5 Famous Piano Songs You’ll Instantly Recognize

Classic Piano Songs The piano is a beautiful instrument, capable of playing a wide array of sounds, from soft or staccato to broadly lyrical and even grandiose and rhapsodic. The ability of a composer to create such a huge range of emotions and portray a large variety of settings and ideas on the piano goes a long way in explaining why certain famous piano songs have stood the test of time.

This also explains why these famous piano songs are often used to accompany scenes in movies, commercials, and television shows, or are often performed at recitals and weddings. The five pieces below are just a few of the most beloved songs that form the soundtrack to our lives.

5 Famous Piano Songs

1. Ludwig van Beethoven, “Moonlight Sonata”

There is no classical music composer whose music better exemplifies emotion and heart than Beethoven. As one of the earliest great Romantic Era musicians, Beethoven bore his emotions openly, and his music is expressive, brooding, and full of feeling. And, as many know, his music is made even more amazing upon realizing that he lost his hearing in early adulthood and was completely deaf by the time he wrote many of his masterpieces!

His expressive spirit is exemplified in the famous “Piano Sonata No. 14 in C sharp minor, No. 2” (nicknamed the “Moonlight Sonata”). The first movement, marked Adagio sostenuto, is the most recognizable, with its smoothly moving triplet motive in the right hand and the heavy, pedantic melody in the low bass line. True to the adopted name of the piece, the tune offers a beautiful mental image of a melancholy moonlit night.

2. Claude Debussy, “Clair de lune”

French composer Debussy is the epitome of the Impressionist style of music. His pieces are soft, light, and dreamy, suggesting seascapes and tranquil natural settings. The famous “Clair de lune” (which translates to “light of the moon”) is actually the third movement from his larger piano composition “Suite bergamasque.”

“Clair de lune” has been used in countless movies and television shows to depict a soft and dreamlike state and is loved by classical music fans for its gentle beauty. The pianist is able to use the higher end of the keyboard and use a certain lightness of the fingers to musically imitate twinkling and soft moonlight.

3. Frederic Chopin, “March Funèbre”

Whenever movies and television shows need music that instantly makes people think of morbid settings and ideas of death, they often turn to the second movement of Chopin’s “Piano Sonata No. 2”, aptly marked “Marche Funèbre” (“funeral march”). This instantly recognizable melody is slow, heavy, and oppressive, mimicking the feeling of marching slowly through a street while carrying a casket.

4. Ludwig van Beethoven, “Für Elise”

Beethoven’s piano music is so universally well-known and beloved that he deserves a second mention in this list! The full name of this piece is “Bagatelle in A Minor” but most people will recognize it more under the name “Für Elise.”

This music is famous both because of its beautiful lyrical melody and because it is a standard repertoire piece for young or beginning piano students who are starting to learn more substantial piano music. The right and left hands play constant eighth note lines that weave in and out of each other to create a beautiful and smooth texture.

5. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, “Rondo alla turca”

Everybody knows the name Mozart and recognizes him as one of the greatest composers and pianists in all of music history. However, not as many know that he was a child prodigy – composing music and touring all of Europe as a performer at the age of five! He lived during a time when Eastern influence, especially from Turkey, was incredibly trendy in Western Europe.

All of these elements combine beautifully in the third movement of his “Piano Sonata No. 11 in A major, K. 331”, marked Rondo all turca (“Rondo in the Turkish style”). The music is fast, energetic, playful, and rhythmic. The ornamentations that emphasize the half-step interval that is indicative of Eastern music and the quick flourishes mimic the flash of cymbals and bells.

These five famous piano songs are just the beginning when it comes to the wonderfully expansive world of gorgeous piano music that is out there just waiting for you to explore.

The first step in learning how to play these beautiful pieces is signing up for private piano lessons. An experienced teacher can help guide you through the process of learning classical music and developing the skills you need to perform these famous piano songs with mastery. Good luck!

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Photo by Daniel Kruczynski

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14 replies
  1. George Marriner Maull
    George Marriner Maull says:

    Great list! Only wish you would not refer to them as songs. I know that most of the world believes the only kind of music that exists is “song” – a vocal composition. One sometimes hears: “If it doesn’t have words…it can’t be any good.” But, as you noted, these piano compositions are, in fact, good and many people know them. It’s just that they were created as abstract, wordless musical compositions by their composers. Some of the compositions in your list of five are incidental pieces, some are movements from sonatas., or a movement from a suite of movements, as is the case with the Debussy. Beautiful as they are – they have no words. They are not songs…iTunes, not withstanding.


      • Steve
        Steve says:

        Prelude and Fugue in C Major — Beautiful, sounds much more rich and complex than it is difficult to play (not at all, one of the benefits of C Major. 🙂 ).

  2. Guru
    Guru says:

    Thank you so very much! Ronda Alla Turca was stuck in my head and is pretty much my favorite classical piece (other than several harpsichord numbers). You really saved me from an acute insanity as I recover from a painful surgery.

  3. Eny
    Eny says:

    hi guys. I used to watch a french song about two years ago from youtube . but unfortunately it was deleted and i couldn’t find it elsewhere and as i don’t know french i cannot remember the lyrics of the song. it was a slow song only being played by piano and all that i remember is there was (monafo) or something like repeated many times during the song. i would be glad if anyone could help me


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