The 35 Greatest Classical Piano Sonatas

In this blog article I will share 35 of the greatest piano sonatas in the literature. There is an immense amount of music available for the piano ranging from multiple periods and in different styles. While some of the entries are debatable, many of them are undisputed in terms of their enduring popularity and recurring presence on the concert stage. I hope you enjoy this list and maybe discover some new works worth exploring. The pieces are listed in chronological order.

I’m also going to include sonatas that were originally written for the harpsichord, clavichord, or other keyboard instruments that predated the pianoforte and piano.

1. Keyboard Sonata K. 208

Composer: Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757)

Coming in as the first entry into this list is a sonata written by the great harpischordist Domenico Scarlatti, son of the famed composer Alessandro Scarlatti. Scarlatti has written 555 sonatas for the keyboard over his life and exceptional works that demonstrate his virtuosity and creativity on the instrument.

Sonata K. 208 is a favorite among Scarlatti enthusiasts because of it’s gorgeous melody and it’s modern-sounding harmonies.

2. Keyboard Sonata No. 5 in C (Illy No. 55/T.27)

Composer: Baldassare Galuppi (1706-1785)

One of the most famous composers of the 18th century who is largely forgotten today is Baldassare Galuppi. He wrote operas, sacred music and instrumental works to much renown. Galuppi was also a renowned keyboard virtuoso who wrote many keyboard works. Here is an anecdote of Galuppi in Russia:

“Chamber concerts were held every Wednesday in the antechamber of the imperial apartments, in order to enjoy the special style and fiery accuracy of the clavier playing of this great artist; thus did the virtuoso earn the overall approval of the court.”

Johann Adam Hiller, Wöchentliche Nachrichten und Anmerkungen, die Musik betreffend, 1772

This andante movement from Sonata no. 5 is perhaps his most well known piece today thanks to the recordings of pianist Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli.

3. Harpsichord Sonata No. 6 in A

Composer: Pietro Domenico Paradies (1707 – 1791)

Date: 1754 or before

Born in Naples and a possible student of famed teacher and composer Nicola Porpora (teacher of Haydn), Pietro Domenico Paradies was esteemed for his compositions for the harpsichord. The “Toccata in A” by Paradies has been recorded very often and is the allegro movement taken from his Sonata No. 6 in A.

4. Keyboard Sonata in A major, H.186 (Wq. 55)

Composer: Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-1788)

Date: 1765

The eldest son of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach was the composer of many great works for the keyboard. Joseph Haydn was greatly inspired by CPE Bach:

I did not leave the clavier until I had mastered the mall. Innumerable times I played them for my own delight, especially when I felt oppressed and discouraged by worries and always I left the instrument gay and in high spirits.

Joseph Haydn on CPE Bach’s first 6 piano sonatas (“Haydn: A Creative Life in Music”)

This beautiful sonata is taken from his late Kenner und Liebhaber sonatas, first published in 1779, although the composition date might be 1765.

5. Piano Sonata No. 10 in C major, K. 330 / 300h

Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Date: 1783

One of the most famous composers of all time, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was also a virtuoso on the keyboard. His sonatas have been recorded numerous times by many esteemed pianists. This sonata no. 10 is quite popular and was composed in 1783. It was published by the important publisher Artaria & Co. in 1784 along with sonatas no. 11 and 12.

6. Piano Sonata No. 11 in A major, K. 331 / 300i

Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Date: 1783

One of the most recognizable classical melodies is Mozart’s famous rondo alla turca, the 3rd movement from his sonata no. 11 in A. It is said that Mozart was inspired by listening to the marching bands of the elite Ottoman Janissary military marching bands and that the rondo was influenced by the exotic sounds of these bands.

7. Piano Sonata No. 14 in C minor, K. 457

Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Date: 1784

One of only two piano sonatas written in a minor key, this sonata demonstrates great emotional depth and maturity. It bears many striking similarities to Beethoven’s own pathetique sonata, also in C minor. Beethoven’s early period showed the great influence of the older Mozart.

8. Piano Sonata No. 16 in C major, K. 545

Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Date: 1788

Piano Sonata No. 16 was noted by Mozart in his catalogue as being “for beginners”. Despite being one of the most recognizable classical melodies of all time, it was not actually published in Mozart’s lifetime, but in 1805.

9. Piano Sonata, Op.24, No. 2 in B

Composer: Muzio Clementi (1752-1832)

Date: 1790

Muzio Clementi is broadly regarded as the father of modern piano playing. He has an extensive career writing numerous works for the piano and even sold pianos. He boasts many reputable students such as John Field, Muzio Clementi, Ignaz Moscheles, Johann Baptist Cramer, Johann Nepomuk Hummel and others. This piano sonata is historically interesting because not only is it a fantastic composition, it appears that Mozart used the opening of this sonata for his own opera The Magic Flute, 10 years later.

10. Piano Sonata in E-flat major, Hob. XVI/52, L. 62

Composer: Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)

Date: 1794

Joseph Haydn was perhaps the most famous composer in the world near the end of the 18th century. His concerts in London achieved stellar success and he was admired all across the continent. On the piano he wrote many sonatas, and this last one might be the most famous of them because of it’s extended length and depth, and interesting harmonic turns. Many commentators have notated that it foreshadows many Beethoven-like characteristics.

“I must have something to do—usually musical ideas are pursuing me, to the point of torture, I cannot escape them, they stand like walls before me. If it’s an allegro that pursues me, my pulse keeps beating faster, I can get no sleep. If it’s an adagio, then I notice my pulse beating slowly. My imagination plays on me as if I were a clavier. I am really just a living clavier.”

Joseph Haydn to biographer Albert Christoph Dies, 1806

11. Piano Sonata No. 8 in C minor, Op. 13, “Pathétique”

Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

Date: 1798

One of Beethoven’s early “hits”, this sonata was a success with the public and sold well, helping to establish his credentials as a serious composer in Vienna. It shares some similarities with Mozart’s sonata no. 14 in C minor.

“What the Sonate Pathétique was in the hands of Beethoven (although he left something to be desired as regards clean playing) was something that one had to have heard, and heard again, in order to be quite certain that it was the same already well-known work. Above all, every single thing became, in his hands, a new creation, wherein his always legato playing, one of the particular characteristics of his execution, formed an important part.”

Anton Schindler, personal secretary to Beethoven

12. Piano Sonata No. 14 in C# minor, Op. 27, No. 2, “Moonlight Sonata”

Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

Date: 1801

This might actually be the most famous piano sonata of the whole list. The iconic and celebrated first movement is mournful and haunting. The stormy third movement is terrifying both to play and behold.

The 1st movement has interesting pedal directions by Beethoven, “This whole piece ought to be played with the utmost delicacy and without damper”. Excessive use of the pedal with a modern piano leads to dissonance and must be controlled. On older, historical pianos of the time, the instructions seem to make more sense. one of those poems that human language does not know how to qualify.

Hector Berlioz on the 1st movement

..a nocturnal scene, in which a mournful ghostly voice sounds from the distance.

Carl Czerny on the 1st movement

Surely I’ve written better things.

Beethoven to Czerny

13. Piano Sonata, Op. 40, No. 2

Composer: Muzio Clementi

Date: 1802

While Beethoven was a receiving public recognition for the Moonlight Sonata, Clementi was still continuing to publish masterworks on the piano. Intense, powerful and passionate, it shows the depth of the master’s compositional prowess.

14. Piano Sonata No. 21 in C major, Op. 53, “Waldstein”

Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

Date: 1804

Written during his “middle period”, the famous Waldstein Sonata is an early representative of of Beethoven’s new “heroic” direction. The music is larger, grander and more powerful, with greater technical demands for the performer.

15. Piano Sonata No. 23 in F minor, Op. 57, “Appassionata”

Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

Date: 1806

Like the “Waldstein” sonata, the famous “Appassionata” sonata is one of the most famous from his “middle” period, and out of all his piano sonatas in general. It is characterized by similar attributes that described the “Waldstein” but in this case, being in a minor key, they convey a tempestuousness and stormy mood. It is one of his most challenging pieces to play due to the technical demands.

16. Piano Sonata No.26, Op.70 ‘Le retour à Paris’

Composer: Jan Ladislav Dussek

Date: 1807

Jan Ladislav Dussek was 10 years older than Beethoven, and was perhaps the first traveling virtuoso of his kind for the piano. A first rank virtuoso, his compositions for the piano were modern and forward thinking compared to the classical school.

This sonata, nicknamed “Plus Ultra“, is a testament to the formidable technical prowess of Dussek. Composer and rival virtuoso Joseph Woelfl responded with his sonata below, named “Non Plus Ultra“.

I am happy to inform you that you have an upstanding, polite, and musically gifted son. I love him as you do, as he has earned it. Give him your blessing, so that he will be always happy, something that I wish for him, given his great talents.

Joseph Haydn to Dussek’s father, 1792

17. Piano Sonata in F major ‘Non plus ultra’, Op.41

Composer: Joseph Woelfl (1773-1812)

Date: 1808 ca.

One of the unjustly neglected in musical history, Joseph Woelfl was a student of Leopold Mozart and had spent much time in the Mozart household as a student and family friend. Endowed with massive hands and height, he was an exceptional pianist who was a friendly rival with Beethoven and the two competed in a duel. While Beethoven was judged to be superior at improvisation, Woelfl admirably comported himself and won praise from the audience as well for his own playing.

This piano sonata was a response to the published sonata above by Dussek, and both are remarkable for their technical prowess.

18. Piano Sonata No. 24 in F♯ major, Op. 78 “à Thérèse”

Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

Date: 1809

According to his student Carl Czerny, Beethoven himself viewed this sonata, along with the “Appassionata“, as one of his favorites. He would include the “Hammerklavier” later as one of his favorites when it was written later. It was dedicated to Countess Therese Brunsvik.

Not as long as the other piano sonatas, this appealing sonata is one of his most recorded.

19. Piano Sonata No. 2 in A♭ major, op. 39, J199

Composer: Carl Maria von Weber

Date: 1816

One of the new generation of composers after Beethoven, Carl Maria von Weber was a virtuoso pianist would would go on to establish himself as a successful operatic composer. He had studied with Michael Haydn, brother of Joseph Haydn, and later Abbé Vogler.

Blessed with large hands, von Weber’s piano music was an inspiration to the later romantic generation of composers like Chopin, Liszt and Mendelssohn.

20. Piano Sonata No. 29 in B♭ major, Op. 106, “Hammerklavier”

Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

Date: 1818

Possibly the greatest of all piano sonatas, this late piano sonata by Beethoven is representative of Beethoven’s late period, reinventing classical forms and exploring unusual harmony. It is considered perhaps Beethoven’s most difficult piece to perform because of the extraordinary technical demands.

Thought to be unplayable, this piece was given it’s first public performance by Franz Liszt in 1836.

21. Piano Sonata No.1, Op.7

Composer: Carl Czerny (1791-1857)

Date: 1820?

Student of Ludwig van Beethoven, Carl Czerny was a prolific composer and teacher for the piano, composing over 1,000 works. While admired by many composers, he nonetheless has received criticism for perhaps composing too much, notably by Robert Schumann. In any case, his early compositions such as this Piano Sonata Op. 7, were lauded by his student Franz Liszt:

It is … a pity that, by a too super-abundant productiveness, he has necessarily weakened himself, and has not gone on further on the road of his first Sonata (Op. 7, A-flat major) and of other works of that period, which I rate very highly, as compositions of importance, beautifully formed and having the noblest tendency.

Franz Liszt to Otto Jahn about Carl Czerny’s compositions

22. Piano Sonata in C minor, D. 958

Composer: Franz Schubert (1797-1828)

Date: 1828

The composer Franz Schubert was a younger contemporary of Beethoven and an incredibly prolific composer despite his short life. His late piano sonatas were critically reappraised after being neglected for a long time and judged to be among his late masterworks. Schubert intended to publish these three sonatas as a set and there is a cyclical nature to them.

23. Piano Sonata in A major, D. 959

24. Piano Sonata in B♭ major, D. 960

25. Piano Sonata No. 2 in G minor, Op. 22

Composer: Robert Schumann (1810-1856)

Date: 1838

By the time of the romantic composers, the piano sonata was replaced by other forms and composers were not composing dozens and dozens of sonatas. Robert Schumann composed just three sonatas and by far this one seems to be the most popular, owing to its virtuosic demands and enjoyable musical variety.

26. Piano Sonata No. 2 in B♭ minor, Op. 35

Composer: Frederic Chopin (1810-1949)

Date: 1839

Another famous romantic composer to tackle the sonata form was Frederic Chopin who also only wrote 3 piano sonatas. Critically criticized by composers like Robert Schumann who believed that Chopin did not meld the four disparate movements into a cohesive whole, the work went on to be a hit with the public and has remained firmly in the concert repertoire ever since.

Of particular interest is the famous “Funeral March” 3rd movement.

27. Piano Sonata in B minor, S.178

Composer: Franz Liszt (1811-1886)

Date: 1853

Categorized as “new music”, this sonata was harshly attacked by traditional composers and critics of the “absolute music” school, but praised by modernists like Wagner. By the 20th century, it had become a popular part of the repertoire. It appears to be in a single unbroken movement, although some theorists have attributed movements to the different sections of the composition.

28. Grand Piano Sonata in G, Op.37

Composer: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Date: 1878

Now we are deep into the romantic era and here we have the great Tchaikovsky’s Grand Piano Sonata, which was critically acclaimed and appreciated during his lifetime. It was dedicated to Karl Klindworth, the very same pianist who performed Liszt’s piano sonata in a private performance that Richard Wagner attended.

29. Piano Sonata in E-flat minor

Composer: Paul Dukas (1865-1935)

Date: 1900

Popularly known as the composer of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, which was memorably animated in Walt Disney’s Fantasia, Paul Dukas was a Paris Conservatory trained French composer who later wrote a huge and complex piano sonata dedicated to the great Camille Saint-Säens. Commentators have noticed the influence of Beethoven, perhaps as interpreted by a French composer.

30. Piano Sonata No. 5, Op. 53

Composer: Alexander Scriabin (1871-1915)

Date: 1907

Alexander Scriabin had begun writing in a style influenced by Chopin before developing into his own highly personalized late romantic language, which was intensely chromatic and yet still tonal. His piano sonatas exemplify this mature conception of composition. It was the first sonata that he had written in a single movement, a form he would continue. Evidently, he was very proud of this composition as evidenced by his letter to philanthropist and patron Margarita Morozova:

The Poem of Ecstasy took much of my strength and taxed my patience. … Today I have almost finished my 5th Sonata. It is a big poem for piano and I deem it the best composition I have ever written. I do not know by what miracle I accomplished it …

Alexander Scriabin to Morozova

31. Piano Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor, Op. 36

Composer: Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943)

Date: 1913 (revised 1931)

This sonata was actually written in 1913 but revised substantially many years later. Well received on its premiere, Rachmaninoff decided on further revisions because he felt it contained superfluous material. Vladimir Horowitz championed the work and sought permission from Rachmaninoff to to make his own version, taking material from the original, which the composer granted.

32. Piano Sonata No. 6 in A major, Op. 82

Composer: Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953)

Date: 1940

This sonata and the following two are known popularly as Prokofiev’s War Sonatas. They contain harsh dissonances, striking rhythms, and frequent modulations. They still use classical forms but are reinvented in more modern techniques.

33. Piano Sonata No. 7 in B♭ major, Op. 83

Composer: Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953)

Date: 1942

34. Piano Sonata No. 8 in B♭ major, Op. 84

Composer: Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953)

Date: 1944

35. Piano Sonata in E-flat minor, Op. 26

Composer: Samuel Barber (1910-1981)

Date: 1949

The last piano sonata in this list is by the American composer Samuel Barber. It was written for the pianist Vladimir Horowitz to premiere and contains many interesting 20th century modern techniques. Of particular interest is the final fuga movement which contains terrifying, crashing chords and dissonant intervals.

Nikhil Hogan

I'm a graduate of Berklee College of Music (summa cum laude) and am the host of the Nikhil Hogan Show, a music interview podcast. I started Songbird Music Academy to promote Partimento, Italian Solfeggio, Counterpoint, Music Schema Theory, and Figured Bass.

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