The key of C major. It’s the beginner’s key signature and usually the first scale that early piano students learn. (In fact, Chopin considered it the most difficult scale to play and instead liked to begin his students with the B major scale in the right hand, in order to more naturally introduce the passing of the thumb under the other fingers and to help students develop a more fluid finger and hand position.)

The earliest, easiest piano pieces a student may encounter are usually written in the key of C, because this key contains no daunting black notes to confound mind or fingers.

Each musical key has distinctive characteristics and C major is generally associated with childlike innocence, naivety and happiness. Music written in C major tends to be positive and uplifting – but while it may suggest simplicity, not all pieces in C major are simple, and often present a wide range of characters and emotions, as these examples demonstrate. And as the piano’s range developed, so did the music written for it, with increasing invention and sophistication.

Bach – Prelude in C, BWV 846

The most famous of all of Bach’s Preludes, the Prelude in C is built on a sequence of broken chords which modulate through various keys, creating a remarkable processional quality to the music as it approaches its final climactic episode, ending most emphatically in C major.

Chopin – Etude in C, Op 10, No. 1

In the first of his Opus 10 Etudes, Chopin pays homage to Bach, whom he revered. He takes the same C major triad that Bach uses in his Prelude, but instead of distributing it between the two hands, the complete motif is performed by the right hand only, while the left hand underpins the harmonic structure of the piece. Majestic in character, the work shares the same processional quality as Bach’s Prelude. Vladimir Horowitz refused to perform this étude in public, declaring it “the most difficult one of all” [of Chopin’s études].

Mozart – Piano Sonata No. 16 in C, K 545 ‘Sonata Facile’

Mozart described this sonata as “for beginners” and it has the nickname ‘Sonata Facile’ or ‘easy sonata’. One of Mozart’s most popular piano sonatas, it confirms the pianist Artur Schnabel’s assertion that Mozart’s music is “too easy for children, too hard for artists”, and requires a certain amount of technical prowess to perform it convincingly (for example, Mozart employs an Alberti Bass in the first and second movements). Its first movement has an infectious, innocent joyfulness; its slow movement is an elegant serenade with a gently melancholic middle section; while the finale is a lively rondo. Mozart composed three other piano sonatas in C major, but the K 545 remains his most popular and well-known.

Haydn – Piano Sonata in C major Hob XVI: 50

Composed during Haydn’s second visit to London in 1795, this sonata was written both for Therese Jansen, a brilliant English pianist, and also for one of the larger English pianos of the day. Haydn fully exploited the ‘extra notes’ (an extended keyboard) and greater range of sonorities that these English instruments offered, and he was so impressed that he took one back to Vienna with him. In the first movement of the C major sonata he includes the instruction ‘open pedal’, a direction which exists nowhere else in his piano literature, and which is intended to create a mysterious wash of sound in these passages.

The opening movement is full of driving momentum, built from the bare staccato theme from the opening. The middle movement is an operatic Adagio, while the finale is an extrovert Allegro, full of stops and starts and witty false cadences.

Rachmaninoff – Moment Musical Op 16 No 6

Jumping from the end of the eighteenth century to the close of the nineteenth century, in this Moment Musical by Rachmaninoff it is clear that the piano has undergone significant development since Haydn’s day. The instrument for which Rachmaninoff was writing was very similar to the modern piano, and this concert piece uses the entire range of dynamics and sonorities available. It places great technical demands on the player with a challenging chordal melody in both hands, and a dynamic palette that is mostly “loud” and “very loud”. Although stormy and agitated, the piece is nonetheless light-hearted in mood.

Janacek – Good Night from ‘On An Overgrown Path’

In complete contrast, this piano miniature by Leos Janacek, composed at the start of the 20th century, is intimate and wistful with its yearning, naïve melody and repeated flickering motif.

Schumann – Fantasie in C, Op 17

The Fantasie in C is a love letter in music, a culmination of passion, virtuosity and delicacy. No salon sweetmeat, this is a highly demanding, sweepingly romantic large-scale work which pianists approach with trepidation. It alludes to sonata form in its three-movement organisation, Schumann dissolves the formal structure to create a work of striking improvisatory freedom which heightens its emotional impact and poetic narrative. Read more

Some other works in the key of C to explore:

Beethoven – Piano Sonata in C, Op. 53 ‘Waldstein’

Schubert – Wanderer Fantasy

Schumann – Toccata Op 7

Chaminade – Scherzo Op 35 No 1

Brahms – Op 119 No 3

Scriabin – Prelude Op, 11 No 1

Scott Joplin – The Entertainer

Ravel – Rigaudon from Tombeau de Couperin

Stravinsky – Danse Russe from ‘Petrushka’

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Looking forward, not back…..

2022 is a rather significant year for this site as it marks the 10th birthday of the Meet the Artist interview series. Originally inspired by the Proust Questionnaire in Vanity Fair magazine, Meet the Artist has grown from interviews with musician friends and colleagues to a highly respected and very popular “compendium of surprising, insightful and inspiring thoughts from a wide range of artists”, including pianists Angela Hewitt, Stephen Hough, Ivo Pogorelich, Benjamin Grosvenor and Alice Sara Ott, harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani, composers Nitin Sawhney, John Rutter, Cheryl Frances Hoad and Jennifer Higdon, singers Roderick Williams and Jennifer Johnston, and many more, both established, internationally-renowned musicians and composers as well as young and emerging artists. Prog rock legend Rick Wakeman even makes an appearance!

I have been astonished by the popularity of the series (so much so that in 2017, it relocated from this site it to its own dedicated website) and am grateful to everyone who has taken part. The interviews are remarkably insightful, offering advice to aspiring musicians and giving audiences and others a unique glimpse “beyond the notes”, as it were, into the working and creative life of musicians and composers.

People ask me how I find the motivation and inspiration to continue writing this blog, and it’s true that it takes up a lot of time and effort (for which I receive no payment beyond the occasional donation). As my interest in the piano waned this year, due to the soul-sapping, dis-motivating effect of the lockdown, I did wonder whether there was any point in continuing to write this blog, but it seems I can always find music- or piano-related things to write about. Articles by others, conversations with musicians friends and colleagues, online exchanges, and my listening habits all feed the creative muse, and so while the muse demands nourishment, and I remain interested in writing, this site will continue. I am also very appreciative of the community which has built up around this site, and which has, in some instances, led me to forge significant connections and friendships in real life.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who reads, comments upon, shares and contributes to this site.

Warm wishes for the festive season and the new year.

Frances Wilson, The Cross-Eyed Pianist

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There’s a special nobility to B-flat Major. Open and expressive, it’s regarded as an uplifting key, full of hope and aspiration. The first movements of Bach’s Partita No.1, and Schubert’s final piano sonata share this openness and nobility. Meanwhile, Beethoven’s ‘Hammerklavier’, one of the greatest piano sonatas in the key of B-flat, is a work of huge contrasts which ends with one of the most gloriously uplifting fugues in piano literature. Like Beethoven, Rachmaninoff makes huge technical demands on the pianist in his Prelude in B-flat, Op 23, No. 2. Meanwhile, in Prokofiev’s Piano Sonata No. 7, we find music of great agitation and anxiety in the first movement, offset by the warm lyricism of the middle movement, and then revisited, and ramped up in the finale, marked Precipitato

Bach – Partita No. 1, BWV 825

The Partitas were among the last keyboard works Bach wrote, and they each follow the typical organisation for a suite, with the customary Allemande–Courante–Sarabande–Gigue framework plus the addition of an opening Prelude. The B-flat major Partita is the lightest, most intimate, attractive and approachable of the six keyboard Partitas, and combines grace, nobility and sprightliness, ending with a brilliant, rollicking Gigue whose jaunty hand-crossings are exciting to player and audience alike.

Beethoven – Piano Sonata No. 29 ‘Hammerklavier’

Dedicated to Archduke Rudolf (the same dedicatee of the Archduke Trio and an excellent pianist), the Hammerklavier Sonata begins with a big declamatory fanfare, which earned this sonata its nickname. The mood of the first movement is bold and powerful, mixing of tension and relaxation and a driving forward propulsion. The Scherzo diffuses this with brevity and humour before a long slow movement in mournful F-sharp minor, so dark that the brilliance and joy of the first movement is utterly obliterated. The finale begins tentatively, but optimistic trills then announce a shift in mood and what follows is a fugal movement full of unrestrained ecstasy.

Schubert – Piano Sonata No. 21, D 960

The opening movement of Schubert’s final piano sonata is noble and expansive. Its gentle hymn-like theme recalls the first movement of Beethoven’s ‘Archduke’ Trio (also in B-flat Major), and it has an otherworldliness that has led some pianists and commentators to suggest that this is a work of valediction, a farewell. The deep bass trill at the end of the exposition only momentarily disturbs the mood.

Like Beethoven’s Hammerklavier, this sonata explores a broad range of emotions. After the serenity of the opening movement comes a slow movement infused with a meditative melancholy – a sorrowful barcarolle whose the mood is lifted by the middle section in warm A major. The third movement is as bright and sparkling as a mountain stream, its bubbling joyfulness interrupted by a minor key Trio, which sounds like an ungainly ländler with its off-beat bass notes. The robust finale, beginning on a bare octave G, turns into a quasi-Hungarian dance, flirting with C minor, before resolving in B-flat and ending with an uplifting, commanding flourish.

Rachmaninoff – Prelude in B flat, Op 23 No. 2

Redolent of Chopin’s ‘Revolutionary’ Etude with its florid arpeggios, thunderous chords and indomitable character, Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in B flat also recalls the boldness of the opening of the Hammerklavier, though the textures are quite different. It’s a work which fully exploits the range and sonic capabilities of the modern concert grand piano.

Prokofiev – Piano Sonata No. 7

Any notion of B-flat Major as a serene, uplifting key is swept away in the opening and closing movements of Prokofiev’s Piano Sonata No. 7. Sometimes called the ‘Stalingrad’ Sonata after the Soviet city which was under siege by the invading German army at the time of its composition, this is the second of Prokofiev’s three ‘War Sonatas’, composed in 1942 and premiered in 1943 by Sviatoslav Richter. A tumultuous, dissonant and mocking first movement is followed by a slow movement with a beautiful lyrical melody, verging on sentimentality. In the finale, an explosive toccata marked Preciptato, the key of B-flat is constantly reiterated by simple triads. When premiered, this movement was rather aptly named “tank attack”, and its relentless, driving movement and percussive textures certainly evoke the sounds and sights of an invading army.

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This article first appeared on No Dead Guys, the blog of pianist and writer Rhonda Rizzo

It starts with fascination and attraction. Sometimes it happens slowly; other times it’s all at once. You want to spend every moment with this person. You want to know everything about the object of your desire, big and small. No detail is unimportant. No story is boring. And one day you realize that you know this person almost as intimately as you know yourself. This is what we commonly refer to as falling in love.

It starts with analysis and observation. Everything about the specimen is studied, examined, catalogued, and dissected. You draw conclusions based on findings. You write dispassionate observations. This is what we commonly refer to as scientific analysis.


Making music, when it’s done right, is like falling in love. We tumble helplessly, passionately into a relationship with a piece of music, and in our effort to understand everything we can about it, we discover things about its structure, the composer, the circumstances in which it was created, others’ ideas of how best to play it, and (crucially) all the ways we can share our insights and love of what we’re playing through every note we play.

One of the greatest disservices a teacher can do to a student is to teach music like a scientist, not a lover. When this happens, it’s usually because the teacher has never had the experience of falling in love with music, or has shut out that love for one reason or another. In their hands, music is no longer alive, but is a thing to be dissected and coolly studied. Everything stays clean and scientific, there are safe “right” and “wrong” answers, and no one makes poor musical decisions in the heat of passion. Music becomes clinical, and (as a result) dead.

No one can think oneself into being in love. The magic is either there or it isn’t. Music is a sensual art first—we hear the notes being struck and then dying away; we feel the smoothness of the keys under our fingers; we see the play of light and shadows on the piano and the score; and we sense the interplay of sound, silence, composer markings, and our own hearts in the phrases we help shape. Analysis, observations, scholarship? These serve the senses, not the other way ‘round. This is what many of the late great pianists knew, which is why their recordings frequently offer more depth and humanity than many modern players, who play quickly and oh-so-correctly, but have little to say. We can read, memorize, study, and analyze everything there is to know about a piece, but until we abandon ourselves to the experience of playing the notes, the music lacks life. That doesn’t mean that playing the piano should be an anti-intellectual act; it means balancing head and heart; it means acknowledging that the heart part of this equation must come first.

If I could wish one thing for every pianist, it would be this: let yourself go. Let yourself be seduced—ravished!—by the music. As my undergraduate piano professor once told me, “make love to the piano.” Let the music teach you about itself through loving attention to the score, to historical writings, and to others’ experiences with it, and then abandon yourself to it. Hold nothing back. This is what it means to bring a great piece of music to life.

rhonda_rizzoRhonda (Ringering) Rizzo is a writer and a former performing and recording pianist. Her novel, The Waco Variations, was released in the summer of 2018, and her numerous articles have appeared in national and international music magazines, including Pianist Magazine, American Music Teacher, Clavier, Piano & Keyboard, and Flute Talk. A specialist in music that borrows from both classical and jazz traditions, Rizzo released four CDs, Made in America, Oregon Impressions: the Piano Music of Dave Deason, 2 to Tango: Music for Piano Duet, and A Spin on It.

She holds a BA from Walla Walla University and a MM from Boston University and is a passionate advocate of new music and living composers.

A big thank you to every one who reads, comments upon and contributes to this site (which celebrated its 10th birthday in July).

Some further thoughts on this strange year and how music and musicians have coped on my sister site ArtMuseLondon

Most read post of 2020:

On Being A Pianist

Most visited page of 2020:

Courses for Pianists

Most popular guest post of 2020:

“He was not like other men” – Chopin as seen by his contemporaries (by Walter Witt)

Most read post on repertoire

Liszt’s Sonetto del Petrarca 104

Most read post on piano technique

Mysteries of the sustain pedal

Best wishes for 2021.


The Cross-Eyed Pianist