The 10 most beautiful Beethoven pieces to play on the piano
To mark the birthday of Ludwig Van Beethoven, we are inviting you to explore ten of his most beautiful pieces for the piano, either in their original form or arranged by Tomplay for pianists of all levels. We have included the link to the score for each piece.
1. Symphony No. 7 in A major, Opus 92 - II. Allegretto
Even if the majority of Beethoven pieces are hits, some have packed more of a "punch” than others! This is the case with the Allegretto from his Seventh symphony, with its quite irresistible forward motion - like a funeral march in the form of a carpet which is unrolled, spread out and covers everything in a strange sensuality.
The work saw the light of day in the summer of 1811. On his doctors’ recommendation, Beethoven was taking a course of treatment at Teplitz in Bohemia. There, he successively met Rahel Levin and, above all, Amalie Sebald, two more women who would contribute to the disruption of his love life! On return to Vienna, he set about writing this Seventh symphony.
The final mark was made at the bottom of the manuscript on 13th May 1812. In the summer, Beethoven returned to Teplitz and met Goethe there. In spite of its second movement, the work is hugely optimistic and gives off a great feeling of freedom, while at the same time the German and Austrian princes were surrendering to Napoleon 1st. It was performed on 8th December 1813 under Beethoven’s direction and was very quickly acclaimed across the whole of Europe - to the dissatisfaction of Carl Maria von Weber who thought it the work of a lunatic. Owing to its frenetic rhythm and finale, Richard Wagner described it later as the “apotheosis of dance”.
2. Sonata No. 8 in C major “Pathétique”, Opus 13 - II Adagio cantabile
1798. The 18th century was in its last hours and classicism with it. The natural heir to Haydn and Mozart, the young Beethoven was freeing himself little by little from the “guardianship” of his teachers to take on his own voice: he was not yet aware that he was laying down there the first stones of a giant edifice which would come to be known as “Romanticism”. Christened the “Grande Sonate pathétique”, Sonata No. 8 is fully part of this movement, with a final Rondo which is literally straight out of the pivotal areas of this heritage. Walk in the footsteps of the greatest performers by playing this “Pathétique” either in its original version or in the arrangements specially designed for beginner pianists.
3. Concerto No. 5 in E flat major, Op. 73 "Emperor" – II. Adagio un poco moto
“If I were a general and knew as much about strategy as I know about counterpoint, I would give you your money’s worth!” This phrase which Beethoven was said to have flung at a French officer of the occupying army says a lot about the composer’s rancour towards the idol Bonaparte, the spearhead of the people’s Revolution who had become a bloody tyrant and persecutor of the Viennese in this dark year of 1809. His fifth and last piano concerto bears the stigmata of this tragic time, which saw Beethoven forced to regularly interrupt his work owing to the bombarding of the imperial capital by the Napoleonic armies. In the light of this brutal disillusion, christening this concerto “The Emperor” became grotesque; moreover, Beethoven confided in his editor that he would only allow one title: “Grand concerto dedicated to his Imperial Highness the Archduke Rodolphe” (his student and patron). Let yourself be swept away by the irresistible line of its slow movement - perhaps the most beautiful ever composed - with the accompaniment of a full symphony orchestra and a score scrolling automatically on your screen, all in a graduation of technical difficulties.
4. Für Elise
▶️️️ Play the original score of Für Elise by Beethoven for solo piano.
Elise (Barensfeld)? Thérèse (de Brunswick or Malfatti)? Elisabeth (Röckel)? The recipient of this famous “Für Elise” remains a mystery. Just like the exact date of its composition, as the original manuscript has disappeared. Generally, it is thought to be 1810. It is a very simple work, “of little importance” - this was the common definition of a little trifle... an infatuation! With its elegiac charm akin to Chopin in its first section, it does a U-turn in the second to drift towards Mozart and the gallant era on a bass characteristic of Alberti. We are offering you the opportunity to play it exactly as it was written (and not in one of the many arrangements which “pollute” the web... and right to the end of the work!
5. Sonata No. 14 in C sharp minor, “Moonlight”, Op. 27 No. 2 – I. Adagio sostenuto
▶️️ Play the original score of Sonata No. 14 in C sharp minor, “Moonlight”, Op. 27 No. 2 – I. Adagio sostenuto by Beethoven for solo piano.
Love is at the root of this “Moonlight Sonata”. A shining love for Countess Giulietta Guicciardi, a young 16-year-old pupil, whom he had in mind to marry, in spite of the large difference in their ages - this was in 1800 and Beethoven was 30 years old. The first attacks of deafness were still fresh and, at the time, the musician was having difficulty coming to terms with it. The famous “Heiligenstadt Testament” was still before him (summer of 1802), but he could already feel that his life’s salvation would be in artistic creativity. How great was his rage, however, when instead of a gateway towards the realisation of this love, he received the gift of a purse full of money from the mother of his love - an obvious signal in his eyes reminding him of his rank as a simple “servant”.
Disregarding the most basic rules of good conduct, he responded to the great lady in words of rare violence and, even if he drew a permanent line under the relationship, shortly afterwards he dedicated his Sonata in C sharp minor to Giulietta - a sly retaliation showing the Italian aristocrats his complete freedom of mind. As for the description “Moonlight Sonata”, this was - as very often - totally foreign to Beethoven. It must be admitted nevertheless that it reflects particularly well the deep, sombre resonance of the bass accompanying the melody throughout the piece in a sumptuous, but sad solemnity. You can, in turn, plunge into the fascinating world of the night...
6. Symphony No. 6 – Pastoral
Like many of his works, the Sixth Symphony is the subject of an historic misunderstanding, which Beethoven himself tried to debunk during his lifetime... in vain! With its sub-title of “Recollection of country life” inscribed on the 1826 score and the very precise descriptions which accompany each movement, it is very tempting indeed to see it as a work with an essentially descriptive vocation, as written by Liszt or Richard Strauss later on. But this means missing the very essence of the score, as witnessed by Beethoven. “The listeners should be allowed to discover the situation”, he wrote. “All painting in instrumental music, if pushed too far, is a failure.” At the end of this symphony, we are thus aware that the rain and lightning (in F minor) have given way to the “song of the pastures, feelings of contentment and thankfulness after the storm”: the rest is nothing but the fruit of our imagination... Tickle your own imagination by giving life to this adorable finale on your piano keyboard, in a level of difficulty which suits you.
7. Sonata No. 17 in D minor, “The Tempest”, Opus 31 - III. Allegretto
▶️️️ Play the original score of the Sonata No. 17 in D minor, “The Tempest”, Opus 31 - III. Allegretto by Beethoven for solo piano.
Much has been written about the links between Beethoven’s Piano Sonata Op. 31 No. 2 and Shakespeare’s play, “The Tempest”. Programme? What can be said is that if the musician had been in contact with it, the “poetic idea” contained in the play must have had a powerfully catalytic effect on him. The possible musical translation of bad weather and also the melancholy which hangs over the English writer’s “enchanted island” are subsequently infinite. This “programmatical” inspiration makes the Sonata a sister to not only the “Pastoral” but also the Sonata “The Farewells” and the Ninth Symphony. Its formal construction would serve as an essential basis for the development of the symphonic poem genre. We are inviting you to grasp the helm of its Allegretto finale yourself, which gives the impression of listening to a boat which is sailing on rough seas...
8. Symphony No. 9, Opus 125 - IV. Finale: Ode to Joy
If you could only pick one, it would doubtless be this one: the ninth and last symphony, with its choral fireworks inspired by Schiller’s Ode to Joy, words which had been going around in his head for more than thirty years. Music to proclaim the victory of joy and fraternity over despair: what more beautiful theme for this inveterate defender of humanity? “Freude, Freude...” - “Joy, joy...”: universal joy, which in times past accompanied Japanese kamikaze pilots in their last desperate gesture and which now adorns the federalist dreams of a united Europe. A pure and simple keyboard moment.
9. Sonata No. 21 in C major, “Waldstein”, Opus 53 - III. Rondo: Allegretto moderato – Prestissimo
▶️️️️ Play the original score of Sonata No. 21 in C major, “Waldstein”, Opus 53 - III. Rondo: Allegretto moderato – Prestissimo by Beethoven for solo piano.
Cinema lovers now associate his magnificent Rondo with the romantic landscapes of 19th century England so well drawn in the film “Pride and Prejudice”. The “Waldstein” Sonata was composed in one flourish, between December 1803 and January 1804, a period during which Beethoven was showing a very keen interest in pushing back the technical boundaries of the piano. Contrary to the “Appassionata” subtitle of Sonata Op. 57 - attributed (as very often) to the publishers’ romanticising imagination - the dedication to Count Ferdinand von Waldstein has been proven here. Waldstein was Beethoven’s first patron in Bonn and the author of these famous words, written at the time of his departure for Vienna in 1792: “Through unceasing application, may you receive the spirit of Mozart through the hands of Haydn.” Settle yourself at the piano and seduce your loved ones with his Rondo.
10. Sonata No. 23 in F minor, “Appassionata”, Opus 57 - II. Andante con moto
▶️️️️️ Play the original score of Sonata No. 23 in F minor, “Appassionata”, Opus 57 - II. Allegretto con moto by Beethoven for solo piano.
There is the “Moonlight”, the slow movement of the Fifth Concerto... and the Andante from the “Appassionata” Sonata! An Andante “con moto”, in other words “with movement”, which progresses by stirring up the most vibrant emotions... “A torrent of fire in a bed of granite”, as Romain Rolland wrote so well. It was finished in 1805, at a time when Beethoven was working on “Fidelio”. Beyond an even more extended research into form, it embodies the composer’s wish to “establish, through new musical solutions, man’s dimensions in what he wishes for the future: space, time, conflict, the ability to think about his condition” (Elisabeth Brisson). A sort of humanist manifesto, inviting all his fellow men - and, in the front row, those who directly suffer under the yoke of those who wield power - to free themselves by their own imagination from the stranglehold of their earthly slavery. Take on the garb of the great romantics yourself to reach one of the heights of piano music literature.