Frédéric Chopin was one of the greatest composers of the Romantic era and a virtuoso pianist who stands alongside names like Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart in the modern classical repertoire. He achieved worldwide recognition for his talents, standing as one of the foremost leaders of the Romantic period of music in Europe despite spending most of his composing career only writing for the piano.
Today, his piano music is among the most frequently played concert pieces and is used to teach students around the world. In this article, we’ll look at 15 of Chopin’s greatest works and pieces.
1. Piano Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor, Op. 35
While undeniably one of Chopin’s greatest works, Piano Sonata No. 2 In B-Flat Minor, Op. 35 also contains one of his most famous pieces that I’m willing to guarantee you have heard. The Funeral March, composed two years before the full sonata, is contained within Piano Sonata No. 2 and is easily one of his most recognizable pieces.
On its own, the funeral march has been used heavily in other media forms in the years since its composition. The Piano Sonata No. 2 itself lasts around 20 minutes, though can go longer if the repetition of the first movement is observed by the musician. Overall, the sonata is one of the most-often performed piano pieces in concert today, despite initial critic reactions that thought the work could not stand up with sonatas from other great composers.
2. Ballade No. 1 in G minor, Op. 23
Ballades are single-movement pieces, and Chopin composed four for the piano during his career between 1831 and 1842. They’re each considered some of the most important piano compositions of the Romantic era and are known for being incredibly challenging pieces. Ballade No. 1 In G Minor, Op. 23 is the most popular of his ballades today, and one of his most famous pieces overall.
The piece has been used extensively in modern media, even appearing in the final episode of the anime, Your Lie In April. The time signature of this piece is unique, as it moves away from traditional ballade timing constrictions. While his others used a strict 6/8 signature, this uses a 4/4 in the intro and a 2/2 in the coda, while the rest of the piece is written in a 6/4 signature.
3. Nocturne in E-flat Major, Op. 9, No. 2
Nocturnes are classical pieces inspired by the night, and while Chopin didn’t invent the style, he was the main reason that they became popular. The Nocturnes, Op. 9 is a set of three nocturnes for solo piano that were published by him in 1832. The second nocturne in the set is regarded as perhaps his most famous work, though I’d argue that today more of us have heard the “death march” of Piano Sonata No. 2.
Regardless, the second nocturne of the set is one of his best works. It opens with a quiet legato melody that becomes more ornate with each repetition in the piece. Alongside an accompaniment, the work is perfect for the waltz, though it’s also a great piano piece for those learning to play thanks to the spaced-out notes of the song.
4. Fantaisie-Impromptu In C-Sharp Minor, Op. 66
Fantaisie-Impromptu In C-Sharp Minor, Op. 66 was never published during Chopin’s life, but was released posthumously against his wishes that his unpublished works remained unpublished in 1855. It’s thought that he didn’t release the piece because it was too similar technically to Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, and though we’ll never know his true reasoning, it was likely because the piece was composed and sold to a Baroness.
The Impromptu portion of the title is a nod that Chopin improvised much of the song instead of sitting and composing it, so though it’s not likely that he performed it live, it would have sounded a bit different each time. In all honesty, he was at his best when improvising since it allowed him the creative freedom to go outside of conventional form and play whatever he wished. This is a wonderful example of what happened when he wrote those musings down.
5. Etude in C minor, Op. 10, No. 12
Also called the Revolutionary Etude, it is aptly named because Chopin composed it as a patriotic tune after hearing that the Russian forces had captured the city of Warsaw. Though Poland’s revolution dubbed the November Uprising failed against their Bolshevik overseers, he experienced much emotional pain about the loss. This one was the last piece in his first set of etudes and displays his immense prowess.
The piece imitates the state of a troubled mind in its stormy harmonies, reflected in his own feelings for what was going on around him. You’ll be able to hear adaptations of the song in popular culture, from The Abbott And Costello Show to video games like Catherine and The Ultimate Fighter.
6. 24 Preludes, Op. 28
Preludes are typically used as short introductions for larger works, but Chopin’s 24 Preludes, Op. 28 immediately stood out as pieces that could stand on their own. The 24 pieces are each written in one of the 24 keys for the piano, but as they could stand alone as works, he published them as a 24-part opus. The miniatures challenged the normal constraints placed on short works of music and helped to change contemporary minds when it came to their value.
Today, these stand as one of the most influential pieces of piano music in the world, used by modern composers for their own works and frequently played in concert as sets of standalone music. The shortest of the 24 Preludes lasts less than 90 bars, a tribute to the amount of emotion Chopin could cram into such a small work.
7. Andante Spianato et Grande Polonaise Brillante, Op. 22
The Andante Spianato Et Grande Polonaise Brillante, Op. 22 being placed together is a bit of a cheat as it’s actually two works that Chopin wrote separately before combining them with a bridge of fanfare. The Grande Polonaise Brillante came first, a piece dedicated to the piano and orchestra, while the Andante Spianato came later, a solo piano work.
He added the solo to the beginning of the Grande Polonaise Brillante, and they forever became one work. The latter in particular is extremely demanding of the pianist, to the point that it is one of Chopin’s most difficult pieces to play properly.
8. Polonaise-Fantaisie In A-Flat Major, Op. 61
Chopin’s first music work at age seven was a polonaise, a style of Polish dance and music that he used for the meter of some of his work. Overall, it sounds similar to his work Fantaisie In F Minor and was the turning point of his work towards ‘the last’ style.
It’s a piece with a lot of ambiguity, including misleading musical transitions and unconventional timings. Polonaise-Fantaisie In A-Flat Major, Op. 61 was the second-to-last work he published during his lifetime, and it contains some of the most complex harmonies and intricate forms of his career.
9. Barcarolle In F-Sharp Minor, Op. 60
Barcarolle was a popular type of Italian folk song, often sung by Venetian gondoliers. Chopin’s Barcarolle In F-Sharp Minor, Op. 60 was inspired by that style and is one of the best-known barcarolle pieces we have today. Composed only three years before his death, this is demanding in both the arenas of technical skill and interpretation. He used flowing filigree in his writing of the song, making it harder to read in his original hand.
The piece has an undeniable romantic tone. Virtually, all of today’s greatest pianists have done recordings of this song, taking on the challenge of its demanding nature and demonstrating their technical ability.
10. Minute Waltz Op. 64, No. 1
Also known as The Waltz Of The Puppy and formally known as Waltz In D-Flat Major, Op. 64, No. 1, the Minute Waltz was composed by Chopin in 1847. It gained its loving nickname since it seems to mimic the imagery of a small dog chasing its tail, but is one of his best-known pieces today.
The “Minute” part of the song means that it can be completed in under one minute, though it will require the pianist to play 420 quarter-notes per minute to pull it off.
11. Polonaise In A-Flat Major, Op. 53
As we spoke about earlier, the polonaise was an incredibly important style for Chopin, and he wrote in the polonaise form fairly often. The Heroic Polonaise or Polonaise In A-Flat major, Op. 53 is a modern favorite of the romantic piano repertoire. Not only does it require near virtuoso skill to play, but it’s also physically demanding, though Chopin played the song gently and with ease.
Though you might not have been around to hear it, this is the song Lurch played in the very first episode of The Addams Family. The piece got the name heroic, not from Chopin, but from his lover. The French journalist George Sand—real name Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin de Francueil—said that the spirit of the piece must be present in the French Revolution and found the music incredibly inspiring and vigorous.
12. Sonata No. 3 in B minor, Op. 58
Sonata No. 3 In B Minor, Op. 58 was Chopin’s final piano sonata composition and is one of his works that has been recorded the most in modern years. It’s also one of the few times he stuck to conventional form, with a symphonic design present throughout the four movements that span tempos and technical abilities.
Though he is known for shrugging off convention, his using it for this sonata in no way erased his unique style. This stands out among the Chopin sonatas because it’s the only one that ends with a major key. Average performances of the piece last between 25 and 30 minutes.
13. Piano Concerto No. 1 In E Minor
Piano Concerto No. 1 In E Minor was composed and performed by Chopin as a bit of a farewell before he left Poland at the age of 20. Though he premiered his other piano concerto first, this was the first to be published and, therefore, received number one. A complete performance lasts around 40 minutes and includes solo piano parts in addition to more traditional sections of the orchestra.
14. Mazurkas, Op. 24
Mazurkas are a style of Polish music based on stylized dance music. Chopin wrote several sets of mazurkas, most of them masterful short works that make it hard to narrow down which to include here. Mazurkas, Op. 24 was composed around the time he was 26 years old and blended the rhythmic Polish dance music with his own poetic and reflective style.
As this set came earlier, they tend to be less complex than later mazurkas by Chopin, but they are no less impressive than the later ones. It’s worth it, after listening to this set of mazurkas, to listen to the later ones and compare their structures, as it’s one of the ways that even common listeners can hear how he evolved throughout his career.
15. Nocturne No. 19 In E Minor, Op. 72, No. 1
We discussed that Chopin didn’t want his unpublished works to be released after his death, but very few people who found any of them stayed true to his wishes. Nocturne No. 19 In E Minor, Op. 72, No. 1 is another example of this. Originally, he composed this piece in 1826, making it the first nocturne he ever composed. It’s listed as the number 19 though because it was his 19th published nocturne.
Oddly enough, the piece is one of the easiest Chopin works to learn, even for beginners. It doesn’t lack complexity but is careful in the way it moves between keys and around the board, so while the proper technique is needed to achieve the quaver triplets of the left hand, it’s a doable task.
As a contributing writer for Music Grotto, Dakotah writes and produces professional music/media content. He works closely with editorial staff to meet editorial standards and create
quality content for the Music Grotto website. Dakotah is passionate about music in a wide variety of genres, from hip-hop to country and lo-fi to metal, and he enjoys creating music pieces for Music Grotto.