Frederic Chopin is one of the most celebrated composers of the Romantic era. His piano works are widely featured in television and film. Whether it’s a Mazurka, Grand Polonaise, or Nocturne, Chopin’s music is a joy to learn and listen to.
In this article, I’m going to rank what I believe the best Chopin pieces for piano. This list of 15 pieces contains a good variety of Nocturnes, Concerti, Waltzes, and other Classical favorites. Let’s start off with one of his most recognizable works, the Prelude in E minor!
1. Prelude Op. 28 No. 4 In E Minor
Of all of Chopin’s Preludes, the E minor Prelude just might be his most played.
The Prelude in E Minor was featured in the popular movie ‘The Notebook’. This piece has an addicting melody line that features an alternation from C to B. It has characteristics similar to that of Beethoven’s Fur Elise.
The lefthand spends much of its time supporting the right-hand melody with a combination of E minor chords. The progression moves along measure to measure, concluding in a somber E minor chord.
The most climatic section occurs in measures 16 – 18 where the melody line reaches into higher notes and an eighth note run. The dynamic also reaches a powerful forte in this section.
As someone who plays the piece, the most difficult part to get right is the overall balance of the hands. It’s very easy for the left hand to take over with its chords, however, the right hand is the star of this Chopin piece.
This piece is a great one to entertain friends and family with. It lasts about two and a half minutes in length.
2. Revolutionary Etude Op. 12 No. 10
The Op. 12 No. 10 Etude by Chopin is one of his most powerful works. It was written at a time when Chopin was reflecting on the bombardment of Warsaw.
This piece takes a virtuosic skill level in order to truly master. Much of the piece is heavily dependent on the left hand playing with clarity and evenness. It flourishes up and down the piano throughout the entirety of the piece.
The melody of the right hand is filled with octaves often playing with a very powerful tone. The piece as a whole is in C minor which adds to the intense character. Some analysis has uncovered links between this Chopin etude and Beethovens Piano Sonata No. 32.
To end the piece, Chopin reintroduces the opening thematic material and then builds on it with a Coda section. It ends with parallel passagework in both hands and concludes on a C major chord to add some true finality.
While the piece is incredibly difficult for a novice pianist, it’s still worth exploring. This is by far one of Chopin’s most popular etudes, and it’s really a joy to play and listen to!
3. Piano Concerto No. 1 In E Minor
While Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1 is not as popular as Rachmaninoff, it’s still a great addition to any serious pianists repertoire. Chopin composed this concerto in 1830 and the first performance was given in Warsaw. ‘
This concerto is scored well with a fine representation of woodwinds, brass, timpani, and strings. The first movement opens with the orchestra playing in E minor, traveling across the melody and various transition sections.
The pianist does not enter in with the orchestra until roughly 4 minutes into the piece. It’s a grand entrance however with E minor chords and descending passagework. After a few rounds of that, there’s a gorgeous melody that begins in the pianists right hand. The bulk of this concerto is concentrated in the first movement which lasts about 20 minutes.
The second and third movements last about half as long as the first movement of this Chopin concerto. When it comes to energy and tempo, the Rondo movement is the most enjoyable.
It’s layered with complicated syncopated rhythms that help define the overall dance and hesitation feel of the movement. The concerto concludes with virtuosic arpeggios.
4. Andante Spianato & Grand Polonaise Brillante
This piano piece can be played as a self-accompanied solo, or with an orchestra. In the solo arrangement, all the orchestra parts are made into a piano reduction. Because of that, this piece fits well into a recital, and it only lasts about 11 minutes.
The piece starts off in 6/8 time in G major. The left-hand features arppegiated harmonies while the right-hand places the melody in the upper register.
The grand polonaise portion of the piece is in E flat major. It has a nice dance feel to it, but Chopin sprinkles in plenty of virtuosic passages to keep it interesting. There are also numerous chromatic sequences to end the piece.
Have a listen to the recording below and I think you’ll understand why this is one of Chopin’s best piano pieces.
5. Nocturne In B-Flat Minor Op. 9 No. 1
This nocturne is usually the first one pianists will find in any book of Chopin pieces. The left-hand plays groups of six eighth notes throughout the entire piece. That remains a constant while the righthand plays a mix of quarter notes and eighth notes.
The right hand also has some interesting polyrhythmic passages that require a lot of practice to line up correctly. The first group is 11 notes and the group of notes after that is 22. Later in the piece, there are groups of 7 and 20.
The middle section of this nocturne modulates to D flat major. The righthand plays mostly in octaves throughout. Overall this piece features a lot of poco rallentando and stretto. There are also extreme dynamics from forte to pianississimo.
6. Nocturne In E Minor Op. 19 Posth. 72
While Chopin composed this piece in 1827, it never reached production until 1855. It would turn out to be one of his most recognized nocturnes ever written. The left-hand plays a consistent set of quaver triplets throughout the piece.
The harmonies travel around various keys, however, each one is placed carefully. After the E minor opening material, there’s a short transition before a new theme is represented in B major.
This is also one of the softest sections in the entire piece and also features the right hand playing thirds. Later in the piece, that same theme is played again, but this time modulated to E major.
Before the E major section, the original theme returns in the same key of E minor. This time it is much more embellished, features minor scalar passages and multiple trills. The A material returns again, but this time with more intensity as Chopin has written the melody in octaves for the right hand.
This is one of my favorite Chopin pieces, and it has one of the smallest learning curves.
7. Ballade No. 1 Op. 23 In G Minor
Chopin wrote four Ballades, but none are quite as popular as his first. It was published in 1835. Vladimir Horowitz has one of the most recognized recordings of Chopin’s Ballade No. 1 In G Minor. It was also featured in the movie “The Pianist”.
The piece starts off with a unique introduction that spans A flat major. Those powerful octaves gradually diminish into a dissonant harmony. Following this is a dominant harmony that leads directly into the opening melody. The melody plays on the dominant harmony before settling in G minor.
There are plenty of climatic sections in the piece, especially around the sempre piu mosso section. This sections features a back and forth between the tonic and dominant harmonies with the right hand playing up and down the keyboard.
After this section new thematic material, and its a tranquil section in E flat major. It has a considerably different feel than the first theme in G minor. The tone is much more reserved to start, however, it does go through quite a bit of development.
Eventually, the piece reaches A major and trades off with the dominant again. Technically speaking this might be the most difficult part of the piece as it features fast octave passages.
Just like Chopin’s other pieces, it features a rising chromatic section followed by descending octaves. The last chords are powerful G minor harmonies capturing the finality of the piece.
8. Nocturne Op. 55 No. 1 in F Minor
One of Chopin’s most graceful nocturnes is the Op. 55 No. 1 in F minor. The right-hand plays the melody starting on the fifth, reaching up to the tonic, and coming full circle.
While the right-hand plays the simple quarter note melody, the left hand supports it with a progressive bass line, jumping from chords back to single notes. The piu mosso section is considered the B material.
It moves quickly and features triplets that are doubled by both hands. At times the left hand will continue the triplets while the right-hand alternates between that and a single melody line. There is a descending scale before the A material returns.
It does not last long however as a Coda section is added on to help conclude the piece. The Coda section is also based on triplets in the left hand while the left hand supports it with a bass line similar to the opening material.
What makes this piece unique is that it ends in F major, almost signaling peace and tranquility. The dynamic of those rolled chords in F major is also pianissimo which is a further reflection of that. Have a quick listen to the nocturne below.
9. Scherzo No. 2 In B Flat Minor
The B flat minor scherzo is a ten-minute work of musical art. Chopin composed this piece in 1837 and dedicated it to Countess Adele. It goes through many dynamic extremes, constantly referencing the triplet motive.
While that triplet motive and the following chord is in B flat minor, most of the main theme is in D flat major. Following the main theme is a middle section that stays in A major for the first half. The second half of the middle section transitions to C sharp minor.
The C sharp minor section then modulates to E major where the right hand is playing nonstop arpeggios up and down the keyboard. This section concludes in a flurry of descending arpeggios in E major. There’s a full recap of the main theme and A major material again, although with slight variants after that.
When that section is complete, the pianist is then presented with a huge developmental section that goes through several harmonic modulations.
To end the piece, Chopin references the main theme again but adds on a Coda section. Interestingly enough, the piece ends in D flat major.
10. Minute Waltz Op. 64 No. 1
The Minute Waltz is about four pages long but moves at a fast Molton vivace tempo. It was written in 1847. While the piece is called the “Minute” Waltz, it actually l lasts closer to 2 minutes.
The right-hand plays a continuous sequence of G, A flat, C, and B flat throughout the piece. Eventually, those notes ascend upward and feature triplets soon after.
The piece also features many grace notes, especially in the second theme. There is a long A flat trill on the third page just before the main theme returns again. Much of this material is the same and the piece concludes with a descending D flat major scale starting on high F.
11. Fantaisie Impromptu Op. 66
The Fantaisie Impromptu is another posthumous work by Chopin. The left-hand opens the piece with an octave G sharp and C sharp octave chord. From that point, the piece begins flowing with the left hand playing a constant group of six eighth notes while the right-hand plays the melody up to.
The righthand part is quite a complicated set of sixteenth notes on top of the left hand. After a flurry of descending motives in both hands the piece settles in D flat major for the middle section. It stays here for a while while the right-hand plays a soft melody.
To conclude the piece, Chopin brings back the main theme but adds in a short Coda section. Interestingly enough, the Coda section is a variant on the middle material that was in D flat major.
This piece, in particular, has been linked heavily to the Moonlight Sonata. Not just in its form, but also in its harmonic nature and the types of rhythmic motives each hand has to play. The picardy third is also used at the end of this piece as it cadences in D flat major.
12. Waltz “L’adieu” Op. 69 No. 1
One of the more mellow Chopin waltzes is the “L’adieu”. It’s written in A flat major and calls frequently on triplet motives. There are a couple of graceful runs in the right hand that appears in all sections of the piece.
The piece moves at a steady tempo in 3/4, although most pianists speed up in the con anima B section. The third section of the piece is a bit more entertaining, feature a steady balance of triplets and staccato markings in both hands.
Then there are groups of sixth chords in the poco poco crescendo section ending with a fermata. Each time that happens, the third section returns again in its playful form until eventually, the main theme returns at the end.
This was a farewell piece written to a former partner of Chopin. It was composed in 1836.
13. Polonaise Op. 53
Written in 1842, this polonaise by Chopin is easily one of his most technically difficult pieces. Overall there is a lot of syncopation throughout the piece, and a characteristic is Chopin’s dance compositions. There are also many instances where the pianist has to play perfectly synced ascending scales in both hands.
Other characteristics of this polonaise include fast arpeggios, broken chords, trills in awkward finger positions, and the ability to make quick long-distance jumps with the hands.
It starts off with a strong E flat major chords and ascending fourths in both hands!
After this material returns in different modulations, the main theme is presented in A flat major. The main theme returns again in A flat major, but in much wider octaves.
An interesting section of developmental material happens in the middle of the piece. The left hand lightly plays a repetitive sequence of octaves in E major. On top of that is the right hand which controls the syncopated melody.
This is one of the toughest sections of the piece because of keeping stability in tempo in both hands while also playing accurately! After some more developmental material, the piece concludes with a powerful return to the first theme and ends with chords in A flat major.
14. Scherzo No. 1 in B Minor Op. 90
Chopin wrote this Scherzo in 1831. The overall form is sonata form, but with a Coda added to the end.
My favorite part about this Scherzo is the two fortissimo opening chords. Immediately the Scherzo jumps into a flurry of triplets and continuous groups of eighth notes. To a degree, this portion of the piece has a chaotic nature to it and requires a great intensity to play well.
The middle section lasts for quite a while and takes on a much different tone than the opening material. At this point, the piece has shifted to B major and the dynamic has shifted to something much softer. The overall tempo drops slightly.
As the middle section comes towards an end there are slight references to the opening material. Those two powerful chords return, almost interrupting the tranquil section. Eventually, the piece begins the intense passages from the opening theme in B minor.
15. Nocturne No.20 in C Sharp Minor
This nocturne was also featured in the movie “The Pianist”. Composed in 1830, it’s known for its somber melody. It’s another work that was published after his death. The piece opens up with an introduction of C sharp minor chords.
The left-hand plays broken chords for the most part while the right-hand handling the melody. After the main theme is a contrasting theme in a much softer pianissimo dynamic. The key settles in A major at this point briefly before returning to the main theme. Another pianissimo section occurs in measure 31 as well.
When the theme returns for the final time, it features a lot of variances. Chopin works in descending and ascending trills. The very end is particularly interesting with its polyrhythmic scales. Lining up both hands in this section is quite difficult and takes some analysis to get right.
This is one of Chopin’s shorter nocturnes lasting just under four minutes long. While the piece is not the most challenging, it does take a great deal of musical balance and control of the trills to play successfully.