10 Of The Saddest Classical Piano Pieces Ever Written

Written by Dan Farrant
Last updated

When most people think of classical music, they think of happy, uplifting pieces that make them feel good. But there is another side to classical music—a dark and somber side that can make listeners feel sad and depressed.

Some of these pieces will make you weep openly, while others will simply leave you feeling deeply melancholic. If you’re in the mood for some truly depressing music, then read on to take a look at 10 of the saddest classical piano pieces ever written.

1. “Piano Sonata No. 9” By Alexander Scriabin

When people think about sad classical piano music, Scriabin’s Piano Sonata no. 9 is usually near the top of the list. It’s a dark and foreboding piece that is sure to leave you feeling melancholy.

The opening chords are particularly depressing, setting a tone of despair that carries throughout the entire piece. This feeling of sadness never resolves, which could be described as the ultimate sadness.

There is a reason why this piece is given the nickname “Black Mass,” and as the sad melody continues to get sadder and sadder, it may make the hair stand up on your neck and back.

2. “Prelude In E Minor” By Frédéric Chopin

Frédéric Chopin’s Prelude in E Minor is another sad piano piece. The page-long composition is sure to leave you feeling depressed.

The opening melody is haunting and beautiful, but it also has a deep sense of sadness. This feeling only gets stronger as the piece progresses, with the addition of some very dark and depressing chord progressions around the simple melody.

The end of the piece is particularly sad, as the melody seems to just fade away into nothingness. This could be seen as a representation of hope fading away, which is a very depressing thought.

You can imagine Chopin writing this piece in the midst of his health issues from tuberculosis, which eventually led to his death at the young age of 39.

3. “Piano Concerto No. 2” By Sergei Rachmaninoff

If you envision sad classical music, some of the most famous melodies from Sergei Rachmaninoff may come to mind. That includes his Piano Concerto no. 2, which is incredibly sad.

When it was released, there were some people who were genuinely worried about his emotional health. It feels like the entire concerto is reaching for something brighter as it unfolds, but it never quite reaches it, creating a lonely, bleak environment.

Even though this concerto certainly has a few twists and turns along the way, it can never be described as happy.

4. “Prelude In B Minor” By Frédéric Chopin

Frédéric Chopin has a lot of preludes that qualify as sad, and his Prelude in B Minor certainly falls under the list.

At the piece’s beginning, it feels like the main character is thinking about something dark. It’s probably because the melody is carried by the left hand in the bass of the piano’s range.

Then, as the piece progresses, it just turns darker and darker with a few brief hints of hope. However, every time the main melody returns, it is obvious the composer continues to feel even sadder.

Prelude in B Minor is only two minutes long, but it will certainly have you thinking about some of the saddest experiences in your life.

5. “Gaspard De La Nuit” By Maurice Ravel

Next, we have Gaspard de la Nuit by Maurice Ravel, which is one of the most challenging classical piano pieces of all time, so it can be sad in more than one way.

The first thing you’ll notice is how dark and foreboding the opening is. It’s like something out of a nightmare, which is only fitting given the title of the piece (which translates to “Treasurer of the Night”).

Gaspard de la Nuit only gets darker from there, with some very dissonant chords that are sure to keep you up at night with Ravel’s unique and impressionistic style.

6. “Funeral March” By Frédéric Chopin

Up next is yet another piece by Frédéric Chopin (we’re detecting a theme here). The third movement of his Piano Sonata no. 2, a.k.a. the “Funeral March,” is the epitome of a sad piano piece. An iconic piece, it was even played at composer’s own funeral.

It starts off slow and somber, with a feeling of hopelessness. The extensive use of minor keys, dissonant chords, and chromatic harmonies adds a sense of darkness and emotional weight. These harmonic choices amplify the pathos and intensify the feeling of grief throughout the composition.

The “Funeral March” does have an interlude in a major key that offers some respite from the darkness. However, it doesn’t last for long as it is quickly swallowed up by the sadness of the minor key as it returns to the main theme.

6. “Sonata No. 17” By Ludwig Van Beethoven

Also known as the “Tempest Sonata,” Sonata no. 17, by the German composer Ludwig van Beethoven, is next on our list of classical piano pieces that are sad.

This sonata was composed during a very dark period in Beethoven’s life. He was beginning to lose his hearing, and you can hear that pain, suffering, and anxiety come out in this sonata.

Made up of three movements, the third adagietto movement is probably the saddest sounding. However, the entire sonata leaves you feeling very uneasy as if something bad is going to happen. And given Beethoven’s circumstances, it’s not hard to see why.

7. “Gymnopédie No. 1” By Erik Satie

There are plenty of sad piano pieces from the mind of French composer Erik Satie, and his Gymnopédie no. 1 is one of them, which he completed in 1888.

With a relatively simple and sad melody that many people can relate to, some people believe the piece sounds like someone getting ready to go off to war with all the sad anticipation of what’s to come.

Satie’s use of unconventional chord progressions and unresolved dissonances adds to the sense of sadness and contemplation. The harmonies often convey a bittersweet quality, blending moments of delicate beauty with subtle hints of underlying melancholy.

8. “Romance Des-dur Op. 24 No. 9” By Jean Sibelius

Next, we have a piece by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, whose Romance Des-dur is certainly sad sounding.

Although it’s meant to be about a romance, the piece has a lot of ups and downs. To us, it doesn’t sound like a particularly happy relationship, more like a heartbreak than an exciting love interest.

The beginning of the piece is very melancholic, with a feeling of longing and sadness. This only gets worse as the piece goes on, with some very dissonant chords that add to the overall sense of unease.

9. “Liebesleid” By Fritz Kreisler

Even though Fritz Kreisler‘s Liebesleid is not a piece that is meant strictly for piano, there is certainly a powerful piano arrangement from the mind of Rachmaninoff.

When the piece’s title is translated literally, it means love’s sorrow, so it is obviously meant to be a sad piece. The main melody features a descending chromatic line that evokes a sense of yearning and melancholy.

With many layers, Liebesleid cycles through happy moments. However, throughout the piece, there is a feeling of loss and nostalgia, as if the main character is looking back on a lost love.

10. “Moonlight Sonata” By Ludwig van Beethoven

And finally, while we’ve already mentioned one piece by Beethoven on this list, we simply cannot leave out his “Moonlight Sonata,” specifically the first movement.

This sonata is one of Beethoven’s most popular works, and it’s easy to see why. It is incredibly beautiful but also incredibly sad, emoting feelings of grief and loss. The slow and sustained tempo creates a sense of lingering sadness.

It is thought that Beethoven wrote this about one of his piano students that he loved. But, sadly, his feelings were not reciprocated.

Summing Up Our List Of Unhappy Piano Pieces

That wraps up our list of sad piano pieces. We hope you enjoyed reading it, if enjoy is even the right word to use…

Whether you can enjoy these pieces or not, it’s clear to see that the piano has such a wide range of emotions and is the ideal instrument for sad classical music.

But, this list is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to sad piano repertoire. There are so many other pieces out there.

Which ones did we miss off that you think should be on our list? Let us know, and when we update this post, we’ll add them in.

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Dan Farrant, the founder of Hello Music Theory, has been teaching music for over 15 years, helping hundreds of thousands of students unlock the joy of music. He graduated from The Royal Academy of Music in 2012 and then launched Hello Music Theory in 2014. He plays the guitar, piano, bass guitar and double bass and loves teaching music theory.