The Best Piano Books for Intermediate Players

recommended by Sophie Roell

I hated piano lessons when I was growing up and I never did any practice. At all. But my Dad and my older sister (who was kind of like my mother because my mother had died) strongly encouraged me to carry on taking lessons. I stopped when I was 14, but I’ve carried on playing the piano as a hobby ever since. Thanks to not practising (at all) I’m not very good on the technical side, but you can still play some quite beautiful pieces and get enormous enjoyment from them. These are my favourites, lovely pieces by Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann and Clementi that you really don’t have to be very good at piano to be able to play.

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    Piano Sonata In C Major K545
    by Mozart

    I've heard Mozart's Sonata in C Major played at Carnegie Hall by Mitsuko Uchida, and it's so beautiful it's just astonishing that it's something a quasi-beginner can play. Ever since watching the movie Amadeus, I have a soft spot for Mozart, I just imagine him as he's portrayed in the movie, this cheeky genius who drives everyone mad. But if it's true that he was composing from the age 5, it makes sense that his music is quite accessible to people who are learning to play. One thing I find fascinating about Mozart is that his father was an experienced music teacher. If his father had been a carpenter, would Mozart have become a furniture maker instead? In terms of this piece of music, I find the second movement the easiest and most rewarding to play.

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    Bach: Prelude and Fugue in C Major, BWV 846
    by Johann Sebastian Bach

    I first came across Bach's 'Prelude in C' in a Five Books interview about suicide. Johanna Reiss, a Holocaust survivor whose husband had killed himself, said she would listen to it to help ease the pain. It is an incredibly soothing piece of music, and originally I just listened to it on a CD. But as I listened to it, I realized it didn't sound that difficult. I was living in Beijing at the time, but managed to get a copy of this piece of music by 巴赫。 Not only is it incredibly calming but it is probably the easiest of all the pieces listed here. It is possible to play it without making a mistake! (By mistake I mean a completely wrong-sounding note, rather than less noticeable mistakes, which I have no way of judging)

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    Moonlight Sonata, Op. 27, No. 2 (Complete) (Alfred Masterwork Edition)
    by Ludwig van Beethoven

    Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata is quite difficult to play overall, but the second movement, in my view the most beautiful, is quite easy. There are a lot of sharps, but because they're nearly all sharps, it's not hard to find the notes. I think this piece of music is traditionally the beginner's entry into serious classical music, so it's not a surprise that it's on this list, but still quite amazing that this piece by Beethoven is so accessible to the beginner-intermediate player. (Note: I haven't been able to play any of Beethoven's other sonatas, even though I tried quite hard as I like his music a lot).

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    Sonatinas, Op. 36, 37, 38
    by Clementi

    Clementi is often seen as a good classical composer for beginners, and rightly so. The tunes are very pretty and reasonably easy to master. My favourite is Op. 36 no. 5, which I first heard when my niece, Clarissa, was playing it. She plays it beautifully and much faster than I can. But it is a really lovely piece so I'm still practising it to try and get better.

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    Scenes from Childhood: Op. 15
    by Schumann

    Sometimes I hear a tune, and I just know I want to play it. I heard my friend Francesca, who is very good at piano, playing this one time, and I've been pestering her ever since, 'What's that tune you were playing?'. Finally, last week, I went into Blackwell's in Oxford and got my hands on a copy of Schumann's "Scenes from Childhood" and it does not disappoint. The piece I love is the first one, 'Von fremden Landern und Menschen', and I like it so much, I have to leave you now to go and play it...

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