Classical music is some of the world’s most beautiful and timeless music. It has been around for centuries, and countless pieces could be considered “famous.”
In this blog post, we will look at 30 of the most famous classical piano songs of all time.
I hope you enjoy listening to them as much as I loved putting this list together! These pieces come from different musical periods, each unique in its own way.
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Although this post includes famous classical pieces written for piano, only some of them are from the Classical period in musical history.
For this post, “classical” means a piece written for solo piano.
This post will inspire you to explore picking up a few new pieces and expanding your musical horizons!
Pieces within this period include those written between 1600 and 1750. Johann Sebastian Bach is arguably the most famous composer of this period.
This period saw rapid change in how music composition was approached, and the common practice of writing music in a specific key signature was born.
Prelude in C Major (BWV 846): Johann Sebastian Bach
Bach’s Prelude in C Major is one of the most popular pieces from the Baroque period. It is often one of the first pieces from the classical repertoire that beginners learn, as it is relatively simple compared to many of Bach’s other keyboard works.
This prelude is included in Book 1 of The Well-Tempered Clavier. It’s a cheerful and upbeat piece, and its simplicity makes it incredibly charming.
Minuet in G Major (BWV Anh. 114): J.S. Bach
The Minuet in G Major is another of Bach’s most popular pieces. It is a dance piece part of the more extensive volume of work known as the Anna Magdalena Bach Notebook.
This minuet is in the key of G major and has a light and airy feel. The piece is relatively short, but it is charming and very accessible for beginning pianists.
Italian Concerto: J.S. Bach
The Italian Concerto is one of Bach’s most well-known keyboard works. It is a three-movement work demonstrating Bach’s mastery of the keyboard delightfully.
Pieces written between 1750 and 1820 are considered part of the Classical period in music. Ludwig van Beethoven and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart are two of the most famous composers from this period.
The Classical period saw a move away from the complex counterpoint of the Baroque period and towards simpler harmonies and melodies.
Moonlight Sonata (Op. 27, No. 2): Ludwig van Beethoven
Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata is one of his most popular piano pieces. Moonlight is the nickname given to the first movement of Sonata Quasi Una Fantasia in C-sharp minor, Op. 27, No. 2, five years after Beethoven’s death.
The nickname came about because music critic Ludwig Rellstab described the piece as “like moonlight shining on a lake.”
This piece is written in sonata form. The first movement is known for its beautiful melody. It is considered one of the most famous classical piano pieces ever composed.
Sonata in C Minor (Op. 13, No. 8): Ludwig van Beethoven
Beethoven’s Pathétique Sonata is one of his most well-known and beloved piano sonatas. It is known for its expressive and emotive character.
Für Elise: Ludwig van Beethoven
Für Elise is one of Beethoven’s most popular pieces. The formal name for the piece is Bagatelle No. 25 in A minor. Interestingly, the music was not even published until after Beethoven’s death.
It is one of Beethoven’s most famous piano pieces and has been learned by many beginning pianists throughout history.
Rondo Alla Turca (K. 331): Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Mozart’s Rondo Alla Turca is one of his most famous pieces. It is a fast and lively rondo in the key of A minor, inspired by Turkish music.
This piece is the 3rd movement from Sonata in A Major, K. 331. Although the entire sonata is technically challenging, this movement is considered the simplest of the three.
Sonata No. 16 in C Major (K. 545): Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Mozart’s Sonata No. 16 in C Major is one of his most famous and well-loved piano pieces. It is a three-movement work, and the first movement is considered one of the most famous classical piano pieces of all time.
Although Mozart considered this piece attainable for beginners, it was never even published during his lifetime. It remains a suitable piece for beginner and intermediate pianists.
Fantasia in D Minor (K. 397): Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Mozart’s Fantasia in D Minor is a dark and emotional piece. It is one of his later works and remained unfinished upon his death.
One of the exciting aspects of this piece is the key signature. Mozart typically composed in major keys, which included upbeat and optimistic melodic lines. The Fantasia is, therefore, a break from his usual compositional style and is an attainable piece for the late intermediate, early advanced pianist.
The Impressionist period in music lasted from approximately 1890 to 1920. Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel are two of the most famous composers from this period.
Composers of this period were influenced by the art movement of Impressionism and sought to create music that evoked emotion and captured a mood or feeling.
Clair de Lune: Claude Debussy
Clair de Lune is the third movement of Debussy’s Suite Bergamasque. The Suite Bergamasque is a set of four piano pieces, and it was written between 1890 and 1905.
Clair de Lune is one of the most popular pieces from the Impressionism period. It is known for its beautiful, ethereal melody.
Arabesque No. 1: Claude Debussy
Arabesque No. 1 is the first movement of Debussy’s two Arabesques. These pieces were written between 1888 and 1891 and are both short works for solo piano.
Arabesque No. 1 is a flowing, lyrical piece with a light and airy feel. It is an approachable piece for intermediate pianists.
Trois Gymnopédies: Erik Satie
Erik Satie was a French composer who lived in the lat 1800s to early 1900s. And Trois gymnopédies are some of his most famous pieces, with the first being one of the most recognized pieces of this period.
They are slow, delicate piano pieces that evoke a sense of tranquility and peace.
The Romantic period in music spans from approximately 1820 to 1910. Frederic Chopin and Franz Liszt are two of the most famous composers from this period.
Composers of this period sought to create emotionally charged and expressive music.
Prelude in C# Minor (Op. 3, No. 2): Sergei Rachmaninoff
Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C-sharp Minor is one of his most famous works for the piano. It is known for its dramatic and emotional melody.
The piece is the second in a series of five collectively known as Morceaux de Fantaisie, composed in 1892.
The prelude is in the key of C-sharp minor and requires much control and precision from the pianist.
Elegie in Eb Minor (Op. 3, No. 1): Sergei Rachmaninoff
Although not as widely known as the C# minor prelude, Rachmaninoff’s Elegie is my favorite piece from the entire piano repertoire.
Rachmaninoff is a master of dark, melodic themes, and this piece is no exception. This piece is just one example of why I consider him one of the greatest composers of all time. The melody has a haunting quality that is achingly beautiful.
If you’ve never heard this piece, take a few minutes to listen to my performance. I guarantee you’ll immediately become obsessed with this piece!
Prelude in G Minor (Op. 23, No. 5): Sergei Rachmaninoff
Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in G Minor is exciting and intense. It contains yet another example of how brilliantly he handled melodic lines.
The piece begins with a thrilling march which transitions into an exquisite melody in the middle section. Rachmaninoff finishes the piece with a return to the first section.
The prelude is a complex piece to perform due to its tempo and the need to balance the perfect execution of strong rhythmic lines with the subtle beauty of the middle section.
Yuja Wang’s is the absolute best of all the recordings out there. Check it out for yourself!
Nocturne Op. 6, No. 2: Clara Schumann
Schumann was a German composer, pianist, and performer of international renown in her day. Unfortunately, she did not compose as prolifically as other composers of her day. Although she was a gifted composer, her life was also marked by personal tragedies of various sorts.
But the F Major Nocturne is a beautiful piece that conveys a sense of peace. It also leaves one wondering about the musical ideas lost forever at her untimely death.
Piano Concerto in A Minor: Edvard Grieg
Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A Minor is one of the most famous piano concertos of all time. It is known for its beautiful melodies and Norwegian folk influences.
The piece is divided into three movements and features virtuosic piano solos throughout. Performing the concerto in its entirety takes about 30 minutes, and one of the best recordings features Arthur Rubinstein.
Ballade in G Minor (Op. 23, No. 1): Frederic Chopin
Perhaps the use of this piece during a dramatic climax of the movie “The Pianist” made me fall in love with this ballade. Still, it’s a fantastic piece that epitomizes music during this period.
The piece is technically demanding due to the extensive ornamentation and rhythmic challenges, not to mention the musical expression of emotional intimacy.
For all these reasons and more, the G minor ballade is one of the most famous piano pieces.
Nocturne in E-flat Major (Op. 9, No. 2): Frederic Chopin
Chopin’s Nocturne in E-flat Major is one of the most famous piano pieces ever written. It is known for its romantic and dreamy melody.
Piano Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor (Op. 35): Frédéric Chopin
Chopin’s “Funeral March” Sonata is one of his most famous piano pieces. It is a dark and somber work that features the famous Marche funèbre in the third movement.
The entire sonata takes about 30 minutes to perform, and it is considered one of the repertoire’s more technically challenging piano compositions.
Waltz in A Minor (B. 150): Frederic Chopin
This quaint waltz was published posthumously and initially attributed to Charlotte de Rothschild instead of Chopin. It was in 1955 that he was finally given recognition for composing the piece.
The Waltz in A minor is a beautiful piece approachable for beginner pianists.
Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2: Franz Liszt
Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsodies are a set of 19 pieces influenced by Hungarian folk music. They are known for their gypsy-inspired melodies and virtuosic piano writing.
The second Rhapsody is the most popular of the set, and it features a wide range of emotions, from lighthearted and playful to dark and brooding.
La Campanella: Franz Liszt
La Campanella is one of Liszt’s most famous piano pieces. It is known as a virtuosic and technically demanding piece.
Liebestraum No. 3: Franz Liszt
Liebestraum means “dreams of love” in German, and this piece is a beautiful and romantic work for solo piano. It is one of Liszt’s most popular piano pieces.
Impromptu No. 3 in G-flat Major (Op. 90, D. 899): Franz Schubert
Schubert’s Impromptu No. 3 is a beautiful and haunting work for solo piano. It features a delicate and ethereal melody that is both sad and sweet.
20th Century Pieces
The 20th century was a time of significant change in the world of classical music. New compositional techniques and styles were developed, and many famous classical pieces were written during this period.
Sonata in E Minor: Florence Price
Florence Price was a prolific composer. As an African-American woman, she earned recognition as a symphonic composer. She was also the first to have her works performed by a major orchestra.
Aside from symphonies, Florence composed chamber music and works for organ and solo piano. Her sonata is a stunning example of her talent as a composer.
Rhapsody in Blue: George Gershwin
Originally composed for solo piano and jazz ensemble, Rhapsody in Blue took the world by storm at its debut in 1924.
The Rhapsody features many emotions and styles, from playful to melancholy. It is one of the most popular and recognizable pieces of American music.
Ragtime is a genre of music that was popular in the early 20th century. It is characterized by its syncopated rhythms and often uses jazz-like chords.
Scott Joplin is one of the most famous ragtime composers. His pieces remain some of the most famous piano pieces ever written.
Maple Leaf Rag: Scott Joplin
Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag might be one of the most famous piano pieces ever written. It is a lively ragtime piece that features syncopated rhythms and jazz-like chords.
The piece was first published in 1899 and quickly became one of Joplin’s most famous compositions. Performing the music well requires excellent coordination and the ability to navigate octave leaps.
The Entertainer: Scott Joplin
The Entertainer is another of Scott Joplin’s most famous compositions. It was written in 1902 and remains one of the most popular ragtime pieces ever.
Like Maple Leaf Rag, The Entertainer features syncopated rhythms and jazz-like chords.
Garden of Eden: William Bolcom
Contemporary composer William Bolcom brings the story of Adam and Eve to life in this piece originally written for two pianos.
The entire work is a fun ragtime take on the story. Still, my favorite movement is the 3rd movement, entitled The Serpent’s Kiss.
There are so many unique classical piano pieces, and these are just a few of my favorites. I hope you have been inspired to learn one of these fantastic pieces!
Do you have a favorite classical piano piece, and what pieces are you working on right now? Let me know in the comments below!