Thursday, January 7, 2010

Classical Piano Music To Study To

Artists like Bach and Beethoven erected churches and temples on the heights. I only wanted... to build dwellings for men in which they might feel happy and at home. - Edvard Grieg
I know that lots of people listen to Baroque music when they study or want to concentrate, more likely J.S.Bach, and most likely played by Glenn Gould. I understand the point: the pleasing inner logic and clarity of Bach's music and the verve of Gould's playing are spellbinding and sobering at the same time, they will never distract you into romantic sentiment, because they are always engaged in their awe-inspiring self-analysis.

There's nothing wrong with using Bach's music as a tool for studying, but I do think it is a misuse. I mean, it's like memorizing alphabet under the Sistine ceiling.

And I don't want to use Chopin either, the beauty in his music was too dazzling, what even worse is, you can always hear him giggling "screw you I can write such beautiful things based on almost nothing" in your face, when played by a great Chopinist like Horowitz. Study to Chopin is like doing math in a grand banquet.

Therefore I recommend Grieg's Lyric Pieces for solo piano. It's a perfect balance between clarity and beauty. Like a little cabin in the quite woods, in the morning light, after a snow.

This is a good "greatest hits" of these works on Spotify: Leif Ove Andsnes – Grieg : Lyric Pieces

This is the Spotify playlist of the BIS 10 CDs set, Edvard Grieg: Complete Piano Music Vol.1-3 are the complete Lyric Pieces. I have found that there are lots of scratches in CD 3, and have reported the problem to Spotify. Hope they will fix it soon.

This one is pretty good too, Philip Glass – Solo Piano, though maybe a little bit moody at times.

Some Mompou and Satie would also be great, here's two albums on Spotify: Herbert Henck – Federico Mompou: Música Callada and Peter Lawson – Satie: Piano Music

Compare to Bach's cathedral, this one is a nice little chapel that suitable for reading: Vladimir Spiakov – Arvo Pärt: Alina

Well the list could go on and and on, but you know what? By far the greatest piano music to study to is:

John Cage – 4'33''

Happy listening, and leave a comment if you have something to recommend, thanks:)


  1. Thanks a lot for these tips! I've been looking for some good classical music for studying, I've never tried it so I thought it might be time to give it a shot.

    Ironically, while I was looking for good music to study to I fell in love with Beethoven. I guess you could say that as I was trying to find music to help me study, I discovered something bigger, classical music. I've listened to Beethoven the whole night and I've also listened to some Mozart, which I liked too.

    Again, thank you so much!

  2. Thanks Alfred for your message!

    It's great to have a Dylan fan here, I cannot wait to see him live in HK this April.

    It's cool that Beethoven helps you to study, off the top of my head I can think of Symphony No.4, very high spirited, and the last three piano sonatas, some of the most introspective music ever written. Personnaly I cannot listen to him if I want to read a book at the same time, because even if I listen to him intently, many times I still feel that he is coming to grab me by the throat and slam me against the door:) He's really a tough guy to deal with but also offers lots of fun.

    By the way, you may want to try this Swedish clarinet virtuoso Martin Fröst's recordings,

    His Mozart clarinet concerto is the best one I've heard after Benny Goodman's, and his Nielson's concerto is a newly found gem to me.

    Happy listening:)

  3. Just wondering, can you recommend a version of Grieg's "Peer Gynt" to listen to on Spotify, preferably an instrumental version? All the ones I've tried having vocals on them. Thanks!

  4. You can search for Grieg Peer Gynt Suite, and the results would be instrumental only, like this one:

    and you can find the solo piano version in the playlist in this post above.

    In the Hall of the Mountain King is such a wicked tune, I like it more than Fritz Lang's M did;)

  5. I would just like to say thanks for the helpful tips and great collection of music to study to :)

    It surely helped with anatomy and microbiology.


  6. John Cage 4'33

    zomg, everytime I listen to that piece, I hear something different

  7. Nicely written. I love the way you drew us in with the poetic descriptions of Bach and Chopin. Never heard it described in quite so original and entertaining a fashion. I will definitely check out your recommendations.

    Particularly intrigued by the Phillip Glass suggestion. I've heard the John Cage work. Even performed it once. Titters turned to laughter, subsided into giggles - but by the time four minutes and thirty-three seconds had passed, you could hear a pin drop. Thanks again for the article.


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