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Is the hero in a losing battle against the villain and on the receiving end of a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown? Has he or she been broken down? Does the grief of the realization that In the End You Are on Your Own overtake him or her? 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 common instrument to do it with, perhaps because if there's ever a piano being played, there's rarely a second piano. The violin or acoustic guitar are usual replacements.
If a character is constantly lonely, or even an entire cast, this may be a Leitmotif. The Lonely Piano 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. See also Playing the Heart Strings.
Anime & Manga
- Naruto has "Sadness & 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 Shining 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 High School 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 Sagiso 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 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.
- Passage of emptiness from The End of Evangelion.
- 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 themself for her.
- Fullmetal Alchemist: The first anime has a simple yet heart-tugging piano solo, which coincidentally is titled "Alone".
- The track "Jewel Seed" from the Nanoha The Movie 1st original soundtrack.
- Axis Powers Hetalia 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.
- Puella Magi Madoka Magica has Decretum, Sayaka's theme which plays during the scenes where she's consumed by her despair.
- Code Geass: This song which plays during the following:
1) Xing-Ke's promise flashback
2) Cut finger scene (between Lelouch and C.C.)
3) Ohgi's confession of love
4) And, of course, Lelouch's last words before he dies.
- Higurashi no Naku Koro ni Kai has this with the piano versions of Monogatari, Michishirube, and a few others.
- Kareshi Kanojo no Jijou with character themes Yukino Miyazawa V (Nocturne) and Arima Souichiro I.
- Fafner in the Azure uses this, combined with One-Woman Wail, as a remix of the usual ending theme, Separation, to spectacular effect following Shouko's Heroic Sacrifice.
- 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.
- "Victor's Piano Solo" from Tim Burton's 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 Promise", the main theme of The Piano.
- From Fame, there is "Ralph and Monty (Dressing Room Piano)" (which this troper once performed at a high school music program recital).
- 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.
- Oddly enough, 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 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", which is the main theme and plays after Mark's girlfriend breaks up with him. The album won an Oscar for Best Original Score.
- The official soundtrack for Antz replaces "High Hopes" with a soft piano version of the main theme.
- The Road: The Road .
Live Action TV
- Partial Trope Namer, The Incredible Hulk's end piece "The Lonely Man".
- Over half the Tear Jerker sequences in Doctor Who. The other half is Playing the Heart Strings.
- Scrubs has a piece which repeats quite a lot.
- 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.
- An episode of Kamen Rider Den-O focuses on a nameless pianist, whose music is his rendition of the series' battle tune. The third iteration in particular seems quite lonely.
- 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.
- The end of the final episode of season 1 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer has the Buffy theme music being played over it, slowly, on a piano.
- The piece "Win One for the Reaper" from Lost plays during the funerals for most of the characters who died as well as during other sad moments in the series.
- The very end of the Warehouse 13 season 3 finale.
- 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.
- The first movement of the "Moonlight Sonata" by Beethoven is often used for this when the soundtrack is not original.
- 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.
- Tom Waits' is a master of these: Martha, Lonely, Tom Traubert's Blues
- Peter Gabriel's rehashed version of "Here Comes The Flood" from the album Exposure is the Lonely Piano Piece for the entire human race.
- 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).
- Oh Amanda Palmer...
"I think I'll wait another year..."
- Literal with Eric Carmen's (or should we say Rachmaninov's?) "All by Myself". Joo of Igudesman And Joo exaggerates this trope to its logical extent by playing and singing this song, slowly sounding more and more depressed, sobbing uncontrollably and singing unintelligibly by the end of the first chorus.
- 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)
- 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.
- Frank Wildhorn's Broadway musical 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.
- Dark Souls has a haunting, beautiful piano piece as the Final Boss battle theme.
- Oh god, Karma. It's as if despair became song.
- Whilst Kingdom Hearts literally gets it's only sustinence from this trope, the most notable example is what has the be the series ultimate woobie: Xion, from 358/2 Days. Not only is a lonely piano piece her main theme ("Musique pour la Tristesse de Xion": literally "Music for the Melancholy of Xion"), but the intro melody of that piece is used in the music of the final boss fight against her, "Vector to the Heavens", which itself is a lonely strings section piece in the grand tradition of Chrono Cross "Those Seized by Time" (from the Miguel boss fight), or, for a more traditional example, Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings" (most famously used in the film Platoon).
- When Bianca was getting told off by her father in Pokemon Black/White, an emotional piano song replaced the normal tune of Nimbasa City.
- Midna's Desperate Hour from The Legend of Zelda Twilight Princess. It's actually a variation on the Hyrule Field theme and Midna's theme.
- Though nothing 'terrible' has happened, the music the snowpeak ruins may qualify for the sheer lonliness of the Sound...
- Also a theme for Edlin Bridge in Super Smash Bros, though there it's Soundtrack Dissonance.
- Additionally, Farewell Hyrule King from The Legend of Zelda the Wind Waker.
- In The Legend of Zelda Majoras Mask, When you play the Song of Healing at the graves of Daruni and Mikau, a piano rendition of the same song plays through a cutscene where their spirits remember all the loved ones they can no longer help.
- In the first Resident Evil, Jill and Rebecca melodically play "Moonlight Sonata" on a piano in the Spencer Mansion.
- In Beyond Good and Evil, the very sad piano tune "Enfantes Disparus" plays when Jade returns home to her lighthouse and finds it's been destroyed, and "her" kids have been kidnapped--meaning that the bad guys have now kidnapped everyone dear to her.
- Cohen's Masterpiece in Bioshock... sorta. It serves as Cohen's theme, and loneliness is one of the themes. However, the main reason Cohen is alone is because he killed as many people as he could get his hands on to complete his artistic works, and the deranged theme matches that pretty well. And it's awesome.
- Final Fantasy:
- Final Fantasy IV has a sad piano remix of its overworld theme for the sad moments.
- Final Fantasy V has a sad piano and strings theme for the same purpose.
- Subverted and Averted with Aerith's Theme, which starts out sounding like it would be a lonely piano piece, before transforming into a soaring, almost triumphant orchestral theme.
- Final Fantasy X:
- It has "To Zanarkand". Unique in that it's the very first piece of music that plays in the entire game. A bit more uplifting than usual, though.
- However, "Via Purifico" (also known as "Path of Repentance" in more literal-minded translations) isn't upbeat at all. It plays in a labyrinth that's supposed to be a death sentence. Needless to say, things get better.
- "Somnus" the main theme from Final Fantasy Versus XIII is slow and soft, which contrasts the soaring lyrics, which talk a sleeping kingdom of everlasting night where the children are destined to suffer and eventually die.
- Chrono Trigger also similarly has a sad (or alternately, touching) theme, "In the Bottom of the Night", which starts solo piano and is later joined by strings.
- The game over theme, "No Hope", is a similar piece, but shorter and looped.
- Roxas's theme in Kingdom Hearts.
- "Kairi III" is her remixed themesong, at a chunk of the game where you couldn't feel more sorry for the kid.
- Bastila's Theme from Knights of the Old Republic.
- Muv Luv Alternative's "For You Who Departs" starts off as this. Then the strings join in. And then the One-Woman Wail.
- Deus Machina Demonbane has "Lament. After All, We Are Divine", which plays when the protagonists' hit rock bottom, as Arkham City lies devastated in the aftermath of Cthulhu's rampage, and Demonbane lies defeated and broken at the hands of Anticross.
- "Wingless" and "Fortitude" from Umineko no Naku Koro ni.
- The aptly-named "Sad Song" from the Super Mario RPG soundtrack.
- "Glass Soldier" in Iji, especially in the scene where Dan dies.
- One of the Eight Melodies in MOTHER 1 is a mysterious piano that lies in an abandoned mansion... Here it is, playing the melody once you find it.
- If you lose in Persona 3, a slower, down-key piano version of "Aria of the Soul" plays on the Game Over screen.
- If you get the bad ending in Persona 4, you also get a lonely piano piece. It's actually the music used in the true final dungeon.
- 'The Order That Must Be Protected' from Dissidia Final Fantasy, which is a variation of the Leitmotif that crops up here and there throughout the game. This tune is particlarly recognised because it plays during the cutscene that occurs after Terra defeats Kefka in the 'Shade Impulse' campaign, as it puts an emotional spin on the death of an otherwise Complete Monster Clown.
- Evil Twin Cypriens Chronicles does this during the final battle against The Master, after The Master kills SuperCyp.
- The Easter Egg song "Siege of Madrigal" in Halo, the unused song "Love and a Piano", "Heavy Price Paid" in Halo 2, and the last part of the credits music in Halo 3.
- Also, "Spartans Never Die", the music during the opening cinematic of the post-credits mini-level "Lone Wolf" in Halo: Reach. The first half of "Ashes" combines this with a One-Woman Wail. The piano section without the wail can be heard during the cutscene at the end of the first mission.
- Halo 3: ODST has a lonely sax that pops up every now and then, usually when the Rookie is traveling through the city by himself.
- From Halo 3: ODST, "Rain" is a prime example.
- The piano part of Unforgotten.
- "Keep What You Steal", which is reused in Reach when Six retrieves "the package"(Cortana).
- The piano version of "This Illusion", heard in every arc of Fate/stay night". The scenes manage to be remarkably Tear Jerker even in an already Utsuge-drenched story.
- "Magdalene" from Silent Hill 2, which is played after Maria's first death. The Dark Reprise of "Theme of Laura" also uses this, along with Playing the Heart Strings.
- Silent Hill: Shattered Memories uses the same sad song all the time.
- The "Event Failed" music in Pilotwings
- The Ending theme from Shadow the Hedgehog does this, after Shadow destroys the Black Comet and apparently decides to remain aboard Space Colony Ark. It's followed by Never Turn Back, possibly the best piece in the game.
- Heard in Do Don Pachi Daifukkatsu right before your carrier gets shot down and you fight Hibachi.
- The Game Over music in the Turbo Grafx 16 version of Valis 1.
- The ending to Ray Crisis. Since Ray Crisis is a prequel to Ray Force, Foregone Conclusion means that despite your success in shutting down Con-Human, the damage has already been done, and indeed, The War Has Just Begun. With the piano single as the background music, the lone pilot sorties off...
Narrator: "We managed to separate the human clone from Con-Human computer environment, but we could still not stop the violence generated by the Con-Human. Can we call the Con-Human and human clone a new life creation?. Are we supposed to destroy this creature? The humans who are fighting against their ominous fate will use their latest strategy, resulting in Operation Ray Force
- Mass Effect 1 has this aboard the Normandy after Kaidan or Ash dies.
- Shepard's death at the beginning of Mass Effect 2 has a lonely piano piece play over it. This Leitmotif comes up several times throughout the game, including after your crew is captured by the Collector raid and if Shepard dies during the Suicide Mission.
- Mass Effect 3 plays another piano piece during Normandy's escape from the Reaper-overrun Earth.
- In Lunar, a sad piano piece plays when you return to Burg after most of the villagers have been kidnapped for slave labor in the Talon Mine.
- In Metroid: Other M, the alternate title screen music is this. A more full rendition with strings in is near the end of the playable epilogue when Samus finds Adam's helmet and reminisces to the situation where Adam decided to sacrifice himself to save her.
- The death music in the original Rainbow Six.
- The World 3 background music from Super Mario Galaxy 2.
- Also, the ending music from Yoshis Island.
- Some examples from the Ace Attorney series:
- "Elegy Of The Captured" from Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney: Trials and Tribulations. It plays during the more serious visits to the detention centre.
- "Interview Tragicomedy", the Detention Center theme from Apollo Justice.
- "Doubted People", a Lonely Harpsichord Piece that plays when someone is wrongly accused and "Reminiscence - False Relations" that plays in the third case from Ace Attorney Investigations.
- CROSS†CHANNEL is full of piano pieces, but Crystal-clear and Fragile (Crisscross version linked to due to the original being missing,) fit the bill the most.
- In Amnesia the Dark Descent, we have Alexander's Ending Theme.
- The flashback to Snake's final fight with The Boss in Metal Gear Solid Peace Walker features a literal lonely piano version of "Snake Eater" to intensify Snake's feeling of loss in that moment. To put it into context, he has just confronted an AI with the voice and seemingly the personality of his mentor whom he had loved... and killed.
- Ace Combat 5 The Unsung War contains a song titled "15 years ago", which plays on only two occasions: during the appropriate flashback and during the optional quiet drama scene in the final mission, when you and your wingmen literally remain the only ones in the skies over Oured (not counting the Bonus Boss who can be ignored).
- The Tale of Alltynex trilogy mostly uses organ, but in its sadder moments the series whips out the piano.
- Sam & Max, shockingly enough. It makes Max's death so much more sad to see a lonely Sam helplessly wandering around the city mourning him.
- .hack//Outbreak plays a piano version of Aura's Theme as Kite stands lonely in Carmina Gadalica as he contemplates if he's making an already bad situation worse. The scene is even appropriately titled Lone Sheep.
- Two examples from Asura's Wrath are the Options theme (No, really), and Lamentation: Momentary End.
- In the SNES version of Sim City, the "bad approval rating" music is a lonely harp Dark Reprise of its "good rating" counterpart.
- Penny's theme and song from Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, as well the beginning of the final BSOD Song.
- Also significant in that her quiet theme is quickly drowned out in the ending credits by Horrible's dark symphonic one.
- The Nostalgia Critic has a Leitmotif of "Sad Romance", a sad violin instrumental.
- In the My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic episode "Putting Your Hoof Down", Fluttershy realizes that she Took a Level In Jerkass and walks back to her home to lock herself up while accompanied by a Suspiciously Similar Song version of "The Lonely Man".
You're leaving this page all alone? Cue the Lonely Piano while this page weeps at your absence.