favorite 20th-century solo piano music


Since I just finished yet another work for solo piano (I’ve written a few others, some of which exceed two hours in duration), I got to thinking about what modern piano works have made an impact on me. I won’t say these are the best works for piano, since that’s a subjective judgement. Let’s just say these are among my favorites. I also want to say up front that Steve Reich’s Piano Phase is not on the list. Not because I don’t love it as music, but because I really don’t think of it as a piano work. It can be played just as well on two marimbas, and there is nothing about the piece that takes advantage of the resonance or other characters of a piano. Also missing: Carter’s Night Fantasies. The first page is something I like, but then…well. Let’s say that my latest piece, quartet for piano was in some ways what I had wished Carter’s piece had been. Anyway, here’s my list (in no particular order):

  • Feldman: Triadic Memories
  • Feldman: For Bunita Marcus
  • Feldman: Piano (not played as much as the other Feldman late works for piano (1977 and up), probably because it’s so difficult to perform. But I really think this piece is amazing.)
  • Dennis Johnson: November
  • Tom Johnson: An Hour for Piano
  • La Monte Young: The Well-Tuned Piano
  • Babbitt: Post-Partitions (I can’t even follow this score in real time, that’s how complicated it is, and it’s not my aesthetic, but for sheer chutzpah, I have a soft spot for it)
  • Berio: Cinque Variazioni
  • Boulez: Piano Sonata 1
  • Boulez: Piano Sonata 2
  • Cage: One5
  • Cage: Bacchanale
  • Cage: Mysterious Adventure
  • Cage: In a Landscape
  • Charlemagne Palestine: Strumming Music
  • Charlemagne Palestine: From Etudes to Cataclysms
  • Copland: Piano Variations
  • Copland: Piano Fantasy (it took a long time to grow on me, since I really didn’t think this compared with his Piano Variations)
  • Dallapiccola: Quaderno Musicale di Annalibera
  • De Alvear: En Amor Duro
  • Harold Budd: Children of the Hill
  • John Adams: Phrygian Gates
  • Ligeti: Etudes
  • Otte: Das Buch Der Klänge
  • Shapey: Fromm Variations
  • Stockhausen: Klavierstücke I-XI
  • Xenakis: Herma
  • Xenakis: Evryali

Not a perfect list, and like the Reich piece, there are some conspicuous absences. I like Rzewski’s The People United Shall Not Be Defeated, but it really hasn’t influenced me that much and I think it’s more noteworthy for the concept than for the actual music. Just my opinion.

Anyway, the new piece will be released soon-have to find the time to clean up the score a bit and then it will be ready. Honest.