Most great composers of piano music lived 100, 200, and even 300 years ago, so it’s understandable that modern pianists would look for 21st century music to play. Here is a brief guide to recent composers who have published piano music – we hope you find it helpful.
If you are serious about playing modern piano music at a high level, contact our piano teachers in NYC. We provide lessons in our Manhattan studio and in student homes, and we would be happy to share our knowledge of piano literature with you as you seek rewarding repertoire to play. We also offer in-home piano lessons in the Upper East Side and Upper West Side.
Australian composer Carl Vine is renowned for his captivating piano music, which is characterized by its rhythmic energy, technical demands, and emotional depth. His piano works, such as the “Piano Sonatas” and “Five Bagatelles,” showcase his innovative approach to harmony and form, creating a unique and engaging musical language that resonates with audiences worldwide.
He started widely publishing his piano sonatas in the 90s, but he wrote his well-known piano concertos in the 21st century. His piano sonata, in particular, is unique, challenging, and fun to play.
Einaudi, perhaps best known as the composer for the music of the British TV show Doctor Zhivago, has written a number of pieces for the piano. His piano compositions can best be described as atmospheric, and perhaps even “world music,” and they are not technically challenging. They can be an interesting exercise for pianists who want to collaborate with cellists or percussionists, as his music often includes other instruments. He makes the list because he started his career as a serious composer (rather than a “pop” composer, so to speak), although his modern compositions tend to sound like filler music or film soundtracks.
Here is a video of Einaudi performing in the Royal Albert Hall
One of Adès’ best known works for piano, Darknesse Visible, is a fascinating exercise in finger independence and voicing. He evokes unique textures out of the piano, and the perpetual trill throughout most of the piece is technically demanding.
Adès’s music is characterized by its complexity and stylistic diversity, drawing from various musical traditions and experimenting with unconventional structures and textures. His piano works, such as “Traced Overhead” and “Darknesse Visible,” demonstrate his mastery of the instrument and his ability to create rich, multi-layered soundscapes that challenge traditional notions of piano music.
Nico Muhly is notable enough in the contemporary composition world to include one of his pieces of piano music, “A Hudson Cycle,” on the list. It’s a moody work that doesn’t necessarily have many technical demands, therefore making it accessible to intermediate pianists who would like to play something outside of the mainstream.
Tigran Hamasyan, an Armenian pianist and composer, has made a significant impact on contemporary piano music with his fusion of jazz, classical, and Armenian folk music. Hamasyan’s virtuosic playing and innovative compositions, such as “The Poet” and “Fides Tua,” showcase his unique voice and ability to create a deeply personal musical language that transcends genres.
Here is a video of Fides Tua – it does have some toccata style elements that could challenge early advanced pianists.
Perhaps the leading American Composer of our day, Jennifer Higdon often includes the piano in her chamber music. In “Scenes From the Poet’s Dreams,” Higdon includes a challenging and rewarding piano score – you will need friends who play violin and cello, but the effort is worth it.
Should a Pianist Even Bother With Contemporary Music?
This is a fair question, considering how most 21st century piano music sounds like soundtrack material or a Philip Glass knockoff. However, some of it (mentioned above) is interesting and rewarding.
For Technical Development, Look Elsewhere
Generally speaking a piano teacher will work through Baroque, classical, romantic and 20th century music to help you develop as a pianist. That’s because more traditional music treats the piano as a soloist rather than ensemble instrument, and the technical and musical demands are much greater. Carl Vine and a select few other composers would be the exceptions to this rule.
But if you want to function as a contemporary keyboardist, or if you are supplementing your repertoire with a more musically diverse set of pieces, certainly add some contemporary music to the mix.
There is Plenty of “Modern” Piano Music That Doesn’t Get Much Play
Speak with your piano teacher if you want to explore music off the beaten path. Believe it or not, Nuages Gris (Grey Clouds) by Franz Liszt is often regarded as one of the first contemporary pieces of piano music, and it is a fascinating departure from the thunderous solo piano works he’s known for.
Scriabin’s music also doesn’t get much attention in the 21st century, particularly for two reasons:
- His scores are challenging to read and interpret, thereby excluding them from the minds of most amateur pianists
- His music isn’t an “audience favorite” like Beethoven and Rachmaninoff, so pianists like Yuja Wang and Lang Lang won’t be performing it very often
That said, his piano works are fascinating to play and listen to, and his music pushes the boundaries of romantic music to the point where it’s downright contemporary from time to time.