alla Turca are also worth considering.
Concerto: A concerto is a larger work designed for an orchestral ensemble; a piano concerto puts the piano as the only instrument. Most concertos consist of three movements that go from fast to slow to fast, although this is not the standard. Gershwin’s Piano Concerto in F is a popular piece, as are Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 1 and Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1.
Trio and Quintet: If you eventually do chamber music, the trio is one of the first genres you might work with. Trios consist of a piano and two other instruments, usually a violin and a cello. Schubert’s Piano Trio No. 2 in E Flat Major, D.929 is a favourite among students and teachers alike. Likewise, a quintet includes a piano with four other instruments; the most common combination is a piano, two violins, a viola, and a cello. The most famous piece, and one that most students come across at least once, is Schubert’s Piano Quintet in A Major.