Piano music, be it classical, jazz or pop is one of my life's great loves. However Chopin's piano music does very little for me, even though I acknowledge that it is beautifully crafted and the love affair of many talented pianists.
I can't entirely put my finger on why his music largely leaves me cold but, for want of a better way of putting it, I'd say it lacks a certain tonic crudeness that I love to hear in the compositions of a Bach, a Haydn, a Mozart, even a Schumann.
Music is about energy and I for one tend to derive more energy from works of the baroque and classical periods than the romantic and contemporary periods much as I adore some pieces from these last two artistic developments in classical piano.
I would rank my top ten (classical) piano/keyboard composers as follows:
- J.S. Bach: I simply have derived so much energy, inspiration and cheerfulness from so many of his pieces that this is a no brainer.
- Haydn: Haydn's piano sonatas have a purity, a playfulness, a clarity that I find more appealing somehow to Mozart's or even Beethoven's, which carry some of their characteristics.
- Beethoven: Beethoven's early piano sonatas are what I like to call "Haydn on steroids". My favourite Beethoven sonata is the Pastorale (op.28). I also like Sonata no.24 Für Therese and the all famous Pathétique, especially the first and last movement. I also love the middle movement of the Moonlight. However there is plenty in the Beethoven piano sonata corpus that I find inordinately dull. I only like one of his Bagatelles, the B Minor one.
- Mozart: I like the early Mozart piano sonatas for their cheer and classical purity but, as I said, I take more to Haydn's classical period sonatas than Mozart's. I do have a weak spot for some of Mozart's more famous (and ever so slightly cheesy) sonatas as well.
- Schumann: Schumann produced an inordinate amount of bland piano noise but occasionally generated true gems such as the first Fantasie stücke Des Abends as well as a very invigorating piano sonata (his first). And of course I'm rather fond of Arabeske and the first four pieces of his Symphonic Studies suite.
- Mendelssohn: Mendelssohn gains a place on this list by the sheer beauty of the first Song without words (which I intend to learn) and I also love the Midsummer Night's Dream Wedding March, a piano solo transcription of which I happen to have in my collection of tunes to learn
- Schubert: I don't care much for Schubert's piano sonatas (apart from the pearls that are the A minor one, no.16, and the B flat one, no.21) as I find that he constantly repeats chords making them beyond dull in some cases. But I love a couple of his impromptus (the second one from the first series and the first one from the second series) so he's earned a place on this list.
- Berg: like Mendelssohn this is on the strength of a single piece, namely Sonata Op.1
- Liszt: I love his first piano concerto perhaps second only to Bach's first keyboard concerto and the Sonata in B Minor contains some exquisite moments. I also enjoy his transcriptions of Beethoven symphonies, as I've heard them played by Glenn Gould.
- Chopin: Chopin is last on this list but I do have time for some of his Etudes as well as his first Polonaise. His first Ballade also contains an amazing passage even though I don't take to it that much in its totality. Most of the Nocturnes are also delightful and I for one prefer intimate Chopin to virtuoso Chopin. I find that I have long overdosed on the Preludes and never much liked them to start with.
Addendum - Having recently discovered the sonatas of Scarlatti and some keyboard pieces by Handel I would have to add those composers right after Haydn, thus demoting Liszt and Chopin at the bottom to 11th and 12th place respectively.