Most Difficult Piano PIece?

Posted by: LauraJ

Most Difficult Piano PIece? - 05/16/03 11:27 AM

Ok, here's a test. One of my students asked me what is the most difficult piece of piano music in the world? As if one advances piece by piece in difficulty until you reach the pinnacle: The Most Difficult Piece. I explained it wasn't quite like that - however, I'm intrigued. A couple pieces come to mind, but what do you think? Which piece is the winner? And who has performed it?
Posted by: Mathilde

Re: Most Difficult Piano PIece? - 05/16/03 11:31 AM

Honey, the most difficult piece in the world is always[/b] "the new one".

\:D

"Oh, I'll NEVER learn to play this..."
Posted by: valarking

Re: Most Difficult Piano PIece? - 05/16/03 12:21 PM

Some people say Gaspard Le Nuit is very hard.
Ligeti's stuff is VERY difficult.
Posted by: Kreisler

Re: Most Difficult Piano PIece? - 05/16/03 01:20 PM

I usually cast my vote for the first Rachmaninoff sonata (blows the third concerto away), the 2nd Boulez sonata, the Barraque sonata (similar to the Boulez), or the 2nd Bartok concerto.

There's a lot of "unplayable" repertoire out there...especially 20th century stuff. I'd say the most difficult work you regularly hear in concert are probably Ravel's Gaspard and the 3rd Rachmaninoff concerto - those two tend to be the most often played at the music schools and conservatories I've attended.

(Of course, there are those who will argue that the students playing those works couldn't put two phrases of Mozart together in a convincing way, but that's another story...)
Posted by: Orlando Gibbons

Re: Most Difficult Piano PIece? - 05/16/03 01:46 PM

I'll go with an oldie - comparatively speaking - Feux Follets. Especially in the 2nd version of the transcendental etudes. Rachmaninoff thought this to be the most difficult piece, too.
Posted by: shantinik

Re: Most Difficult Piano PIece? - 05/16/03 02:01 PM

Cage's 4:33. (At least for my daughter -- she could NEVER manage it. ;\) )
Posted by: mkesfahani

Re: Most Difficult Piano PIece? - 05/16/03 02:37 PM

How about Islamey by Balakirev?

Mike
Posted by: LauraJ

Re: Most Difficult Piano PIece? - 05/16/03 02:47 PM

OK, keep 'em coming. I'm going to take a vote and present her with the answer next week. It'd be nice to have a recording, but we'll see what's possible.
Posted by: valarking

Re: Most Difficult Piano PIece? - 05/16/03 03:26 PM

 Quote:
Originally posted by mkesfahani:
How about Islamey by Balakirev?

Mike[/b]
Used to be til all those contemporary composers came and made stuff hard for the sake of being hard.
Posted by: nickyg

Re: Most Difficult Piano PIece? - 05/16/03 03:48 PM

Horowitzs Carmen Variations are certainly pretty tricky, while maybe not the most difficult ever it is certainly the most flashy and show-offy.
Posted by: nickyg

Re: Most Difficult Piano PIece? - 05/16/03 03:49 PM

Maybe not 'certainly' but I know what I mean.
Posted by: Renauda

Re: Most Difficult Piano PIece? - 05/16/03 03:50 PM

Works by Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji (1892 - 1988) are diabolically difficult- a lot of it has never been recorded or even played before in recital. In particular Opus Clavicembalisticum all 250 pages of it over three staves(= approx. 4.5 hours). For more info go to:

http://www.music.mcgill.ca/~jwapnick/sorabji/

Another 20th Century destroyer: Villa-Lobos', Rude Poem (Savage Poem), dedicated to Artur Rubenstein. Not sure whether Rubenstein himself ever recorded it or even played it. The composer apparently couldn't manage it- but then again he was not a pianist. Marc-Andre Hamelin has recorded it on Hyperion as has Volker Banfield on the Wergo label. Have a listen; your student will be suitably impressed! ;\)
Posted by: Anonymous

Re: Most Difficult Piano PIece? - 05/16/03 04:39 PM

Generally:

Liszt's B minor Sonata
Liszt's etudes
Beethoven's 5th
The Brahms concerti
The Busoni Concerto
Rachmaninoff's "Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini"

When I say "generally" I mean the more common pieces on the repertoire- still not very familiar with the more "modern" music.
Posted by: Jason_dup2

Re: Most Difficult Piano PIece? - 05/16/03 04:50 PM

That is easy to answer, the most difficult piece is the one that is being learned at the moment. It can be any piece but while it is being learned it is the most difficult piece AT THAT TIME. Difficulty in particular pieces is relatve to each individulal person.
Posted by: Marquis de Posa

Re: Most Difficult Piano PIece? - 05/16/03 04:53 PM

 Quote:
Originally posted by BeePhlatMinor:
Generally:

Liszt's B minor Sonata
Liszt's etudes
Beethoven's 5th
The Brahms concerti
The Busoni Concerto
Rachmaninoff's "Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini"

When I say "generally" I mean the more common pieces on the repertoire- still not very familiar with the more "modern" music.[/b]
Beethoven's 5th concerto is NOT one of the most difficult pieces out there. His fourth concerto definitely exceeds his fifth in terms of difficulty, and there are many piano sonatas of his that are more difficult (e. g. Hammerklavier, Opus 101, Opus 7, Opus 111, etc.) In fact, one of my teachers had said this concerto was not that much higher than Beethoven's first concerto and the Grieg in terms of difficulty. This should come as good news for you, considering you wanted to learn this concerto.

So anyway, in my opinion, the most difficult solo piece is Alkan's Concerto for Solo Piano and the most difficult concerto is Busoni's Opus 39 Concerto.
Posted by: CrashTest

Re: Most Difficult Piano PIece? - 05/16/03 05:00 PM

The purpose of good music is not to be technically difficult or to impress with virtuosity, that is just a factor of music. For this reason, it is hard to say which is the most difficult piece. Of course, the pieces listed so far are difficult, but it is a different matter for every pianist.
Posted by: mrenaud

Re: Most Difficult Piano PIece? - 05/16/03 05:02 PM

I'd throw in a vote for the Prokofiev concerto no. 2.
Posted by: Renauda

Re: Most Difficult Piano PIece? - 05/16/03 05:04 PM

 Quote:
Originally posted by Marquis de Posa:
[QUOTE]So anyway, in my opinion, the most difficult solo piece is Alkan's Concerto for Solo Piano....[/b]
I have also heard or read that from somewhere. I am not at all familiar with that work but what recordings I do have of Alkan's music I would not be surprised. I also recall reading somewhere that Liszt himself would remain silent, or appear uncomfortable, when Alkan's name was mentioned with respect to performance ability. Have you heard the same?
Posted by: valarking

Re: Most Difficult Piano PIece? - 05/16/03 05:31 PM

 Quote:
Originally posted by Renauda:
Works by Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji (1892 - 1988) are diabolically difficult- a lot of it has never been recorded or even played before in recital. In particular Opus Clavicembalisticum all 250 pages of it over three staves(= approx. 4.5 hours). For more info go to:

http://www.music.mcgill.ca/~jwapnick/sorabji/

Another 20th Century destroyer: Villa-Lobos', Rude Poem (Savage Poem), dedicated to Artur Rubenstein. Not sure whether Rubenstein himself ever recorded it or even played it. The composer apparently couldn't manage it- but then again he was not a pianist. Marc-Andre Hamelin has recorded it on Hyperion as has Volker Banfield on the Wergo label. Have a listen; your student will be suitably impressed! ;\) [/b]
You have to ask yourself, why did any of them either bother composing it at all?
Posted by: SoftwareResearch

Re: Most Difficult Piano PIece? - 05/16/03 05:57 PM

I'd say the most difficult piece is "Fr Elise" - I've never heard any other piece played wrongly so frequently \:D
Posted by: CrashTest

Re: Most Difficult Piano PIece? - 05/16/03 05:59 PM

Valarking, they composed it to advance music and the technique of the piano, not to satisfiy mediocre pianists who cannot play them. It has been like this for a long time, Beethoven's sonatas were obviously too difficut for the bulk of performers during his time, as well as ours. If no one bothers to compose transcendental music, we will always be playing the samething, which is very musically boring. (Try composing a sonata in the style of Mozart for any reason besides learning, you will see that new styles are a must for modern composers, and with those styles come new techniques.)
Posted by: Mr. Gould

Re: Most Difficult Piano PIece? - 05/16/03 06:45 PM

I have realized that whenever this Topic is presented no one really comes up with a definitive answer! So come on guys, lets all agree on one piece. I have no idea what it is, and even if I did say something the more advanced pianists would disagree.
Posted by: Renauda

Re: Most Difficult Piano PIece? - 05/16/03 06:47 PM

 Quote:
Originally posted by valarking:
[QUOTE]You have to ask yourself, why did any of them either bother composing it at all?[/b]
True enough, but as Crash has pointed out it was not to satisfy mediocre pianists. I suspect that in Villa-Lobos' case, he did not know how difficult the piece was being that he could could barely manage the instrument. Also he had a recognized virtuouso in mind when he wrote it. Have you heard it? It is perhaps the most violent piece of music, other than perhaps Galina Ustvolskaya's 6th sonata, I have ever heard for piano. Its really worth a listen if you can get a copy of either of those discs (the Hamelin disc is quite common) that I mentioned.

As for Sorabji, he was on a different planet or dimensional universe. He intentionally wrote difficult music so that mediocrities, or what he considered to be mediocrities, could not play it. Very interesting person to say the least. Over the years his music has grown on me and I enjoy it very much.

You may be surprised but another set of fiendishly difficult pieces of music are Shostakovich's 24 Preludes and Fugues. Although I would not necessarily rate them as being in "the most difficult" category they are not for the weak of technique and demand a very highly developed sense of pianism and musicality in order to be comprehensible. Their difficulty, like all great music, lies in their subletly and simplicity of form.
Posted by: Ted2

Re: Most Difficult Piano PIece? - 05/16/03 07:02 PM

I find the piano music of Charles Ives very difficult. At least I know I CAN play things like Chopin Studies, Mazeppa, Islamey (if I ever finish relearning it!), admittedly not to concert standard - perhaps they need dexterity but at least they're all in homogeneous, conventional patterns. Ives wrote for the sound and not at all for the sake of difficulty, but for this very reason, and because his music is so personal, it's still beyond me to grasp it. I love listening to it, but playing it - I still haven't caught the bus.

In trotting out the same conventional but physically taxing pieces of the romantic repertoire as the most difficult we tend to forget that certain areas of piano music are so special they need, in the long run, much more effort than it takes to learn a Liszt study. At the moment I am memorising Waller's "Gladyse". To me it's a joy because I've played many things like that for many years. But to somebody trained solely in classical music I imagine the rhythmic problems would be formidable.

In short, difficulty concerns many things aside from physical dexterity.
Posted by: iamcanadian

Re: Most Difficult Piano PIece? - 05/16/03 09:05 PM

My vote goes for the left hand godowsky etudes.
Especially the one based on op 25 no 2. Eighth note triplets in the right hand and Quarter note triplets in the left.
Posted by: gryphon

Re: Most Difficult Piano PIece? - 05/16/03 09:30 PM

 Quote:
It is perhaps the most violent piece of music
Anyone have an mp3 or midi link? I want to hear this. The word "violent" makes me think of Ginastera.

I'm a Philistine. Are we talking about the guitar guy Villa-Lobos?
Posted by: lemoncoke

Re: Most Difficult Piano PIece? - 05/16/03 09:54 PM

 Quote:
Originally posted by Classical Player:
I have realized that whenever this Topic is presented no one really comes up with a definitive answer! So come on guys, lets all agree on one piece. I have no idea what it is, and even if I did say something the more advanced pianists would disagree. [/b]
Let's do in 2 stage,

Stage 1

nominate some difficult pieces in a week.(may be limit to 10 pieces).

Stage 2

start a new thread for voting.

agree??
Posted by: Renauda

Re: Most Difficult Piano PIece? - 05/16/03 10:02 PM

 Quote:
Originally posted by gryphon:
[QUOTE] Anyone have an mp3 or midi link? I want to hear this. The word "violent" makes me think of Ginastera...I'm a Philistine. Are we talking about the guitar guy Villa-Lobos?[/b]
The one and the same guy! And Ginastera is a lot like Villa -Lobos; how's that for reframing a question? As for an mp3 link I can't help- I'm barley past word processing. \:D
Posted by: virtuoso_735

Re: Most Difficult Piano PIece? - 05/16/03 10:33 PM

My nominations:
Sonata in Bminor, La Campanella
Gaspard de la nuit-scarbo Ravel
Rachmaninoff Concerto 3
Beethoven Hammerklavier
Godowsky Studies on Chopin Etudes
Posted by: StanSteel

Re: Most Difficult Piano PIece? - 05/16/03 11:13 PM

Solo pieces:

Godowsky: Sonata in E minor (Technically about the level of the Rach. concertos. Musically extremely difficult, due to the diversity of material)

Godowsky: Prelude and Fugue (on the B.A.C.H. theme) for the left hand only (Hamelin says it is technically more difficult than the Godowsky sonata) That oughta score pretty high \:\)

Scriabin: Sonata No7 (following the score faithfully, and playing this piece musically)

oh and how bout the Schumann Toccata (you need octopuses instead of hands to play that @#$%) \:\)

For concertos I vote for

Prokofiev 2 (that 4th movement, man! can you believe it is possible to play that at tempo?)

Of course there will always be harder pieces, but it's always fun to name difficult pieces that impress us. It gives us something to think about. A goal to aim for.
Posted by: PianoMuse

Re: Most Difficult Piano PIece? - 05/16/03 11:32 PM

I'd put in a vote for the Prokofiev 2nd concerto as well...that thing is a BEAST...and not only physcially taxing, but emotionally very draining.
Posted by: jgoo

Re: Most Difficult Piano PIece? - 05/17/03 12:20 AM

 Quote:
Originally posted by shantinik:
Cage's 4:33. (At least for my daughter -- she could NEVER manage it. ;\) )[/b]
:D lol, I don't think that I could either at times. \:D
Posted by: Phlebas

Re: Most Difficult Piano PIece? - 05/17/03 10:51 AM

 Quote:
Originally posted by shantinik:
Cage's 4:33. (At least for my daughter -- she could NEVER manage it. ;\) )[/b]
I have my daughter practice this one in short sections, put them together, and after a lot of patient work, she can "play" it perfectly!
Posted by: pianoloverus

Re: Most Difficult Piano PIece? - 05/17/03 11:33 AM

 Quote:
Originally posted by nickyg:
Horowitzs Carmen Variations are certainly pretty tricky, while maybe not the most difficult ever it is certainly the most flashy and show-offy.[/b]
IMO the Carmen Variatons are among the easier (relatively speaking) and least flashy of the Horowitz transcriptons.
Posted by: Brendan

Re: Most Difficult Piano PIece? - 05/17/03 11:48 AM

 Quote:
Originally posted by pianoloverus:
IMO the Carmen Variations are among the easier (relatively speaking) and least flashy of the Horowitz transcriptions.[/b]
He makes it sound easy, but I guarantee that it's not. Executing double notes pp at 120 isn't easy for many people.
Posted by: TOOL

Re: Most Difficult Piano PIece? - 05/17/03 01:05 PM

the hardest piece is....to play the same jazz piano number and REPEAT it note-for-note later! I have great respect for jazz pianists who tend to be creative \:\)

didn't play enough to know what is truly difficult, but rather than giving up on a difficult piece altogether, I usually find myself getting stuck in a few small parts or phrases that just seem impossible to me...
Posted by: pianoloverus

Re: Most Difficult Piano PIece? - 05/17/03 06:45 PM

 Quote:
Originally posted by Brendan:
 Quote:
Originally posted by pianoloverus:
IMO the Carmen Variations are among the easier (relatively speaking) and least flashy of the Horowitz transcriptions.[/b]
He makes it sound easy, but I guarantee that it's not. Executing double notes pp at 120 isn't easy for many people.[/b]
But don't you think it's easier than his transcriptions of Hungarian Rhapsodie No.2,
Rakoczy March, Dance Macabre, Wedding March, and Stars and Stripes?
Posted by: Praetorian_AD

Re: Most Difficult Piano PIece? - 05/17/03 08:32 PM

Actually, I think Liszt made the Saint-Saens transcription.
Posted by: Palindrome

Re: Most Difficult Piano PIece? - 05/17/03 11:51 PM

 Quote:
Originally posted by Brendan:
 Quote:
Originally posted by pianoloverus:
IMO the Carmen Variations are among the easier (relatively speaking) and least flashy of the Horowitz transcriptions.[/b]
He makes it sound easy, but I guarantee that it's not. Executing double notes pp at 120 isn't easy for many people.[/b]
It's easy for me. In fact, if I play the entire piece for you, I'm sure you'll agree it has been executed! \:\) (Where do I get all these terrible jokes from, anyway?)
Posted by: pianoloverus

Re: Most Difficult Piano PIece? - 05/18/03 06:38 AM

 Quote:
Originally posted by Praetorian_AD:
Actually, I think Liszt made the Saint-Saens transcription.[/b]
And then Horowitz revised/added to etc.the Liszt transcription. When Horowitz plays this piece, it's listed as being by Saint-Saens/Liszt/Horowitz.
Posted by: Drewsman

Re: Most Difficult Piano PIece? - 05/19/03 12:44 PM

Gryphon,

You really ought to give Villa-Lobos a try. Try to find a copy of his Ciclo Brasileiros or Prole do Bb Volume I. He throws all sorts of touches and rhythms at you, the full range of emotions and it's fun, fun, FUN!

Drews

PS -- my problem is that I never thoroughly *learn* any piece of music. There's so much great repertoire out there to try out...
Posted by: Brendan

Re: Most Difficult Piano PIece? - 05/19/03 03:34 PM

 Quote:
Originally posted by pianoloverus:
But don't you think it's easier than his transcriptions of Hungarian Rhapsodie No.2,
Rakoczy March, Dance Macabre, Wedding March, and Stars and Stripes?[/b]
Loud and fast = easy

Soft and fast != easy