While we are all able to enjoy listening to a piece that we simply like the sound of, many of us fail to realize that classical music comes in different forms.
Overall the oldest form of piano playing is classical piano music, which can be broken down into different types. These types include: concertos, sonatas, trios, quintets, and solos. A concerto is a piece that is made up of an orchestral ensemble in addition to a soloist or even a smaller group at times. A concerto is made up of three contrasting movements, such as fast, slow, fast; though this isn’t always exclusive. Mozart and Chopin both have pieces entitled Piano Concert No. 1 which fit this category.
Sonatas are usually made up of three or four movements.
Since the first movement is usually always in sonata form, it is usually made for a solo piano. A great example of this is Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. Next on the list is a trio, which is the most common type of chamber music. It is usually comprised of a piano, viola, and a cello; although a piano and two other instruments work just as well. In the trio the piano usually plays the dominate parts, with the viola often just playing the melody which the piano repeats. The cello in the trio is sometimes almost non-existent, generally just repeating the base line provided by the piano. Following this is a quintet, which consists of a piano along with four other instruments. The most common quintet consists of a piano with string instruments. The most common combination is usually two violins, a viola, and a cello. Unlike the trio and quartet which were established by composers in the eighteenth century, the piano quintet wasn’t established until the nineteenth. In fact, there were generally no pieces made for this pairing until the mid- nineteenth century when it became more common to use.
Last but not least is the solo. This has a sub-category all its own, consisting of: etudes, preludes, nocturnes, waltz, ballades, and scherzo. Each of these terms is easily explained, and not hard for classical enthusiasts to understand. First and foremost, etudes are the pieces that are designed to help train certain skills on a solo instrument; think of them as practice or study pieces. Preludes are short pieces of music that have no true form, and appear almost as if they have been improvised. Next are nocturnes which sound exactly like their name. They are simply pieces that have been influenced by the night. While a ballade is a dramatic large scale piece with only one movement. Finally come scherzos, which is what the movement is called in a large piece. In reality it isn’t necessary to know or understand exactly what type of classical music you’re listening to in order to enjoy it. Although knowing the terminology behind the music will make it easier to find new music to listen to, and to identify what you do and don’t like about a piece.