What constitutes a major work for solo piano?

Posted by: Works1

What constitutes a major work for solo piano? - 01/13/13 04:49 AM

I had dinner last night with a high school buddy of mine who is also a musician (vocal) and we were discussing my recent pieces and planned future pieces, etc. I mentioned one of the pieces I finished recently was Mozart's 12 variations K265 (and also plan to work on Mozart's K511 Rondo in the near future which is in addition to my new love for Scarlatti). In any case, my buddy asked if these pieces are considered major pieces for the piano (he asked it in a different way but I knew what he meant). I thought about it and the truth is, I really don't know.

What actually constitutes a major work for solo piano? Is Mozart's K511 or K265 considered major works? Is it the length of the piece? The stucture (sonata form versus a theme and variations or rondo)? Are there any common elements for definng a major work for the piano? I don't think anyone would argue that most of the Beethoven sonatas, for example, are major works and yet I don't think Mozart's K265 or K511 would be considered major works, but I just don't know if this is the case or why.

Any thoughts on this?
Posted by: Nikolas

Re: What constitutes a major work for solo piano? - 01/13/13 05:34 AM

I think that it's a combination of things...

You need to take into account:
* length
* technical difficulty
* musicality required
* The fame of the piece

amongst other things
Posted by: bennevis

Re: What constitutes a major work for solo piano? - 01/13/13 05:59 AM

It's all in eye of the beholder. There are some people who would say that Haydn's Variations in F minor and maybe Mendelssohn's Variations serieuses are both major pieces, because they are serious, whereas Mozart's Variations on Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star (and similarly, Dohnanyi's for piano and orchestra) aren't because....the theme is a nursery tune? (OK, Dohnanyi's variations are also quite witty).

If length is the issue, does that mean that Scriabin's Sonata No.4 (lasting barely 10 minutes) isn't a major work? Or Berg's? Or Beethoven's Op.49 Sonatas/Sonatinas? But most pianists would say that Chopin's Ballades are major works. But a Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody lasting longer? But most would agree that Chopin's Minute Waltz isn't a major work.

As for the form or structure, I don't think anyone would presume that Bach's Goldberg or Beethoven's Diabelli aren't major works. And let's not forget that Beethoven's most profound Sonata, Op.111, has as its finale a theme and variations. And I believe that Mozart's K511 Rondo is considered a major work by most too - because of its profundity(?)
Posted by: wr

Re: What constitutes a major work for solo piano? - 01/13/13 06:08 AM

I think the term is way too nebulous to have a definition of the sort that could be used to decide whether any given piece was "major". Sure, I think there is general agreement that many big and important pieces of the core repertoire (another nebulous term) fit the description, but I don't think that means there's some kind of working definition involved. Basically, if enough people with some musical expertise think a piece is major, then it is. It is sort of like "great" in that way.

There are many pieces that might have some people advocating "major" and others disagreeing with that assessment. I was ready to give an example, but realized that doing that was inviting trouble.
Posted by: Verbum mirabilis

Re: What constitutes a major work for solo piano? - 01/13/13 06:13 AM

Originally Posted By: Nikolas
I think that it's a combination of things...

You need to take into account:
* length
* technical difficulty
* musicality required
* The fame of the piece

amongst other things


First I thought that the fame of the piece is not relevant, but then I reconsidered. Also, I might consider the amount of movements a factor (if a piece consists of multiple short movements (that are not linked together), the majority of the piece is decreased).

In addition to the above, what is a work? Do the Chopin preludes count as a single work (that could be considered major) or are they a set of 24 miniatures?
Posted by: pianoloverus

Re: What constitutes a major work for solo piano? - 01/13/13 07:33 AM

Each person will have a slightly different definition. For me the length, technical difficulty, and musical difficulty would be the main considerations. Obviously there are some pieces that are near the borderline between major/not major works for whatever definition one is using. So, even for each individual, deciding to call a piece a major work is not always clear. But this is not really important.

I don't think the fame of the piece or number of movements are at all relevant. Why would they be(for those that think they are)?
Posted by: Nikolas

Re: What constitutes a major work for solo piano? - 01/13/13 11:01 AM

Originally Posted By: wr
I was ready to give an example, but realized that doing that was inviting trouble.
hehe...

Same here. I started talking about Ligeti and Beethoven and then deleted the whole thing. Too many flames coming my way! laugh
Posted by: landorrano

Re: What constitutes a major work for solo piano? - 01/13/13 11:55 AM

A very interesting question. I would say just one thing, that a work is major above all by it's intent, not by it's reception. There is nothing naive about it. An artist knows that he has something of an exceptional importance to accomplish, and the work that goes into its realization is in correspondance enormous. Chopin Op10, mentioned earlier, is an archtypical example. "Chapeaux bas, gentlemen, we're in the prescence of a genious."
Posted by: JoelW

Re: What constitutes a major work for solo piano? - 01/13/13 12:30 PM

Chopin's third scherzo only lasts 7 minutes on average. His heroic polonaise even less.. yet these are both considered 'large' works by Chopin. I don't really think 'large-scale' has a black and white definition. I think you just know it when you see (hear) it.
Posted by: asthecrowflies

Re: What constitutes a major work for solo piano? - 01/13/13 01:27 PM

Perhaps debatable, but I think most people would consider Schubert's impromptus to be "major" works while Chopin's are mostly considered to be "lesser" works. Is it relative to the composer, or relative to the "canon" (which is obviously a whole nother kettle of fish)?
Posted by: BruceD

Re: What constitutes a major work for solo piano? - 01/13/13 03:11 PM

Originally Posted By: wr
I think the term is way too nebulous to have a definition of the sort that could be used to decide whether any given piece was "major".


I agree that the term is quite nebulous, but I think that a problem arises by dismissing the term in that some competitions/examinations require an optional (i.e. outside the list of required pieces) "major" work by a composer.

Who decides?

Regards,
Posted by: trigalg693

Re: What constitutes a major work for solo piano? - 01/14/13 07:00 AM

Originally Posted By: asthecrowflies
Perhaps debatable, but I think most people would consider Schubert's impromptus to be "major" works while Chopin's are mostly considered to be "lesser" works. Is it relative to the composer, or relative to the "canon" (which is obviously a whole nother kettle of fish)?


I actually got really confused when I read this, then I realized you were comparing with Chopin impromptus (I don't consider neither Schubert nor Chopin's impromptus major). I guess that just shows that everyone has their own idea of what a major work is, but I think there is a list that almost everyone would accept as a major work or at least not be willing to flat out deny it "major work" status.

For me it's a bit fuzzy, the most important criteria is length since I feel like most pieces under 10 minutes are "not serious enough" (I don't even really know what this means in my head, it's just one of those things where I know it when I see it). Strangely, Chopin Ballades get a clear "pass" but I'm a little hesitant to give the Scherzos the same "respect". As another example, Mazeppa approaches the length of Scriabin 9 (which I consider "major") and is very technically challenging, but somehow I don't find it "serious enough". It's in an awkward zone of being too long to be a miniature that you play to wow people, but not long and serious enough to be a "major work". Still, I'd put it in a program anyday laugh

After writing that chunk of text above and listening to my recording of Chopin's 1st Scherzo, I'm starting to think that maybe since "major" is a term that carries a bit of weight, the pieces that we label "major" are the ones we respect for their content and difficulty (I don't really like the Scherzos since I think they're a bit repetitive, so that probably makes me inclined to not bestow upon them the label of "major work").
Posted by: wr

Re: What constitutes a major work for solo piano? - 01/14/13 07:38 AM

Originally Posted By: BruceD
Originally Posted By: wr
I think the term is way too nebulous to have a definition of the sort that could be used to decide whether any given piece was "major".


I agree that the term is quite nebulous, but I think that a problem arises by dismissing the term in that some competitions/examinations require an optional (i.e. outside the list of required pieces) "major" work by a composer.

Who decides?



Well, whoever is the repertoire referee decides. If I were a person thinking about entering a competition or doing an exam, and there was any question in my mind about whether a piece I was thinking of doing passed the "major" test, I'd simply contact the organization and ask. I think in many cases, there's not much question.

I've noticed that some competitions avoid that sort of question by being very specific - they list which Mozart and Beethoven sonatas they won't accept, for example.
Posted by: asthecrowflies

Re: What constitutes a major work for solo piano? - 01/14/13 10:24 AM

Originally Posted By: trigalg693

I actually got really confused when I read this, then I realized you were comparing with Chopin impromptus (I don't consider neither Schubert nor Chopin's impromptus major). I guess that just shows that everyone has their own idea of what a major work is, but I think there is a list that almost everyone would accept as a major work or at least not be willing to flat out deny it "major work" status.


Well, perhaps I equate "major" with "masterwork", as opposed to some sort of sort sort of technical challenge. Op 90 and Op 142 are some of the finest works of the early romantic canon, and while technically they're not on par with late Romantic sonatas, there's a reason they were so beloved and performed by Horowitz, Brendel, Perahia.
Posted by: Nikolas

Re: What constitutes a major work for solo piano? - 01/14/13 10:39 AM

Is the Prokofiev tocatta op. 11 a major work? In terms of difficulty I think that it is, and it's one of the most difficult things I've performed, but it's a 'mere' 4 minutes long if played right and I can't really take it as a 'too much of a major work'. Same goes for any Ligeti etude whic generally speaking are a nightmare to be performed... brrr...
Posted by: carey

Re: What constitutes a major work for solo piano? - 01/14/13 12:03 PM

While it may be challenging to define "major work" - I certainly know one when I hear it !!! cool
Posted by: btb

Re: What constitutes a major work for solo piano? - 01/14/13 09:47 PM

Take a good look at Mozart K.265 chaps ... a set of variations on a simple French tune (Baa Baa Black Sheep) ... structured largely as a single-note outline by two hands ... hardly a major work!

Thus the OP’s question ... answer NO ... not a major work.
Posted by: pianoloverus

Re: What constitutes a major work for solo piano? - 01/15/13 02:09 AM

I think the thread so far has establised there is little agreement about what constitutes a major work unless one talks about pieces that are clearly in the major work category or clearly not in tat category. There are many pieces in the middle that no one is going to agree on.

OTOH I think it's also been established that the question is not really important. The only time one has to know "for sure" if a piece is a major work is when some competition or audition has a requirement that reads something like "a major work from the Classical era". But in this case the problem is easily solved by calling those in charge of the competition and asking or by choosing one of the pieces not in the vague middle area where some might disagree about whehther it's major.
Posted by: btb

Re: What constitutes a major work for solo piano? - 01/15/13 02:48 AM

Forgive me pianoloverus for trying to answer the OP’s specific question about what constitutes a major work ... he put it like this ...

“I don't think anyone would argue that most of the Beethoven sonatas, for example, are major works
and yet I don't think Mozart's K265 or K511 would be considered major works, but I just don't know if this is the case or why.

Any thoughts on this?”

Mozart’s K.265 is clearly NOT a major work because of it’s simplistic single-note structure.

Ipso facto as the Romans used to say.
Posted by: landorrano

Re: What constitutes a major work for solo piano? - 01/15/13 03:23 AM

Originally Posted By: pianoloverus

OTOH I think it's also been established that the question is not really important.


I don't think that that has been established at all. For my part, I think that it is a really important question. A very really important question.

But I think that we can say that the thread has established that there is not agreement about whether the question as to what constitutes a major work (for solo piano or otherwise) is really important.

By the way, I agree with BTB.
Posted by: pianoloverus

Re: What constitutes a major work for solo piano? - 01/15/13 06:13 AM

Originally Posted By: landorrano
Originally Posted By: pianoloverus

OTOH I think it's also been established that the question is not really important.


I don't think that that has been established at all. For my part, I think that it is a really important question. A very really important question.
Why do you think itls important?
Posted by: Works1

Re: What constitutes a major work for solo piano? - 01/16/13 03:47 AM

Thank you for the replies. While it is not particularly important to me whether a piece I play is considered a "major" work, I certainly am curious. Surely there must be some common ground/criteria for detemining whether a particular work for solo piano is considered to be "major". If piano competitions are using the term without providing specific guidlelines, there must an assumption as to what those guidelies or determinig factors are.

If we know, for example, that a single Chopin etude is not a major work or that a more lengthy piece like Mozart's K.265 or K.511 is not a major work but we know that Beethoven's Op.53 is a major work, we are already using some preconceived factors which I would guess are primarly the length and complexity of the piece. While the Mozart K265 is perhaps lengthy enough, it is not particularly complex. While a chopin etude may be complex enough, it is not particulary lengthy.

confused
Posted by: landorrano

Re: What constitutes a major work for solo piano? - 01/16/13 05:31 AM

Originally Posted By: pianoloverus

Why do you think itls important?


Good question. When you recognize that a work is major, you take measure of what has gone into creating it ... and of what it will take you to understand it.
Posted by: landorrano

Re: What constitutes a major work for solo piano? - 01/16/13 05:34 AM

Originally Posted By: Works1
a single Chopin etude is not a major work


I'd just like to point out: a single Chopin étude is not only not a major work, it is not a work.

I wish to add that, the Chopin études are not, in my opinion, complex. Still, and always in my opinion of course, the Chopin études are a major work. If there is any sense at all in the term, which I believe there is indeed, the Chopin études are a major work.
Posted by: JoelW

Re: What constitutes a major work for solo piano? - 01/16/13 09:13 AM

Originally Posted By: landorrano
Originally Posted By: Works1
a single Chopin etude is not a major work


I'd just like to point out: a single Chopin étude is not only not a major work, it is not a work.


Posted by: btb

Re: What constitutes a major work for solo piano? - 01/16/13 09:24 AM

Landoro’s English is pretty damn good ...
considering that it is not his native Catalan tongue ... but misses the mark in saying of an Etude

“I'd just like to point out: a single Chopin étude
is not only not a major work, it is not a work.”

What he might have wanted to say is that FC’s Etudes are STUDIES ...
intended as experimental keyboard gyrations,
bits of which to use in later compositions.

Forgive the intrusion ... for the records, my Catalan is ropey ... as bad as my Hebrew (written backwards).
Posted by: fj_s

Re: What constitutes a major work for solo piano? - 01/16/13 09:33 AM

I thought the Rondo in A minor (K511) is usually considered one of Mozart's finest piano works. Wouldn't that usually qualify as a major work? It's pretty musically complex, and often played in programmes and competitions.
Posted by: pianoloverus

Re: What constitutes a major work for solo piano? - 01/16/13 10:14 AM

Originally Posted By: Works1
Thank you for the replies. While it is not particularly important to me whether a piece I play is considered a "major" work, I certainly am curious. Surely there must be some common ground/criteria for determining whether a particular work for solo piano is considered to be "major". If piano competitions are using the term without providing specific guidelines, there must an assumption as to what those guidelines or determining factors are.
I think one can see from the replies in this thread there are not hard and fast rules about what is a "major work" so many pieces fall into some nebulous grey area in the middle where there will not be unanimous agreement.

So there is not common ground/criteria that can be used for all pieces. But there are many pieces at each end of the spectrum from the most minor to the most major work that most everyone would agree on. For example, I doubt anyone would say Grieg's Arietta is a major work or that Beethoven's Op.111 is not a major work. I think most would use some combination of length and technical/musical difficulty in their deciding.

OTOH the only situation mentioned so far where knowing if something is a major work is really important is when one is playing in a competition or audition and the requirement says something like "A major work from the Classical period". If one has any doubts about a piece one is thinking of playing then you can just contact the people in charge and they will tell you if your piece qualifies.

Otherwise I think the entire discussion is just a question of semantics, and there is no hard and fast rule any more than there is a rule for defining a "masterpiece".
Posted by: pianoloverus

Re: What constitutes a major work for solo piano? - 01/16/13 10:24 AM

Originally Posted By: landorrano
Originally Posted By: pianoloverus

Why do you think it's important?


Good question. When you recognize that a work is major, you take measure of what has gone into creating it ... and of what it will take you to understand it.
Whether a work is "major" or not is not always black and white. It can depend on one's personal definition.

I think one should just, when learning any piece, do whatever is needed to play it the best one can. If a piece is more difficult or more "major" then it's obvious one will have to do more work to learn it, but I don't think one has to know exactly how "major" a piece is. In fact, there is no general agreement on this question.

The entire discussion really just semantics. Pne might as well try and define what a "beautiful" piece is.
Posted by: pianoloverus

Re: What constitutes a major work for solo piano? - 01/16/13 10:26 AM

Originally Posted By: landorrano
Originally Posted By: Works1
a single Chopin etude is not a major work
I'd just like to point out: a single Chopin étude is not only not a major work, it is not a work.
Why do you this so? I think most would say "work" is just another name for "piece" and that a single etude qualitifes as both.
Posted by: Franz Beebert

Re: What constitutes a major work for solo piano? - 01/16/13 12:16 PM

Originally Posted By: pianoloverus
Originally Posted By: landorrano
Originally Posted By: Works1
a single Chopin etude is not a major work
I'd just like to point out: a single Chopin étude is not only not a major work, it is not a work.
Why do you this so? I think most would say "work" is just another name for "piece" and that a single etude qualitifes as both.
Certainly, and if I have do decide what it deserves to be called the most between "work" and "piece", I would go with "work". A piece is a work, a study is also a work. Everything Chopin created deserves to be called a work. Everything any composer creates deserves to be called a work.
Posted by: Works1

Re: What constitutes a major work for solo piano? - 01/16/13 12:29 PM

Originally Posted By: fj_s
I thought the Rondo in A minor (K511) is usually considered one of Mozart's finest piano works. Wouldn't that usually qualify as a major work? It's pretty musically complex, and often played in programmes and competitions.


Whatever K.511 is considered, I find it to be one of Mozart's most beautiful and intriguing works for solo piano.
Posted by: bennevis

Re: What constitutes a major work for solo piano? - 01/16/13 12:44 PM

Odd, I tend to use the word 'work' more often in relation to big works like Havergal Brian's 'Gothic' Symphony, or Mahler's 8th, or Bruckner's 8th. Or Bach's Goldberg or Beethoven's Diabelli. Anything less than 3 minutes and single movement is a 'piece'...... wink
Posted by: Franz Beebert

Re: What constitutes a major work for solo piano? - 01/16/13 12:56 PM

Another solution to how to use the word "work" might be to use it to the composers who has put a lot of effort in their music! wink For example, it is said that Chopin worked very hard with perfecting his pieces(therefore his pieces are works), while Schubert spitted out new music as often as he took a new breath(therefore he never wrote a single work)! wink

This is of course just a joke smile
Posted by: bennevis

Re: What constitutes a major work for solo piano? - 01/16/13 01:11 PM

Originally Posted By: Franz Beebert
..... while Schubert spitted out new music as often as he took a new breath(therefore he never wrote a single work)! wink

This is of course just a joke smile


Schubert's Der Hirt auf dem Felsen is a work, but An die Musik is a piece.....

Or maybe, they're just songs, or Lieder grin.
Posted by: Franz Beebert

Re: What constitutes a major work for solo piano? - 01/16/13 01:42 PM

Yes but how much effort did Schubert in Did Hirt auf dem Felsen? I mean, he was such a huge talent that it seems he could write down his music without even thinking, therefore, he never wrote a single work wink That's not to say that his pieces actually are works(these sounds wierd), but what I mean is, he probably did not have to WORK as hard as the majority of composers in order to get his ideas down wink
Posted by: bennevis

Re: What constitutes a major work for solo piano? - 01/16/13 01:48 PM

Well, Mozart composed whole operas and symphonies and concertos in his head while playing billiards wink......and he composed his greatest symphonies (no.39 - 41) in less than 3 months, even though he wasn't commissioned and probably didn't even know whether they would ever be performed.
Posted by: Franz Beebert

Re: What constitutes a major work for solo piano? - 01/16/13 01:55 PM

I haven't forgotten about Mozart of course, but he is veryyyy famous for his talent. I think Schubert deserves more recognition when it comes to talent. I mean, in a year(at the age of 18(!!!!) he wrote over 20 000 bars of music, which included nine church works, a symphony, four sonatas and 150(!) lieders(he wrote several of them in just a day) and a lot more! shocked
Posted by: landorrano

Re: What constitutes a major work for solo piano? - 01/16/13 03:01 PM

The études of Chopin are a work, one etude is a part of a work and is not a work in itself. A major work. Chopin hears Paganini, decides to write not an étude but a set of études, a veritable manifesto. "Hats off, gentlemen, we're in the prescence of a genious."
Posted by: landorrano

Re: What constitutes a major work for solo piano? - 01/16/13 03:03 PM

Originally Posted By: btb
Landoro’s English is pretty damn good ...


You're darn tootin'! And my South African: "a weem o weh, a weem o weh" !
Posted by: pianoloverus

Re: What constitutes a major work for solo piano? - 01/16/13 03:44 PM

Originally Posted By: landorrano
The études of Chopin are a work, one etude is a part of a work and is not a work in itself. A major work. Chopin hears Paganini, decides to write not an étude but a set of études, a veritable manifesto.
That's your personal definition of "work" and not the one used by everyone or found in the dictionary.

Here's one online dictionary that indicates that work, piece, composition, and opus are synonyms:

"Noun 1.musical composition - a musical work that has been created musical composition - a musical work that has been created; "the composition is written in four movements"
opus, piece of music, composition, piece"
Posted by: JoelW

Re: What constitutes a major work for solo piano? - 01/16/13 05:34 PM

FYI two posts ago the Pianist Corner was at 505050 posts. Kinda neat.
Posted by: stores

Re: What constitutes a major work for solo piano? - 01/17/13 04:38 AM

Originally Posted By: landorrano
The études of Chopin are a work, one etude is a part of a work and is not a work in itself. A major work. Chopin hears Paganini, decides to write not an étude but a set of études, a veritable manifesto. "Hats off, gentlemen, we're in the prescence of a genious."



Yes, the set is most certainly a work, but each individual component (each crucial in comprising the whole) is absolutely a work itself. To state that one of these is not a work itself is to exhibit ignorance of the work(s) in question. Do your homework.
Posted by: landorrano

Re: What constitutes a major work for solo piano? - 01/17/13 06:29 AM

Originally Posted By: stores
Do your homework.


Oui, monsieur! Ah, it gives me pleasure to get laid into by you Stores!
Posted by: BruceD

Re: What constitutes a major work for solo piano? - 01/17/13 01:16 PM

Originally Posted By: Joel_W
FYI[...] Kinda neat.


Kinda? Who is Kinda?
Posted by: bennevis

Re: What constitutes a major work for solo piano? - 01/17/13 02:31 PM

Originally Posted By: BruceD
Originally Posted By: Joel_W
FYI[...] Kinda neat.


Kinda? Who is Kinda?


Gregory Kinda is an Australian pianist who made some recordings on a real piece of work , the amazing Stuart & Sons piano. www.leatham.com.au/kinda wink
Posted by: BruceD

Re: What constitutes a major work for solo piano? - 01/17/13 03:04 PM

Originally Posted By: bennevis
Originally Posted By: BruceD
Originally Posted By: Joel_W
FYI[...] Kinda neat.


Kinda? Who is Kinda?


Gregory Kinda is an Australian pianist who made some recordings on a real piece of work , the amazing Stuart & Sons piano. www.leatham.com.au/kinda wink


Touché! cool
Posted by: JoelW

Re: What constitutes a major work for solo piano? - 01/17/13 03:10 PM

fg