The Great Sonata Ranking (in case you missed it last year)

About this time last year I was finishing up a multi-week exploration of the greatest piano sonatas from each period from Classical to contemporary. This topic may not be as cosmically significant as the Spider Nebula (pictured above), but I think it’s worth discussing in the piano community. I always meant to create a landing page with links to each article, so here it is now.

Reflecting on the results, is there anything I would have changed? Yes. In the Classical section, I might have listened to more Clementi and Hummel, though I don’t think it would have changed the outcome. In the Romantic ranking, I would have swapped out Scriabin Sonata 3 and replaced it with 4. I think I was just too obsessed with the slow movement of No. 3 at the time. It’s Scriabin. It happens. In the contemporary section, I could have given more consideration to Lowell Liebermann, Chris Dench (whose sonata is over 90 minutes long), and a few others who have clearly made some serious accomplishments. It’s still a little disappointing that nothing in that category was later than 1949. Maybe in a few years we’ll have a new masterpiece that changes the game.

Also worth mentioning: the biggest “hidden gem” on this list is the Dutilleux sonata. It was in a really tough race for the #3 spot with Barber. If you haven’t heard it, I genuinely believe that a first-time listening will blow you away.

I hope that by bringing up this ranking again I can foster some discussion. Feel free to argue! Campaign for your overlooked favorite!

THE TOP 5 SONATAS FROM EACH PERIOD

CLASSICAL

#1: Beethoven – Sonata No. 29 in B-flat Major “Hammerklavier,” Op. 106

#2: Beethoven – Sonata No. 32 in C minor, Op. 111

#3: Beethoven – Sonata No. 23 in F minor “Appassionata”, Op. 57

#4: Mozart – Sonata in A minor, K. 310

#5: Haydn – Sonata in E-flat Major, Hob. XVI/52

ROMANTIC

#1: Liszt – Sonata in B minor

#2: Schubert – Sonata in B-flat Major, D. 960

#3: Brahms – Sonata No. 3 in F minor, Op. 5

#4: Chopin – Sonata No. 3 in B minor, Op. 58

#5: Scriabin – Sonata No. 3 in F-sharp minor, Op. 23

CONTEMPORARY

#1: Charles Ives – Sonata No. 2 “Concord, Mass., 1840–60” (1915)

#2: Sergei Prokofiev – Sonata No. 6 (1940)

#3: Samuel Barber – Sonata, Op. 26 (1949)

#4: Henri Dutilleux – Sonata (1948)

#5: Alban Berg – Sonata (1910)

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