11 of the most relaxing pieces of piano music

25 August 2020, 10:42 | Updated: 22 October 2020, 14:32

Pianist Khatia Buniatishvili relaxing piano pieces music
Pianist Khatia Buniatishvili. Picture: Getty

By Rosie Pentreath

Classical music is a preference, nay a proven tool, for relieving everyday stress and boosting mental health. Here are the best pieces of piano music to help you find some calm.

Classical music is a proven tool for relieving everyday stress and boosting mental health.

And there’s nothing quite like the soft depression of a piano key, gently lowered to start a relaxed piece, that cuts through the noise and brings instant calm.

From a carefully-paced Debussy prelude, to a gentle movement from a Beethoven sonata, the piano has been treated to some of the greatest composers’ most beautiful and calming music.

So nestle into a comfy spot on the couch, grab your favourite brew, lie back, and unwind with these brilliant – and brilliantly relaxing – pieces of piano music.

Read more: The 16 best pieces EVER written for piano >

  1. Ludovico Einaudi: I Giorni

    Anything by Einaudi is a real relaxer. But ‘I Giorni’, with its lilting lines and major key comfort is a true gentle treat.

    It’s all about beautiful simplicity with Einaudi: he picks the best keys, finds a way to wrap the loveliest note combinations around them, and repeats the winning formula again and again in little oases of piano calm.

  2. Claude Debussy: Clair de Lune

    One of Debussy’s best-known works, ‘Clair de Lune’ (‘moonlight’) is a movement from the French Romantic composer’s Suite Bergamasque.

    The impressionistic piano miniature has an instantly recognisable opening, and swells into a gently swirling flurry of notes, as light as a cloud. The piece is featured in many films, including Twilight and Ocean’s Eleven.

  3. Philip Glass: Glassworks (I. Opening)

    A master of modern minimalism, Glass’s repetitive and beautiful compositions can having a calming, if not truly hypnotic, affect.

    Glassworks is a 1982 composition for chamber ensemble, released as a “Walkman-oriented” album rather than just inside the confines of the classical mainstream.

    The first movement, with the reliable moniker “opening”, is mostly for piano (a horn comes in at the end) and we couldn’t resist including it here. We challenge you not to be immediately calmed.

    Read more: Research shows huge surge in Millennials and Gen Zers streaming classical music >

  4. Frédéric Chopin: Prelude in E minor

    If you like your relaxation with a tinge of sadness, opt for Chopin’s heart-wrenching but incredibly beautiful Prelude No. 4 in E minor.

    Sometimes the simplest pieces can be the most effective, and that’s true of this moment of sad stillness from a piano master.

  5. Ludwig van Beethoven: ‘Moonlight’ Sonata (first movement)

    Another moment of sombre calm, Beethoven’s famous ‘Moonlight’ Sonata has a first movement worthy of any amount of deep reflection.

    The undulating triplets are grounded by a stately, unhurried melody line and the overall effect of the moving passages – still utterly calm – working against the totally un-rushed bass makes for the calmest of calm slumbers.

  6. Edvard Grieg: Piano Concerto in A minor (second movement)

    If you want to bring some orchestral warmth into your relaxing piano choices, Grieg is a good way to go.

    The second movement of Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor is a balm against the noisy, hurried world outside, and will grant you a moment of soothing beauty and profound thoughtfulness. The piano’s opening melody especially is calming and glittering – simply irresistible.

  7. Hans von Bronsart: Piano Concerto in F-sharp minor (Second Movement)

    Sticking with piano concertos – and the middle movement of Prussian Romantic, Hans von Bronsart, is really lovely.

    It opens with the gentlest, pastoral strings, and the piano keeps the timbre soft, sumptuous and only ever soothing. Sublime.

  8. Erik Satie: Gymnopédie No.1

    Lilting bass, well chosen chords – and then that wonderful floating melody above.

    Satie’s Gymnopédie is instantly restful and serene. This one is guaranteed to make any moment tranquil, and perfectly reflective.

  9. Michael Nyman: The Heart Asks Pleasure First from ‘The Piano’

    Michael Nyman uses the most beautiful chords and swirling semi-quavers in his theme for 1993 film, The Piano.

    A mute Scottish pianist, Ada, and her daughter find themselves on a New Zealand beach after Ada is sold into marriage. She slowly falls in love with a Māori acquaintance of her husband’s – and the theme music perfectly illustrates Ada’s loss, longing and inner conflict.

  10. Arvo Pärt: Variations for Arinuschka's Recuperation

    Arvo Pärt is an absolute master of stillness and sombre calm, in the most simple yet dazzlingly moving music there is.

    The Estonian composer makes no exceptions in his works for the piano, with enough space given between phrases and notes to make for an existential calm like no other.

  11. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Piano Sonata No. 12 (second movement)

    The second movement of Mozart’s Piano Sonata No. 12 has the lilting quality of a lullaby.

    It opens in a soft major key, and then switches to an even softer and slightly dark minor key, which adds an existential element perfect for pondering the true meaning of all this bustle.

    Better just to lie here, and let calm wash over you…

Looking for more relaxing music? Listen to the Classic FM Relax playlist on Global Player.