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Lonely Piano Piece

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For the best reading experience, play the music from this video while reading on.

Is the hero in a losing battle against the villain and on the receiving end of a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown? Have they been broken down? Does the grief of the realization that In the End, You Are on Your Own overtake them? Cue the lonely piano piece.

Basically, this is a piece of music that plays in a scene that represents that someone is left all alone and is stuck at a dead end with no allies or means of solving the problem at hand. The music is usually slow-paced and the notes are often lower pitched to show that the character has run out of momentum or that he or she has hit rock bottom.

While this can be done with just about any instrument, the piano just seems to be a particularly common instrument for these kinds of pieces. There are a number of likely factors why:

  • The piano is most widely known as a solo instrument. While there are plenty of pieces composed for piano with ensemble accompaniment (the piano concerto is a very well-known composition type in the Classical Music world), and it is not unheard of to have pieces meant to be performed by two or more piano players, either with each at their own instrument or all performing together on the same instrument (known as "piano four-hands", "piano six-hands", etc.), the idea of "one piano, one performer" tends to dwarf all other piano composition styles in the public consciousness.
  • The piano has a massive note range compared to most other instruments. There's a reason scientific pitch notation uses the piano keyboard as its basis: a standard piano keyboard contains 88 notes, which stretch from as low as the contrabassoon to as high as the piccolo. This huge range makes it much easier and more practical to get a variety of different sounds out of a single instrument.
  • It is extremely easy for a musician to play multiple notes at once on a piano keyboard in order to produce a richer musical texture. Woodwinds and brass instruments cannot play more than a single note at a time, which means you need more than one performer the instant you want to play anything more complicated than a standalone melody on an oboe or trumpet. Bowed string instruments like the violin do somewhat better on this point; it is certainly possible to play more than one note at once across different strings, but it's not the easiest thing for a string performer to do, and even if they can do it, you've only got four strings to work with. With a keyboard, however, you're pretty much only limited by the size of your hands and number of your fingers, meaning it's much easier to produce fuller sound and harmonization while still having only a single performer.

The violin or acoustic guitar are also common instruments for these kinds of pieces. The general timbre of string instruments lends itself well to emotional pieces even when not playing as one voice in the sea of a full orchestral string section (see World's Smallest Violin). The guitar, on the other hand, is a plucked string instrument with a relatively wide range and is almost as frequently played solo as it is in ensembles, thus making it suitable for solo pieces in much the same way (if not to the same degree) as the piano.

Subtrope of Simple Score of Sadness. If a character is constantly lonely, or even an entire cast, this may be a Leitmotif. The Lonely Piano Piece has a tendency to show up at funerals, especially when it's raining, or when it snows. Always expect Angst. If the story has a happy end, you can also expect You Are Not Alone. May play with the One-Woman Wail, though typically the Wail tends towards more epic points. Almost ALWAYS a Tear Jerker.

See also Playing the Heart Strings. May overlap with Sad Battle Music.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Naruto has "Sadness and Sorrow" which is played frequently, especially during the funeral scene.
  • Appears in the final battle of the Soul Eater anime after Maka and Soul wake up to find that the rest of their True Companions have all been defeated. Of course, they were asking for it, given how Soul both plays the piano and uses this for a literal Theme Music Power-Up.
  • Very common in Spiral, mainly because Ayumu, Kiyotaka and Eyes are all skilled pianists.
  • "Love Conservative" from Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. Like we need to be any sadder watching Nia disappear.
  • All of the Sunlit Garden pieces from Revolutionary Girl Utena.
  • Alies Grises would be a good starter, but practically all the music in Haibane Renmei would count.
  • A very beautiful piece in the Read or Die OVA when the bad guys get the MacGuffin.
  • The power of this trope might reach its penultimate level in the first episode of Noir, when Kirika is in Mireille's living room and the two are discussing Kirika's amnesia. Kirika's "alone in a crowd" theme is so brilliantly overpowering, the Lonely Piano Piece works even when she's not actually by herself.
  • "Elegia for Piano" from Hirano Yoshihisa's Ouran Highschool Host Club soundtrack is often used for this purpose in the series, particularly in uncovering the more depressing pasts of characters. "Sakura Kiss for Piano" is its sweeter brother and a touching recovery piece, also for solo piano.
    • "Nocturne pour Tamaki" is also a solo piano piece. The melody itself isn't necessarily sad, but the few scenes its played for aren't exactly joyous. Considering Tamaki's past, it gives off a more melancholy feel when its played.
  • "Will of the Heart" from the first Bleach soundtrack by Sagisu Shiro, and "Swan Song" from the second, though the latter is a guitar piece.
  • "A Mother's Love" from One Piece, first used during Robin's flashback to Ohara, where her mother was killed, and she was left on her own with no one to rely on, at the age of 8.
    • Done very literally with Brook. With the entire crew severely injured, they try to perform one last song for their whale pet. Everyone begins dying, leaving only Brook left playing piano, asking why they would leave only the accompaniment.
  • Cowboy Bebop does this with piano ("Adieu") less often than other instruments, like saxophone ("Goodnight, Julia"). Session five even manages it on a pipe organ ("Rain").
  • "Rakuen" from Wolf's Rain, which plays when Cheza disappears, leaving Kiba to die alone as the world ends, is heartbreakingly sad. However, once the strings come in and you realise there may still be hope, it becomes incredibly beautiful.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion, Rei's theme ("Rei I") is the epitome of loneliness, and appropriately so.
    • "A Hole in the Dream", "Passage of Emptiness", and "Reliance Leads to Falsehood" from End of Evangelion are two other such pieces (though the latter is played in violin). Several other tunes like that are tucked away in the S2 Works music collection. There are at least two piano versions of "Honeymoon with Anxiety" - the lonely one, and the really, really, REALLY lonely one.
  • One slowed down version of "Heart Moving" is played on a lone piano during the first season finale of Sailor Moon, when Usagi sits alone after all her friends have sacrificed themselves for her.
    • The piano rendition of "Heart Moving" was also used for the last scene of season two's finale when Chibiusa says her goodbyes to Usagi and returns to the future. There are other melancholy versions of songs used throughout the series, usually a rendition of one of the ending credits songs.
    • A quite popular one, "Mercury no Toujou" (based on La Follia di Spagna), is played in the very climatic episode 101 and through two different scenes. The first one features Haruka angsting over how bloodstained she is and Michiru comforting her via toying with her hands; the second has Ami, Rei, Makoto, Minako and Usagi thinking and angsting about the recent reveal that Michiru and Haruka are the Outer Senshi.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist (2003) has a simple yet heart-tugging piano solo, which coincidentally is titled "Alone".
  • Lyrical Nanoha
  • Hetalia: Axis Powers features this in the episode where the Axis Powers are alone on an island. You get a double whammy when it turns out that Austria was playing it, and realize that it could apply to him too.
    • The piano piece is Nocturne Opus 9 No. 2 in E Flat, by Frederic Francois Chopin.
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica has Decretum, Sayaka's theme which plays during the scenes where she's consumed by her despair.
    • "Inevitabilis" counts even more for being a literal Lonely Piano Piece, and for being a Dark Reprise of Homura's theme for when she finally breaks down and admits everything to Madoka before steeling her resolve for a lonely final battle.
  • Code Geass gives us "Unleashed", a somber tune meant to tug on the heartstrings. It is notable for only playing a few times in the show, such as for the flashback of Xingke making his promise to Empress Tianzi, Lelouch comforting the memoryless C.C. after she cut her finger, and Ohgi giving an Anguished Declaration of Love to Villetta despite knowing she wants to kill him. But it is best known for playing after Lelouch is fatally stabbed in his Thanatos Gambit by Suzaku, and finishes after he says his last words and dies.
  • His and Her Circumstances with character themes Yukino Miyazawa V (Nocturne) and Arima Souichiro I.
  • Fafner in the Azure: Dead Aggressor uses this, combined with One-Woman Wail, as a remix of the usual ending theme, Separation, to spectacular effect following Shouko's Heroic Sacrifice.
  • All over the place in Black★Rock Shooter anime, but especially in the OVA after Yomi disappears.
  • Nabari no Ou has a piano arrangement of the main theme that serves for such moments in the anime.
  • In the original Saint Seiya, one of these (named "Far Reaching Five Old Peaks") is heard as the empty Virgo Cloth reassembles itself after Ikki's Heroic Sacrifice to defeat its owner Shaka, all of this in front of the very shaken Shun, Seiya and Shiryu.
  • Much of the music in Umi Monogatari is this, to the point that tracks that aren't this tend to stand out.
  • Tenchi Muyo! has the piece "Royal Teardrop" that plays during sad moments. The name is also significant as its a flower from Jurai that is used for sad events.
  • GaoGaiGar FINAL had a slow, piano version of the series theme song "Yuusha-Oh Tanjou!" that played during the final episode. After everything that happened, it really fits.
  • Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex has the beautiful, haunting "i do" (yes, the name is in lower case).
  • Rurouni Kenshin:
    • The anime uses the Adagio Cantabile of Beethoven's Pathetique sonata as this, namely during Yumi Komagata's death scene and Kenshin's flashbacks as he visits a tombstone strongly implied to be his wife Tomoe's.
    • The filler Shimabara arc uses the Moonlight Sonata as this too, when Magdaria is playing it on her own and during the brief face-off between Shougo's Japanese Christian's group and the Japanese Army.
  • While Saigo no Yakusoku from Marmalade Boy is an image theme performed by Miki's seiyuu Mariko Kouda, it's worth noticing that it plays during some of the most dramatic scenes of the series (like Natchan's departure to Hiroshima and Miki breaking up with Yuu in the USA) and that it's mostly a piano song otherwise.
  • Kaguya-sama: Love Is War has "Souiu natsu (That kind of summer)," which played in episode 11 when Kaguya and Shirogane both go to the school on the off chance that the other might be there, only for Shirogane to arrive right after Kaguya left. It's played again in episode 12 during Kaguya's Heroic BSoD.

    Films — Animated 
  • "Victor's Piano Solo" from Corpse Bride, clearly playing off the theme of Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" mentioned below, until he's interrupted - and similarly, "The Piano Duet" starts this way, echoing the earlier scene, until it's turned right around by the characters.
  • The official soundtrack for Antz replaces "High Hopes" with a soft piano version of the main theme.
  • The film version of The Snowman has a piano version of 'Walking in the Air' playing when James realises his snowman has melted. What makes this all the sadder is that this is the end of the film, and the melody plays over the closing credits, leaving the audience alone to weep.
  • In Big Hero 6, a lone piano piece is playing after Tadashi's funeral, when Hiro sits lonely at the top of the stairs at home.
  • Befitting the sense of longing and distance the film conveys, the soundtrack for 5 Centimeters per Second is full of gentle, melancholy piano pieces. Distant Everyday Memories comes to mind.
  • Your Name has "Date", which plays during Taki's date with Miki, becomes this after it becomes apparent that the date's a failure. There is also the similar-sounding "Mitsuha's Theme" playing during the flashback to Mitsuha's trip to Tokyo where she initially fails to find Taki and, when she actually does so, it's a younger him who doesn't recognise her.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The JFK theme has one.
  • We get this in Road to Perdition during the gunfight in the rain late in the film.
  • Elmer Bernstein was the master of this trope. Listen to Far From Heaven and To Kill A Mockingbird.
  • The deeply haunting "Brooks Was Here" from The Shawshank Redemption.
  • "The Promise", the main theme of The Piano.
  • From Fame, there is "Ralph and Monty (Dressing Room Piano)"
  • Downfall features Stephen Zacharias' ''In The Courtyard of the Reich-Chancellory''.
  • The main theme of the 2007 I Am Legend has a notable piano part with solo sections. Thinking about it, the piano part may represent Neville's solitary existance surrounded by the evidence of his failure and memories of what once was, the strings brass and percussion parts.
  • The opening piano score from Bad Santa is oddly touching. Hearing Billy Bob Thornton monologue about how crappy a person he is while Chopin's Nocturn Op.9 No.2 plays is rather moving.
  • Battle Royale II has Memories, played by Shiori Kitano on a piano she finds in Shuya's base. As she plays, the scene cuts between her in the present, and her remembering how horribly she treated her father in years gone by.
  • "Home Movies" in the remake of Halloween (2007) and its sequel.
  • Clint Mansell's soundtrack for Moon uses mostly simplistic piano tunes, and the sad tunes work well in emphasizing the heart-breaking sadness of the main character's lonely moments.
  • Girl with a Pearl Earring had this as virtually its only incidental music, being very driven by silent, stoic acting from Colin Firth and Scarlett Johansson and reliant only on a meandering theme.
  • The Social Network has "Hand Covers Bruise", Mark's leitmotif for scenes in which he's at his lowest points.note  It won the film an Oscar for Best Original Score.
  • The Road: ''The Road'' .
  • Lincoln has the end of The Peterson House and Finale. Skip to 9:30.
  • Gravity most notably has the Aurora Borealis track.
  • The Sting features a piece called Solace, done both as a piano solo only and as well as an orchestral version. And yes, it's played during the rain.
  • The Pianist features one performed in-story. Szpilman, who has been hiding from the Nazis, starving, cold, and alone, is discovered by the Nazi officer Hosenfeld. On discovering that Szpilman is a musician, Hosenfeld requests a piece, and Szpilman hesitantly obliges with Fryderyk Chopin's haunting "Ballade in G Minor," to tremendous emotional effect.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
  • Interstellar has Message From Home, when Coop and company get back from checking out one of the prospective planets (which nearly killed them) and get back to the Endurance to find messages from his children on Earth, who, due to proximity to a black hole, have grown up in what was a matter of hours for him and have pretty much given up on ever seeing him again. Not a moment of lost hope, but definitely a low point.
  • A piano rendition of the Jurassic Park theme plays in the trailer for Jurassic World.
  • ''The Crypt'' from Anthropoid.
  • Cloud Atlas: "The Cloud Atlas Sextet" in the film is a twinkly Debussy-esque piece (in the novel, it was described as much more avant-garde). Although the full piece only shows up in the end credits, when it is played in the film proper, we mostly just hear the piano and violin sections.

    Live-Action TV 
  • There's the Buffy/Angel love theme "Close Your Eyes" that first plays as Buffy brutally smashes the Master's bones in "When She Was Bad", and continues to tinkle gently through a baker's dozen of other gut-wrenching scenes.
  • In Chojin Sentai Jetman has Maria, who constantly plays a tune on a piano. During the times when Maria is hurt or dying, this plays.
  • Community: In the Christmas Episode "Regional Holiday Music", Abed's suggestion that the gang might stand in for the glee club is met with deaf ears — as he's left alone, sad piano music plays — played by the head of the glee club.
  • In the Thanksgiving episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Greg is forced to work as a bartender on Thanksgiving in order to make sure his dad has good medical treatment. All alone, he sings "What'll It Be?" all about how he sick of West Covina and having to give up his dreams:
    ''Everyone's going home 'cause it's time to give thanks,
    Thanks for the chain stores and outlets and banks,
    Thanks for this town, three short hours from the beach,
    Where all of your dreams can stay just out of reach.
  • Over half the Tear Jerker sequences in Doctor Who. The other half is Playing the Heart Strings.
  • On Entertainment Tonight, whenever a tragic news story breaks out, a Dark Reprise piano version of the theme plays at the start of each episode.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • Subverted with "Light of the Seven" which plays during a sequence of quiet scenes building up to Cersei's Evil Plan getting carried out. The piece is initially this trope, later transforming into Playing the Heart Strings, an eerie Cherubic Choir, and finally Ominous Pipe Organ. The simplicity of each of the parts, as well as the use of piano, which is a first for the series, is in contrast to the rest of the soundtrack being composed of full orchestral pieces.
    • The trope is used in Season Seven with the piece "Winter is Here" which plays over a bleak scene of snowfall on King's Landing and helps set the tone for what is to come.
    • Used again to great effect in "The Night King" during the Battle of Winterfell, over Theon's death, and when the battle appears lost. Much like "Light of the Seven", the piece begins with soft piano music before building up into a full orchestra.
  • Red Dwarf actually did this with Rimmer in "Better than Life", but it was short lived, while he stands on the observatory, staring out. Lister comes up and the music stops, and a serious scene goes on. It works really well, especially for a comedy.
  • Sherlock has one of these as a recurring theme throughout the series that's usually played when referencing John's past (hence the title "War" on the soundtrack), but becomes even more of a Tear Jerker in The Reichenbach Fall when the theme is extended in the track "Prepared To Do Anything" and played when Sherlock steps off the roof.
  • On The Young and the Restless it's a cue that a serious moment is about to play out when the theme tune Nadia's Theme, starts plinking in the background.

  • The first movement of the "Moonlight Sonata" by Ludwig van Beethoven is often used for this when the soundtrack is not original.
    • In more ways than one.
    • Another Beethoven example is the second movement of his final sonata in C minor (No. 32), written 5 years before he died. After the dramatic first movement ends with the Picardie third leading straight into the second movement, this movement starts off with a much calmer theme that highly contrasts with what you just heard. The first few variations on that theme gradually get more intense until finally bearing a resemblance to modern boogie-woogie, immediately after which it quiets down and maintains a serene, lonely, ethereal quality throughout the rest of the movement right up to the end. What's more, Beethoven never wrote a third movement for this sonata (because he felt no need to, not because he died before he could finish it), so the entire sonata is over at that point, and the feeling persists. The feeling is intensified by the juxtaposition of the fact that, by this point in Beethoven's life, he was almost completely deaf and did not have long to live, and this is one of the last piano works he has ever composed.
  • Clair de Lune by Claude Debussy.
  • A non-soundtrack example would be X Japan 's Es Dur no Piano-sen by Yoshiki. On the Jealousy album, it is the first, introductory track to the album, to convey this kind of atmosphere, that of the lonely calm before the storm... literally, because the next track is Silent Jealousy.
  • Fleetwood Mac's Songbird was the closing song of their concerts for many years, played by Christine Mc Vie alone at a piano.
  • Tom Waits' is a master of these: Martha and Lonely from Closing Time, Tom Traubert's Blues from Small Change,...
  • Peter Gabriel's rehashed version of "Here Comes The Flood" from the album Exposure is the Lonely Piano Piece for the entire human race.
    • Not to mention "The Drop" from the album Up.
  • Singer-songwriters who are piano-based (e.g. Tori Amos, Regina Spektor, Rufus Wainwright) are likely to have songs like this. Rufus even has a whole album of lonely piano pieces (All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu).
  • Efterklang's song Mimeo on the Parades album.
  • Punk rock band Hüsker Dü had two on their concept album, Zen Arcade: "One Step at a Time" and "Monday Will Never Be the Same."
  • DHT - Listen To Your Heart (Unplugged version)
    • Likewise, the piano version of Groove Coverage's cover of "Moonlight Shadow".
  • BTS has their piano ballad "The Truth Untold," sung by the group's vocalists. Leader RM's playlist mono. has the opening track "tokyo," which opens with a piano melody using the Pentatonic scale.
  • Christina Perri's song "The Lonely" is entirely about this. It's just Christina and her piano singing about how all she has is the loneliness. Possibly subverted since the song is actually about her being in a relationship with loneliness.
  • Dream Theater frequently write songs like this, such as "Wait for Sleep," "Vacant," and "Far from Heaven."
  • Kate Nash with the songs Old Dances and Little Red
  • "From My Hands" by VNV Nation.
  • "A Little Bit Longer" by The Jonas Brothers
  • Elton John, "The Bridge".
  • Supertramp, "Downstream".
  • A rare organ example: Johann Sebastian Bach's chorale prelude Nun, komm', der Heiden Heiland (BWV 659) is quite dreary and sad compared to his other chorale preludes and has been described as one of his saddest works.
  • Erik Satie's "Gymnopédies" and "Gnossiennes" are this.
  • One Day I Will Fly by Evening Star.
  • "Is There Somebody Who Could Watch You?" by The 1975.
  • The first verse of "By the Grace of God" by Katy Perry.
  • Oneohtrix Point Never's "Replica" from the like-titled album has one serve as the basis, as more and more synth instruments are introduced throughout the song.
  • Epik High's "Over" and "Spoiler" have shades of this, and a lot of their instrumental pieces (e.g. "Forest" and "Ocean. Sand. Trees.") are basically these.
  • Aphex Twin has a few examples, namely "Avril 14th".
  • "Right Now, I'm in Love. -triangle story-" from HoneyWorks' Confession Executive Committee ~Love Series~ , conveying the singer's sadness at being left behind in the Love Triangle he's in.
  • Edguy has "Sands Of Time" (1995 version), "When A Hero Cries", and most of all the extremely sad "Standing In The Rain".
  • The Slower And Softer Cover of "Even in Death" (2016 version) by Evanescence turns a hysterical Grief Song about the loss of a loved one into somber one on piano and cello to make it more gentle and heartbreaking as well.
  • Vision Divine has "Of Light And Darkness" from Vision Divine.
  • Sarah McLachlan has a brief piece at the end of Surfacing entitled "Last Dance." A theremin's wordless "vocals" and a slightly out of tune, tinny piano evoke images of warm nostalgia.
  • "Into My Arms" by Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds has this feel, although the lyrics are surprisingly upbeat.
  • Benjamin Clementine's song "Cornerstone" is a piano ballad about both death and loneliness. Its chorus even begins with the lyrics "I am lonely".
  • Arca has several examples, but the pianos are either synthesized or heavily processed in bizarre ways. "Peonies" is probably the most straight-foward example, but others include "Held Apart" and "Gratitud", which is a lonely harpsichord piece.

  • Jekyll & Hyde had a few of these along with vocals, backing up "Lost In The Darkness", "No One Knows Who I Am", and "Sympathy, Tenderness".
  • In Spring Awakening there's a slow, sad piano-only accompaniment to Moritz's monologue before he commits suicide. Observant viewers will note that it's the piano that accompanied Ilse's half of their Counterpoint Duet.
  • Pippin: "I Guess I'll Miss The Man" is a Lonely Acoustic Guitar Song.
  • In the ballet Petrushka, the centerpiece of the 2nd Tableau is a pianistic depiction of Petrushka's loneliness.
  • Volta has the appropriately named "Lone Soul", played while Waz wanders the city among the Greys after being ostracized from the talent show because of his blue feathered hair. Also heard at the end of "The Bee and the Wind" and the beginning of "Inside Me", although the last song subverts this trope as it builds into a triumphant symphonic rock ballad during Waz's "Breakthrough" dance number.
  • The instrumentals for BTS's Jin solo song "The Truth Untold" are for the most part a very minimalistic piano piece. Appropriately, the song itself is about the story of a man who doesn't dare to show himself to the woman he's in love with because of his grotesque appearance, only letting her take flowers from his garden and watching her from afar.

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    Real Life 

You're leaving this page all alone? Cue the Lonely Piano while this page weeps at your absence.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): The Lonely Piano


The Lonely Man

'The Lonely Man' is a solo piano piece that ended almost every episode of The Incredible Hulk, and is probably the closest thing to an official theme the Hulk has ever gotten. It underscores the tortured roaming David Banner is forced into, and is usually accompanied by a lingering shot of David's slow, lonely walk down an empty road

How well does it match the trope?

5 (5 votes)

Example of:

Main / LonelyPianoPiece

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