Let’s consider… whose first published work is “the best?” Yes, I know this is a very subjective topic, but since I’m writing it, I get to spout off.
Among music aficionados, this is a regular conversation. I haven’t seen any fist fights break out, but I’ve seen heated arguments! Being a piano man first and foremost, you can infer that instrument has the edge. On to my favorite Opus Number Ones!
#1: Brahms: Piano Sonata #1
Written at age 19, Brahms provides us with a wonderfully mature, 4 movement work. He had me in six seconds!
His sonatas #2 and #3 are performed quite a bit more. But all three are GREAT! I will always have a soft spot in my ears for #1. Legend goes that Brahms visited Robert Schumann’s house and played the start of it for him. Shortly into the work Robert ran from the room without a comment. Brahms thought he had fallen short. Until… he heard Robert yell to his pianist wife Clara, that she must come at once to hear a genius!
#2: Robert Schumann: Abegg Variations
At age 19 Schumann wrote the beautiful, palate clearing Abeggs. They don’t sound like variations as much as they sound like great piano music. At just over seven minutes long, they’re not as monumental as Brahms’ Sonata #1. But the beauty is there for sure!
I know #2 doesn’t count but Schumann’s Papillons is nothing short of magic and it’s right in line with the Abeggs.
#3: Beethoven: Piano Trios E Flat & G Major
LVB waited till age 22 to bowl the world over with an opus one for the ages. You could easily put these trios as the best #1 ever and you’d get NO complaints. With the array of instruments and the length of TWO trios, it’s hard to NOT call these #1.
Listen to the structure and beauty! But I’m still giving the nod to Brahms and Schumann because I’m a piano snob and to do so much with ONE instrument sub age 20?!
#4: Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto #1
Written at just under 18 as a student, this has many of the hallmarks for Rach’s more popular and later concertos. Known for a huge, thick, romantic sound, Rach is right there with the best of #1s. Piano with orchestra is complex to say the least. To produce this epic at age 17 is astounding.
#5: Mozart: Sonata for Keyboard & Violin
Written at about age 8… maybe Mozart wins for that alone! His genius knew no bounds. His improvisational skills are legendary. Without recording equipment… we surely missed untold greatness. The same can be said for LVB. But nobody was as precocious as Wolfy.
#6: Paganini: 24 Caprices
At 35 Paganini’s caprices helped shape the future of what the violin could/would be. Known more as a performer than a composer- Paganini would go on to create incredible violin concertos as well.
#7: Schubert: Erlkonig
While a beautiful melody with driving piano, Schubert (18) didn’t write the words (von Goethe did) and.. they’re a bit silly for me to rate best of all.
#8: Bach: Six Partitas
Classic works that stand the test of time. Great structure, instrument portending, but for me, more mechanical than beautiful.