Robert Estrin - piano expert

What Instrument Has the Most Solo Repertoire?

An interesting question for any musician

In this video, Robert talks about an interesting subject. What instrument do you think has the most "solo repertoire"?

Released on August 14, 2019

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hi, this is Robert Estrin here at The question today is what is instrument has the most solo music written for it? Well, this one isn't even close. The piano reigns supreme as the ultimate solo instrument. With it's 88 keys, the ability to play complete orchestrations, it's pretty obvious why the piano is king of solo repertoire. Well, let's consider some other instruments for a minute. A clarinet, a flute, a trumpet, most of the music written that is solo music for other instruments indeed contain a piano part. And a lot of times the piano parts are actually as intrinsic as the other instrumental part. So they're really, truly duos even though they're classified as solo music.

Well, the violin certainly has an immense amount of solo repertoire written for it. Indeed, some of it is truly solo music from Bach Partitas to Paganini Caprice's. Yet, I would say that the piano has more music written for the solo piano than all other instruments combined. Now where did it start? It started with instruments like this early piano forte or forte piano, a Mozart era piano. Then even earlier than that, harpsichord music, the predecessor to the piano. Music was written for that, which is typically played on the piano today.

What were these instruments like? I'm just going to give you a little sampling. So the first piano music was written for this rather primitive instrument. It only has a little over five octaves of keys, no pedals, a very simple action mechanism, yet a punctuated sound that works very well for music of Mozart, Haydn and other contemporaries.

Well of course, these instruments need to be tuned pretty much every time you play them. So this doesn't quite do it justice. But, this is really the roots of true piano music. However, pianists have taken all the wealth of music written before the piano was invented. For example, Bach never wrote anything specifically for the piano. All of his music was written for the keyboard, the clavier. His favorite instrument was the clavichord, which is a very delicate instrument but very expressive. The most popular keyboard instrument for performance was the harpsichord. I have a harpsichord here. Once again, I didn't go and prep them for this video, but just so you get a taste. Listen to how the harpsichord sounds, a little bit of Bach, a little bit of the Italian Concerto

So that's a little bit of Bach on the harpsichord. That would typically be the instrument that this music was played on. Well what happens if we go over to the modern piano and play the same exact selections. I'm going to play a little bit of that Mozart C major a K545 for you first. This is what it sounds like on a modern piano.

So you can see that the music works quite well on the modern piano. If we play harpsichord music on it, then it'll also work well. The expressiveness of the piano works splendidly for Baroque music. Well, the interesting thing is the piano developed through Beethoven and to Chopin and beyond. And of course, the limits of the expression were expanded so Chopin could write music like this, which couldn't have been conceived on these earlier instruments.

So you hear the growth of the technology. This is one of the reasons that there's such a tremendous amount of music written for the piano because there were different instruments from the harpsichord to the early forte piano to the modern piano inspiring composers with this tremendous development of this massive instrument with the most incredibly diverse repertoire written for it.

That's the long and short of it, the most solo music of any instrument, the piano. Thanks for joining me. Robert Estrin here at
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Paul Niehoff * VSM MEMBER * on August 18, 2019 @4:31 pm PST
Hello Robert,
I have been a member of Virtual Sheet Music for 12 years and enjoy your talks greatly.
On the segment "which instrument has the most solo repertoire", as the final performance you played a part of a beautiful and familiar piece. Could you provide me with the title of it, as I cannot bring it to mind.
Thank you
Robert - host, on August 19, 2019 @12:03 pm PST
The final music played on the video is an excerpt of the first Ballade in G-minor by Chopin - one of my favorite!
Paul Niehoff * VSM MEMBER * on August 19, 2019 @4:51 pm PST
Thank you very much Robert.
I had downloaded this from the VSM site 12 years ago but had forgotten about it. I must give it a try.
Michael Prozonic * VSM MEMBER * on August 14, 2019 @8:52 am PST
I love watching your informative videos and enjoy your expertise but the low angle extreme close ups on this one freaked me out
Fulvia * VSM MEMBER * on August 14, 2019 @6:19 am PST
Would music written for the organ be a close second to the piano?
Robert - host, on August 15, 2019 @1:58 pm PST
If you are referring to music that has no piano accompaniment, organ could possibly be #2 in solo output. Otherwise violin has vast repertoire as do some other instruments.
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