Criteria: personal taste / experience, popularity, originality.

What is impressionism?

Impressionism was a movement in classical music which occurred during the transition from romanticism to modernism. It was in part a reaction to the intense, drawn-out pieces of the romantic era. It was also a period of heavy experimentation with minor keys and dissonance. Impressionist pieces are relatively short, and usually are meant to represent a specific scene (such as “the old castle”, “the swan”, “the tempest”, etc).

**1. Children’s Corner

** by Claude Debussy

Children’s Corner is my favorite album of impressionist music. It perfectly conveys the simple joys and amusements of childhood. All of the pieces have interesting uses of dissonance, diminished chords, and whimsical ornamentation. The most famous is probably “Golliwog’s Cakewalk”, which is commonly heard at piano recitals. The first piece, “Doctor Gradus ad Parrssanum” is also aimed at poking fun at Gradus ad Parrssanum, the textbook on classical counterpoint.

**2. Pictures at an Exhibition (1874)

** by Mussorgsky, later orchestrated by Maurice Ravel and others

Pictures at an exhibition is a textbook example of impressionism. It is based on a Russian art exhibit given during Mussorgsky’s time. It consists of ten pieces, and has a unique semi rondo type form, since it (randomly) alternates between a main theme, “The Promenade”, and the pictures. The promenade is supposed to represent strolling through the art gallery. The Old Castle is my favorite piece, and probably the most well known. It is also one of the most relaxing pieces of piano music ever made. Other movements are, The Gnome, A Polish cart on enormous wheels, drawn by oxen, Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks, Two Jews: Rich and Poor, French women quarreling violently in the market, __The Catacombs, etc.

**3. Bergamasque Suite

** by Claude Deubssy

Contains the famous “Claire de Lune” (“moonlight”).

**4. Six Gnossiennes

** by Erik Satie


  1. Trois Morceaux En Forme de Poire (“Three Pieces in the Shape of a Pear”)

** by Erik Satie

Pure Satie. One of his most original works.

**6. Trois Gymnopedies

** by Erik Satie, later orchestrated by Debussy

Marked to be played as “Lent et Trieste”, (slow and sad), Satie’s most popular work. Also a contender for most relaxing piano music of all time.

**7. Preludes

** by Claude Debussy

Contains “Dance of the Dolphins” and some more abstract dissonant works.

**8. La Mer (Three Symphonic Sketches)

** by Claude Debussy

“The Sea” for piano and orchestra

**9. Carnival of the Animals (The Zoological Fantasy)

** by Camille Saint-Saëns

Carnival of the animals is a collection of delightfully short pieces for piano and orchestra. Probably the most famous song is “The Swan”. “The Swan” captures the grace and relaxed composure of swans. The Aquarium piece is also very cool. Jokingly, there is also a piece called the “The Pianist”.

**10. Furniture Music

** by Erik Satie

This is Satie’s experimental background music for orchestra. It is not particularly great sounding but is important because it is essentially minimalism decades before its time. I have it ripped from vinyl if anyone is interested. I also have very rare electronic renditions.