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  #1  
Old 01-31-2007, 12:41 AM
pool pool is offline
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What composer wrote the most technically challenging piano pieces?

Who wrote the best music is a far more subjective matter. I am interested in of the most famous composers of the Classical and Romantic periods, which ones wrote the most technically difficult pieces to play. For instance the third movement of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata sounds difficult to play (the version I've been listening to is around 15 mins so I am not sure if it is the complete version or not). I don't play piano so I am not always sure what music is more difficult to play and has the more demanding time signatures and such.

Last edited by xash; 01-31-2007 at 12:55 AM.. Reason: spelling in title
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  #2  
Old 01-31-2007, 12:44 AM
Doctor Who Doctor Who is offline
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I've always heard that Rachmaninoff is tough (yes, I've seen Shine!) - but his Piano Concerto #3 is supposed to be very technically challenging. It's also a damn fine piece of composing.
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  #3  
Old 01-31-2007, 01:42 AM
panache45 panache45 is offline
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I second Rachmaninoff. Some of his solo piano works are so complex, you'd swear you were hearing two pianos, or at least one piano, four hands.
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  #4  
Old 01-31-2007, 01:58 AM
xiix xiix is offline
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cool thread.
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  #5  
Old 01-31-2007, 02:08 AM
lissener lissener is offline
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You might get more responses in Cafe Society.
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  #6  
Old 01-31-2007, 02:09 AM
pool pool is offline
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Well if a mod agrees they can move it.
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  #7  
Old 01-31-2007, 08:13 AM
ultrafilter ultrafilter is offline
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John Cage did a few pieces where the two hands are not playing in the same key. I have to imagine that's extremely difficult to play.
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  #8  
Old 01-31-2007, 08:21 AM
Cabbage Cabbage is offline
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I don't play piano, but I've always heard Sorabji wrote some of the most difficult piano pieces, Opus Clavicembalisticum in particular.
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  #9  
Old 01-31-2007, 08:28 AM
Carnac the Magnificent! Carnac the Magnificent! is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cabbage
I don't play piano, but I've always heard Sorabji wrote some of the most difficult piano pieces, Opus Clavicembalisticum in particular.


Agreed, provided we're allowed to call it "music."

Also these:

Prokofiev, 2nd Concerto
Rach Second
Rach Third
Aloysiuos Bertrand, Gaspard de la Nuit
Beethoven, Hammarklavier Sonata
Chopin, Prelude in G minor
Liszt Etudes, Transcriptions
Scriabin, Sonatas 5 - 10
Charles-Valentin Alken, Concerto for Solo Piano, op 39 or 76
Mily Balakirev, Islamey
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  #10  
Old 01-31-2007, 08:32 AM
Gimcrackery Gimcrackery is offline
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Ravel's Gaspard de la Nuit is considered to be one of the harder pieces in the solo piano repertoire (it's possibly a bit more modern than you're looking for, though).
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  #11  
Old 01-31-2007, 08:45 AM
Carnac the Magnificent! Carnac the Magnificent! is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Gimcrackery
Ravel's Gaspard de la Nuit is considered to be one of the harder pieces in the solo piano repertoire (it's possibly a bit more modern than you're looking for, though).

Ah, yes, Ravel. Most embarrassing.
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  #12  
Old 01-31-2007, 08:58 AM
Dinsdale Dinsdale is offline
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Not exactly a "technical demand", but I seem to remember my daughter complaining that Lizst must have had huge hands.
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  #13  
Old 01-31-2007, 09:26 AM
Quercus Quercus is offline
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There's the story -- I have no idea if it is true or not -- that in order to show up a bragging pianist, Mozart once wrote a short peice that was literally impossible to play with only two hands, having one hand playing high, the other low, with a single note in the center of the keyboard at the same time.

(When the frustrated pianist claimed that it was impossible to play, Mozart sat down, playing the piece with two hands, then leaned down and playing the offending single note with his nose.)

If you don't know the trick, this must be one of the hardest piano peices every written.
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  #14  
Old 01-31-2007, 10:00 AM
Tuckerfan Tuckerfan is offline
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According to a factoid I once read in USA Today, the hardest piano piece was something by Paderweski (I'm sure that's misspelled), as no one but him could figure out how to play the piece for 20 years. Interestingly enough, one of the people he taught how to play the piece was a fellow by the name of Harry S. Truman.
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  #15  
Old 01-31-2007, 10:06 AM
mks57 mks57 is offline
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How about Conlon Nancarrow? From what I've read, he composed for the player piano, as puny humans were incapable of playing his compositions. His music influenced Frank Zappa's compositions for the Synclavier.
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  #16  
Old 01-31-2007, 10:18 AM
Nancarrow Nancarrow is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mks57
How about Conlon Nancarrow? From what I've read, he composed for the player piano, as puny humans were incapable of playing his compositions. His music influenced Frank Zappa's compositions for the Synclavier.
Beaten to the punch by this much !

I should say, the bulk of Nancarrow's work doesn't count, as it was specifically written for the player piano, and not human pianists. Most of his late studies wouldn't be difficult for a human to play, they're simply impossible. However, his "Three Canons for Ursula" must be pretty damn hard. Apparently the second was thought to be impossible, though some pianists have tackled it. I have a recording and it sounds insane.

Oh and ultrafilter, ISTM that a piano piece in two keys would not be especially hard to learn - I used to play the piano, learned a bit of Bartok, I'm pretty sure some of it was bitonal. Much more challenging would be playing with the two hands at different tempos. Which brings us back to those Three Canons.
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  #17  
Old 01-31-2007, 11:19 AM
rivulus rivulus is offline
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Liszt transcriptions of portions of Wagner's operas (such as the overture to Tannhauser and the fire music from Gotterdammerung) are supposed to be very hard to play because of the difficulty in translating the orchestral texture into a piano piece. I heard a recording of these once, and I was pretty amazed at the sheer athleticism required to get through one of these pieces.

Richard Strauss also tended to think orchestrally, even when writing piano accompaniments to his songs, so they tend to be difficult as well.

According to my accompanist, though, the trickiest thing he ever attempted to play was the piano part in Saint-Saens' Organ Symphony.
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  #18  
Old 01-31-2007, 11:34 AM
Satyagrahi Satyagrahi is offline
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I once read that Brahms' transcription for piano left hand of the Bach Chaconne from the Partita #2 for Unaccompanied Violin, BWV 1004, is not only supremely difficult but was intentionally done that way to make it difficult for pianists with a left hand of merely human proportions.

Apparently Brahms had enormous hands. He would have made one hell of a baseball catcher, and made more money besides.
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  #19  
Old 01-31-2007, 12:09 PM
Carnac the Magnificent! Carnac the Magnificent! is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dinsdale
Not exactly a "technical demand", but I seem to remember my daughter complaining that Lizst must have had huge hands.


I've seen Liszt's hands (actually, plaster casts thereof) in a Budapest museum. They were long and thin, but nothing like the chick's with the "man hands" on Seinfeld.

That said, they must have been gigantic for his day. Liszt simply had an incredible finger spread that allowed him to play tenths (a spread of ten notes) on the keyboard.

Check out the photos halfway down on this site, comparing the hands of Beethoven, Liszt, and Chopin.

http://hjem.get2net.dk/Brofeldt/index.htm
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  #20  
Old 01-31-2007, 12:13 PM
Thudlow Boink Thudlow Boink is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Carnac the Magnificent!
That said, they must have been gigantic for his day. Liszt simply had an incredible finger spread that allowed him to play tenths (a spread of ten notes) on the keyboard.
I seem to recall reading the same thing about Carl Maria von Weber.
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  #21  
Old 01-31-2007, 12:34 PM
pulykamell pulykamell is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Carnac the Magnificent!
That said, they must have been gigantic for his day. Liszt simply had an incredible finger spread that allowed him to play tenths (a spread of ten notes) on the keyboard.
[/url]
I think he must've had a span larger than that, because tenths are not exactly uncommon in piano music. My hands are average-sized, and I can hit a tenth comfortably (and even elevenths in certain keys.)

Last edited by pulykamell; 01-31-2007 at 12:35 PM..
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  #22  
Old 01-31-2007, 12:37 PM
pulykamell pulykamell is online now
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I can't find any definite confirmation, but websites suggest that Liszt and Rachmaninoff could stretch up to a 12th or even 13th.
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  #23  
Old 01-31-2007, 12:44 PM
Greenback Greenback is offline
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According to my SIL (some university piano) and her professor / instructor, Rachmaninov produced the most difficult pieces on a consistent basis. Whether he held the title for the most difficult piece, they would not say. But possessing a Rachmaninov repetoire(?) was a feat. Horowitz was said to be the only pianist Rachmaninov preferred his pieces played by.
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  #24  
Old 01-31-2007, 01:30 PM
II Gyan II II Gyan II is offline
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This thread at Metafilter is just what you're looking for.
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  #25  
Old 01-31-2007, 01:34 PM
xash xash is offline
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Moved to CS.

-xash
General Questions Moderator
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  #26  
Old 01-31-2007, 02:57 PM
Carnac the Magnificent! Carnac the Magnificent! is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pulykamell
I think he must've had a span larger than that, because tenths are not exactly uncommon in piano music. My hands are average-sized, and I can hit a tenth comfortably (and even elevenths in certain keys.)

I should have noted: He could play tenths with ease--no mean feat for his day--and we're talking with sometimes lightning speed.
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  #27  
Old 01-31-2007, 03:30 PM
GorillaMan GorillaMan is offline
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Some composers have written things for the piano (and for other instruments) which are physically impossible to play. There can be two arguments for this: (1) the score is not expected to be realised literally and exactly, and/or (2) challenges can be placed for future performers to expand instrumental techniques in ways which may be able to accomodate what has been written.
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  #28  
Old 01-31-2007, 04:18 PM
Robot Arm Robot Arm is offline
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Higgeldy Piggeldy
Sergei Rachmaninov
wrote his concertos for
handspans like wings.

Few realistically
can pianistically
digitalistically
play the damned things.
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  #29  
Old 01-31-2007, 04:30 PM
Captain Carrot Captain Carrot is offline
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**applause**
Wow, that's pretty good. And it scans without difficulty
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  #30  
Old 01-31-2007, 04:43 PM
Robot Arm Robot Arm is offline
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Thanks, however the applause is not for me. Games magazine ran a contest many years ago for users to submit their own double dactyls (a humorous and rigidly structured verse form, similar to a limerick). That was one of their examples.

Which I've remembered all this time, and finally got a chance to use it.
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  #31  
Old 01-31-2007, 05:58 PM
Chronos Chronos is offline
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Quote:
John Cage did a few pieces where the two hands are not playing in the same key. I have to imagine that's extremely difficult to play.
John Cage did pieces involving keys? And played on musical instruments?

Quercus, a slight variation on that Mozart story would give new meaning to the phrase "playing by ear".
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  #32  
Old 01-31-2007, 08:15 PM
pulykamell pulykamell is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Carnac the Magnificent!
I should have noted: He could play tenths with ease--no mean feat for his day--and we're talking with sometimes lightning speed.
In stride jazz piano, you'll find jumping tenths and walking tenths pretty regularly. I don't know how much different hand size is today, but I would say playing tenths with ease is not a terribly unusual feat. Twelfths or thirteenths, yeah. I've seen the cast of his hands in Budapest as well, and I wouldn't be surprised if he could play twelfths or so pretty easily. They are HUGE compared with mine.
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  #33  
Old 01-31-2007, 09:58 PM
Maeglin Maeglin is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Satyagrahi
I once read that Brahms' transcription for piano left hand of the Bach Chaconne from the Partita #2 for Unaccompanied Violin, BWV 1004, is not only supremely difficult but was intentionally done that way to make it difficult for pianists with a left hand of merely human proportions.

Apparently Brahms had enormous hands. He would have made one hell of a baseball catcher, and made more money besides.
This is 100% true, both for the Brahms and the Busoni transcriptions.
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  #34  
Old 02-07-2007, 06:00 AM
Nancarrow Nancarrow is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chronos
John Cage did pieces involving keys? And played on musical instruments?
Of course. Didn't you know 4'33'' is in all 24 major and minor keys at once?
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  #35  
Old 04-16-2014, 11:47 PM
talfi talfi is offline
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Talfi's pieces are quite hard too

Quote:
Originally Posted by pool View Post
Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata sounds difficult to play
Well, it may sound difficult to play, but it isn't at all for most piano players.

I've made a much more complex version of the Moonlight Sonata.
http://www.premierconcert.com/clair-de-lune

As a "young" composer and piano player, I can tell that my own compositions
are pretty challenging too (they are all on the same site which link is given above).

But I would say that liszt's pieces sounds the most difficult to me.
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  #36  
Old 04-17-2014, 01:40 AM
Trinopus Trinopus is offline
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Post No. 9 of this thread mentions (and misspells) Charles Valentin Alkan.

Check him out. He's rough! Among many other cute tricks, he is also the classical music radio station DJ's bane, as he was fond of unresolved endings.

Music..music...music............

"You have just heard..."

Music...

"Well, he got me again."

Here is a lovely (?) and definitely challenging piece on YouTube.
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  #37  
Old 04-17-2014, 03:15 AM
sandra_nz sandra_nz is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pulykamell View Post
In stride jazz piano, you'll find jumping tenths and walking tenths pretty regularly. I don't know how much different hand size is today, but I would say playing tenths with ease is not a terribly unusual feat. Twelfths or thirteenths, yeah. I've seen the cast of his hands in Budapest as well, and I wouldn't be surprised if he could play twelfths or so pretty easily. They are HUGE compared with mine.
*sigh* And this is why I will never been anything other than an enthusiastic amateur piano player - I can barely reach an octave!
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  #38  
Old 04-17-2014, 06:42 AM
Les Espaces Du Sommeil Les Espaces Du Sommeil is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nancarrow View Post
Oh and ultrafilter, ISTM that a piano piece in two keys would not be especially hard to learn - I used to play the piano, learned a bit of Bartok, I'm pretty sure some of it was bitonal. Much more challenging would be playing with the two hands at different tempos.
Definitely.

On a related note, there's Night Fantasies by Carter which must be terribly difficult rhythmically:

Part 1:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lWspGgzXiy4

Part 2:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g8jpSV9N59k

Quote:
The rhythms belong to two sequences, which are almost incompatible with each other: the basic ratio is 24 to 25; we hear the rhythms that begin together, draw gradually apart, and then return. This means that the rhythm of the bar lines can never be heard in this piece
The last sentence is a bit obscure, though.
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  #39  
Old 04-17-2014, 08:38 AM
panache45 panache45 is offline
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Ravel's Concerto for the Left Hand . . . played by the right hand.
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  #40  
Old 04-17-2014, 10:42 AM
Stormcrow Stormcrow is offline
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Originally Posted by Nancarrow View Post
Of course. Didn't you know 4'33'' is in all 24 major and minor keys at once?
Bah, I can play that no problem.
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  #41  
Old 04-17-2014, 12:32 PM
percypercy percypercy is offline
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My mother, the daughter of a piano teacher, has always said Liszt. She claimed that some of his pieces only he could play. I've got tiny hands so there was never any hope for me there.
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  #42  
Old 04-17-2014, 03:02 PM
panache45 panache45 is offline
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Alicia de Larrocha has tiny, arthritic hands, but she can reach any interval.
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  #43  
Old 04-17-2014, 03:04 PM
panache45 panache45 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nancarrow View Post
Of course. Didn't you know 4'33'' is in all 24 major and minor keys at once?
Speak up, I can't hear you.
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  #44  
Old 04-17-2014, 03:45 PM
jerez jerez is offline
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Originally Posted by panache45 View Post
Alicia de Larrocha has tiny, arthritic hands, but she can reach any interval.
Had and could, I'm afraid. She passed away in 2009.

http://www.aliciadelarrocha.com/
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