“Must-plays” for pianists

A recent search thread which led someone to my blog – “classical music you should be practising” – set me thinking: what are the “must plays” of the standard repertoire, and why?

Please feel free to join the discussion and leave your comments and suggestions. I will then compile a proper blog post.

To get the conversation going, I have so far:

Bach – Partitas, WTC and Italian Concertos

Chopin – Etudes

Use the comment box to leave your suggestions, or contact me via Twitter @crosseyedpiano.


  1. I think to answer this question [or am I being over-serious here?] one would have to split “standard repertoire” into at least two categories based on the standard of pianist in question.

    I would think that amateur pianists fall loosely into one of two categories: advanced and standard perhaps. Advanced pianists are playing at diploma standard, or greater, and can be assumed capable of playing nearly everything in the standard rep.

    The reason I make this distinction is that I feel the majority of players will “peak” at a level somewhat below this standard – their particular allocation of time, commitment, talent etc. will eventually see them plateau somewhere in the wilderness between grade 8 and first diploma.

    I may be wrong here, but I would guess the majority of amateur pianists fall into this category. Thus, the repertoire that “standard” pianists should aspire to play will naturally be a little different to accommodate… phew, that seemed to go on forever!

    For instance, I would contest that for the majority Chopin’s Nocturnes are more “essential” than the etudes. I personally cannot see myself ever reaching a standard where I can play enough etudes, competently enough, that the set could be described as “essential” for me. However the Nocturnes are my “bread and butter” so to speak; and I anticipate them being so for years to come.

    I would love to hear what you make of this… it could be that I am just projecting my own limitations onto others.

    • Not all of Chopin’s Etudes are impossible – and if you’re learning some of the Nocturnes, don’t be afraid to try an Étude. They are beautiful & instructive and very satisfying to play

  2. Here are just a few “must-plays” that might teacher (many years ago!) gave to me to learn. They’re pieces that I come back to time and time again……

    Schubert – Impromptus D.899 (Op.90)

    Mozart – Sonata in F major, KV 300k (332)

    Gershwin – Three Preludes

    Rzewski – Four North American Ballads

    Mozart – Piano Concerto in D minor, No.20, K.466

    Schoenberg – Six little Piano Pieces Op.19

    Chopin – Nocturnes

    Debussy – Clair de Lune (from ‘Suite Bergmasque’)

    Beethoven – Bagatelles (especially op.119)

    • Thanks, Helen. Lovely to have your thoughts – and I agree with all your suggestions (except Rzewski which I don’t know!). Looking forward to seeing – and hearing! – you on Sunday at Lorraine’s concert.

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