The word intermediate can mean many different things to different people; especially when considering pieces for the piano. As a yardstick, I have chosen to use grade 4 – 5 examination pieces that have been carefully selected from the Associated Board of the Royal School of Music. Whilst this list is by no means extensive, it is a reasonable starting place for pieces that will suit the pianist who has a degree of experience, some secure technical skills and is looking to explore further. Most of the compositions are taken from the Classical repertoire and do not represent the full extent of pieces for the examinations.
Intermediate Piano Pieces
1. ‘Bagatelle’ in C WoO 54 by Beethoven
Beethoven composed pieces he called bagatelles throughout his life. They vary considerably in intent and level of skill required to perform. This bagatelle dates from around 1802 and is structured into two very distinct sections that have given rise to the nickname for the piece, ‘Happy and Sad’ (Lustig/Traurig). The lighter first section is repeated following the second section that Beethoven plunges into C minor (tonic minor), bringing the piece to a more comforting close. It is interesting to note how Beethoven uses the piano to convey the contrasting moods.
The opening section is limited in its range and almost chorale-like in its sound. In the second section, Beethoven opens the piano out with the rising arpeggio figures that seem to stretch only so far before being pulled back to earth. This brief piece offers the pianist a valuable opportunity to capture the stark changes of mood and allow a full range of dynamic expression.
2. ‘Minuet’ from French Suite No. 3 in B minor; BWV 814 by JS Bach
From 1722 to 1725 Bach composed six French Suites in total. This piece is taken from the suite that falls neatly into the middle of these works. For the third suite, Bach wrote seven pieces all of which derive their inspiration from courtly dances. Even though there is an influence of the French style of composition and convention in these pieces, Bach is not wholly consistent in this in the way he is with his English Suites. This is considered particularly true in the ‘Courantes’ that have a decidedly Italian influence.
The Minuet is placed as the fifth piece in the suite and has quite a lively tempo and a light feel. In this performance, the three beats in a bar feels fast. It opens with quick-moving quavers in the right hand whilst the left-hand skips through a crotchet melody. In spite of the key of B minor, there is not a hint of melancholy especially as Bach cleverly moves toe final cadence in this section to the relative major (D major). The second section sees the quaver movement swap to the left hand with a new melodic idea arriving in the third bar of the new section. Curiously there are two endings for this Minuet giving the performer a considered choice to make.
3. ‘Morning Prayer’ (from Album for the Young; Op. 39) by Tchaikovsky
This collection of piano pieces may not be as familiar to you as the Robert Schumann set with the same title. Arguably, Tchaikovsky was influenced by the Schumann compositions to create some of his own although the feel of the music is undeniably Russian. Schumann completed his Album for The Young in 1848 and Tchaikovsky’s collection of pieces dates from 1878. In total Tchaikovsky composed twenty-four short pieces for his opus 39 with the ‘Morning Prayer’ serving as the opening work. Other titles are considerably more exotic such as ‘The Sorcerer’ (No.20), and ‘The Organ Grinder’ (No. 23). These pieces are wonderfully composed and even though they do not make the technical demands on the pianist that you hear in the grand Piano Concertos, they do present an achievable challenge for the intermediate pianist.
There is a certain reverential mood to this opening piece and need not be played too quickly. Melodically it is simple and humble with a delicately supportive harmony. Towards the ending, there is the momentary feeling of a disturbance to the reflective mood that softly resolves as we reach the final cadence of the piece.
4. ‘Arrietta’, from Lyric Pieces (Lyriske Småstykker); Op.12 by Edvard Grieg
Grieg wrote some of the most memorable and simplistically beautiful melodies in the classical repertoire. This first piece from his first book of ‘Lyric Pieces’ (1866/7), is no exception. The ‘arrietta’ was reportedly one of Grieg’s favourite melodies. So much so, that he used it again as the final piece in the tenth book titled ‘Remembrances’. The music remains gently reflective throughout this brief composition. Even in such a short period, Grieg manages to draw us into the mood of the music. The repeated note melody is child-like but compelling that flows through the piece accompanied by arpeggios in the left hand. Grieg chose the warm key of E flat major for this opening piece and a tempo of Poco Andante e sostenuto. The entire piece is only 23 bars long.
5. ‘Lentamente’ from ‘Visions fugitives’; Op. 22 by Sergei Prokofiev
Prokofiev composed this group of twenty pieces between 1915 and 1917. These were troubled times for the Soviet Union and the wealth of emotional diversity that these pieces encompass reflects this. Even though Prokofiev writes in a broadly tonal style these short pieces are frequently dissonant and rhythmically challenging. Similar to the Grieg, these pieces are demanding in that you need to convincingly produce a range of emotions and impressions in a very little window of time. The title for the pieces comes from the Russian poet Konstantin Balmont and also the inspiration of Robert Schumann’s composition ‘Carnival’.
‘Lentamente’ is the first of the group of pieces and lasts barely one minute. It has a hesitant and disturbing start and the mood never quite feels completely dispelled even at the end. This is in part achieved by never fully established a key until a fragile chord of E minor emerges to conclude. Prokofiev employs the colors of the piano’s registers, beginning as he does in the higher part of the instrument then in bar nine diving into a dark soft chord of an inverted G major seventh. The prevailing use of seventh chords only enhances the harmonic ambiguity along with the slowly descending chromatic line that starts in bar fifteen accompanying the pensive melody.