COLUMN: Quarantine piano tunes


Photo by: Christopher Shin

Christopher Shin (’23) shares his piano tune recommendation during quarantine

Are you bored yet? We are officially past two months of self-quarantine at home this week!
I know how you all have been coping with your isolation at home for the past few months, slowly drifting apart from each other. So as an avid classical music listener and a part-time classical pianist, I wanted to share some of my thoughts about classical music every now and then throughout quarantine, hoping this helps compensate for your boredom by getting you into a whole new genre (more like world!) of music that many of you have not looked into yet.

Today, I’ll be giving some recommendations from my most favorite solo piano pieces that I have been listening to nonstop nowadays. Even if the pieces I’m recommending may not exactly be your style… don’t give up! There are whole centuries of music out there that you can explore. Again, I’m just recommending a few pieces out of my personal taste, but I truly hope you enjoy them and take a listen!

Beethoven Piano Sonata No.23, Op.57, “Appassionata”
Recommended Performer: Daniel Barenboim
When to listen: While doing homework or just reflecting during quarantine

Since 2020 is Beethoven’s 250th birth year, you should definitely take a listen to this piece sometime during the remainder of this year, at least to pay decent respects. Written around the peak of this bad boy’s career, Appassionata is truly mature throughout its progression, evoking a lot of different emotions. The first movement is thoughtful but also turns suddenly dramatic at times, which then moves on to a poetic and singing second movement, which is very tranquil and beautiful, exhibiting a variety of colors in the music. The masterpiece ends with a fiery and powerful third movement, revealing the energy and agitated personality of Beethoven, making the piece quite thrilling to listen to. The whole sonata is passionate, hence its nickname–Appassionata. If you’re not really into long pieces, you could just be satisfied with just one movement, which is plenty enough to show the worthiness of the piece.

Chopin Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise Brillante, Op.22
Recommended Performer: Martha Argerich
When to listen: When you really have nothing to do but still have some energy left for something fun

This piece is quite a unique one since it’s divided into two sections: a slower but more melodic Andante Spianato followed by a sharply contrasting energetic Grande Polonaise Brillante, truly living up to its name of being grand as well as brilliant. I think the sudden change from the singing beautiful melody to a dance-like military section is really what makes this piece so exciting. The overall mood is uplifting and playful, leaving you with a joyful feeling at the end. It’s a fun piece to listen to–makes me sway back and forth in the dance-like section–and I think most people will enjoy it.

Chopin Ballade No.1, Op.23
Recommended Performer: Krystian Zimerman
When to listen: When you’re studying or feeling nostalgic because you can’t hang out with your friends anymore

I think this is one of the most soulful pieces ever written for the piano. It exceeds what you would think are the musical and romantic limits of the instrument, leaving you emotional with all its different colors and drama. From nostalgia to pain to even heartbreaking glorious moments, I think it really expresses the human experience well, being one of my personal favorites to listen to.

Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody No.2
Recommended Performer: Lang Lang
When to listen: When your moods shift and you’re feeling real funky

This masterpiece by Liszt is by far one of his most famous works, appearing in many comedy shows, such as in Tom and Jerry as “The Cat Concerto”. It has a sarcastic but playful feeling to it, mixed in with that classic Hungarian dance vibe, making it a fun and interesting piece to listen to. It’s also satisfying to watch the pianist performing it slowly die and cripple as the piece rampages on with all its flying technical difficulties. It’s funny because at times you can almost picture Liszt thinking as he wrote the piece, “How can I make this piece even harder?”

Kapustin Variations, Op. 41
Recommended Performer: Nikolai Kapustin (composer)
When to listen: When you’re studying or just feel like vibing

To finish the list off, I have what’s not exactly “classical” but more of a jazzy piece. This piece consists of various styles of jazz in the form of variations (get the name?), each having their own color of excitement and fun, ending with a fast and vigorous finale that really caps off the piece. It’s one of my favorites and the piece I vibe with the most, being my current #1 piece on Spotify.