Nielsen's earliest piano works were unpublished: an unfinished sonata and a pair of Character Pieces, FS 3f, all dating from the 1880s. The Five Pieces, Op. 3 were his first published piano music. Three of them, Nos. 1, 3, and 4, were written during a trip to Berlin; the other two were composed back home in Copenhagen.
Nielsen had yet to find his characteristic voice when he wrote these pieces. Probably the most useful comparison would be to Felix Mendelssohn's Songs Without Words, along with the Lyric Pieces of Grieg and like pieces by fellow Scandinavians Gade and Hartmann. Certainly the most unusual of these pieces is the "Arabeske", which Nielsen felt was his most original composition to date. It features a prefatory motto from Danish poet Jens Peter Jacobsen (1847-1885), a friend of the composer's: "Have you lost your way in the deep woods? Do you know Pan?" The music is curiously abrupt; the sudden ending might be taken as a musical evocation of Pan's mercurial character. Otherwise these pieces are attractive if comparatively ordinary; Nielsen liked the "Elf Dance" so much he reused it in his incidental music for the play Herr Oluf, han rider (FS 37).