Major Piano Pieces that Every Pianist Should Be Familiar With

When I started to really get into practicing piano, I bought hundreds of CD’s full of piano music. I had this desire to hear what was out there. I would listen any chance I would get. I was always reading as much as I could, and if there was ever a time that I heard of some music I wasn’t familiar with, I would get out there and buy a few more CDs.

I didn’t know what the staples of the repertoire were. I just bought everything. I would have a loved to have a simple list of pieces I should go listen to. So that’s what I’m trying to create here.

The Goal

The list below is in no way exhaustive. There is so much piano repertoire out there that just listing everything would not be very helpful. Instead I would like to break down the staples of the repertoire and let you know what you need to focus your listening on if you don’t have a lot of experience with piano music.

The composers listed are in order of birth. I’m not going to rank these piece by difficulty. The point of this list is to help familiarize you with the piano literature. It’s not about finding music you want to play. After familiarizing yourself with a lot of music you’ll begin to know for yourself how hard a piece is for you without some arbitrary rating.

The pieces on the list are primarily those that are performed often publicly.

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

  • Well-Tempered Clavier Book I & II – 48 Preludes and Fugues
  • 6 English Suites
  • 6 French Suites
  • 6 Partitas
  • 7 Toccatas
  • Italian Concerto
  • Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue
  • Goldberg Variations
  • The Art of Fugue BWV 1080

Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)

  • 51 Piano Sonatas (All 51 are not equally important)
  • Piano Concertos 3, 4, and 11

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

  • 18 Piano Sonatas
  • 27 Piano Concertos

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

  • 32 Piano Sonatas
  • 5 Piano Concertos

Franz Schubert (1797-1828)

  • 8 Impromptus
  • Piano Sonatas (There are between 11 and 22. Many were not completed)
  • Wanderer Fantasy

Frederic Chopin (1810-1849)

  • 22 Nocturnes
  • 24 Etudes (Op.10 and Op.25)
  • 2 Piano Concertos
  • 4 Ballades
  • 4 Scherzos
  • 24 Preludes Op.28
  • Barcarolle Op.60
  • Berceuse Op.57
  • Polonaise Op.40 No.1 (Military)
  • Polonaise Op.53 (Heroic)

Robert Schumann (1810-1856)

  • Piano Concerto
  • Kinderszenen Op.15
  • Kreisleriana Op.16
  • 3 Piano Sonatas

Franz Liszt (1811-1886)

  • 19 Hungarian Rhapsodies
  • 2 Piano Concertos
  • 12 Transcendental Etudes (three versions)
  • 6 Paganini Etudes (two versions)
  • 3 Concert Etudes
  • Années de Pèlerinage
  • Dante Sonata
  • B minor Sonata
  • Mephisto Waltz
  • Rhapsodie Espagnole
  • Liebestraum No.3
  • Consolation No.3

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)

  • 8 Klavierstücke Op.76
  • 7 Fantasias Op.116
  • 3 Intermezzos Op.117
  • 6 Klavierstücke Op.118
  • 4 Klavierstücke Op.119
  • 2 Rhapsodies
  • 2 Piano Concertos

Claude Debussy (1862-1918)

  • Suite Bergamasque
  • Children’s Corner
  • 24 Preludes in two books
  • 12 Etudes
  • 6 Images in two Sets
  • 2 Arabesques

Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915)

  • 20 Etudes in two books Op.8 and Op.42
  • 24 Preludes Op.11
  • 10 Sonatas

Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943)

  • 4 Piano Concertos
  • Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini
  • 17 Études-Tableaux in two books Op.33 and Op.39
  • 23 Preludes in two sets Op.23 and Op.32
  • Prelude in C# Minor
  • Piano Sonata No.2

Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)

  • Jeux d’eau
  • Gaspard de la nuit
  • Le tombeau de Couperin
  • Valse Nobles et Sentimentales
  • Miroirs
  • Sonatine
  • Pavane pour une infante défunte
  • Piano Concerto in G Major

Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953)

  • 5 Piano Concertos
  • 9 Piano Sonatas
  • Toccata Op.11
  • Vision Fugitives Op.22
  • 4 Pieces Op.4

Notable Pieces or Collections by other Composers

Some composers just aren’t played as often as other composers. It doesn’t mean their music is bad or they didn’t write a lot, they just for whatever reason aren’t played as often. Here I will list a few pieces by composers that had a couple “hits” in piano repertoire, but a lot of their other piano music isn’t played as often.

  • Domenico Scarlatti – 555 Keyboard Sonatas (All 555 are rarely played)
  • Tchaikovsky – Piano Concerto No. 1
  • Grieg – Piano Concerto in A Minor
  • Gershwin – Rhapsody in Blue
  • Mussorgsky – Pictures at an Exhibition
  • Balakirev – Islamey
  • Mendelssohn – Piano Concertos No.1 and No.2

Conclusion

Remember, there is so much piano literature that it would take a large database to categorize it all. The point of this list is to give you a starting point on finding music to listen and learn about for the piano. If you become familiar with this list you’ll have learned enough to do well in most undergraduate piano literature classes. These are the staples of the repertoire. Listen to them often. You’ll find the more you listen, the more motivated your are to practice.

I purposely didn’t include some of the “famous” pieces like Fur Elise and Canon in D. These types of pieces aren’t often played in professional concert stages, and almost everyone is already familiar with them.

There are also some “gems” that I personally love that aren’t played very often. I’ve left these types of pieces off the list as well, as I wanted to stay focused on the staples of piano repertoire.

I’m sure I have some glaring exclusions on the list. If you can think of any obvious composers or pieces that should be included, let me know in the comments.