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Thread: The hardest piano work

  1. #61
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    Quote Originally Posted by chu42 View Post
    To clear things up, the difficulty list for the top 100 ought to look something like this:

    Sorabji- Symphonic Variations/Symphonies for Piano
    Sorabji- Opus Clavicembalisticum
    Finissy- A History of Photography in Music
    Sorabji- Piano Concerto
    Sorabji- Piano Sonatas
    Martino- Pianississimo
    Finnissy- Piano Concerto No.4
    Ligeti- Piano Concerto
    Rautavaara- Piano Concerto No.1
    Stockhausen- Klavierstücke 1-X
    Busoni- Piano Concerto
    Alkan- Concerto for Solo Piano
    Xenakis- Synaphai
    Carter- Piano Concerto
    Messiaen- Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus
    Hamelin- Etudes
    Ferneyhough- Lemma-Icon-Epigram
    Liszt- Études d'exécution transcendante d'après Paganini
    Barber- Piano Concerto
    Ligeti- Etudes
    Alkan- Le Preux
    Xenakis- Mist
    Busoni- Fantasia contrappuntistica
    Bolcom- Twelve New Etudes
    Feinberg- Piano Sonatas
    Finnissy- English Country Tunes
    Bartok- Piano Concerto No.2
    Szymanowski- Etudes Op.33
    Stevenson- Passacaglia
    Ginastera- Piano Concerto No.1
    Alkan- Trois Grandes Études
    Meraux- “Bravura” Etude
    Hamelin- Etudes
    Boulez- Piano Sonatas
    Hamelin- Variations on a Theme by Paganini
    Penderecki- Piano Concerto
    Messiaen- Oiseaux Exotique
    Chopin-Godowsky- Studies on Chopin
    Schoenberg- Piano Concerto
    Villa-Lobos- Rudepoema
    Mereaux- Etude No.45
    Beethoven-Liszt- Symphonies
    Prokofiev- Piano Concerto No.2
    Beethoven- Hammerklavier Sonata
    Ives- Concord Sonata
    Rachmaninov- Piano Concerto No.3
    Liszt- Grandes études de Paganini
    Vine- Sonata No.1
    Ornstein- Danse Sauvage
    Berlioz-Liszt- Symphonie Fantastique
    Alkan- Scherzo Focoso
    Mozart-Liszt- Reminiscences de Don Juan
    Brahms- Variations on a Theme of Paganini
    Godowsky- Passacaglia
    Ravel- Gaspard de la nuit
    Liszt- Transcendental Etudes
    Prokofiev- Piano Sonatas
    Chopin-Rosenthal- Minute Waltz
    Lutoslawski- Two Studies
    Alkan- Comme Le Vent
    Crumb- Makrokosmos I/II
    Brahms- Concerto No.2
    Alkan- Grand Sonata
    Balakirev- Islamey
    Wagner-Liszt- Tannhauser Transcription
    Babbitt- Piano Concerto
    Liszt- Grande Fantaisie de Bravoure sur la Clochette de Paganini
    Prokofiev- Piano Concerto No.3
    Sciarrino- Piano Sonatas
    Rachmaninov- Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini
    Liszt- Sonata in B Minor
    Strauss- Burleske
    Scriabin- Piano Sonatas
    Stravinsky- Trois mouvements de Petrouchka
    Alkan- Le Festin d'esope
    Ravel- Piano Concerto for the Left Hand
    Rossini-Cziffra- William Tell Overture
    Liszt- Rondo Fantastique
    Godowsky- Etudes
    Rachmaninov- Piano Sonatas
    Alkan- Symphony for Solo Piano
    Mozart-Volodos- Turkish March
    Kapustin- Piano Concerto No.6
    Rachmaninov- Scherzo from Midsummer’s Night Dream
    Prokofiev- Toccata
    Rachmaninov- Etudes Tableaux
    Tchaikovsky- Piano Concerto No.1
    Franck- Violin Sonata
    Khachaturian-Cziffra- Sabre Dance
    Chopin- Piano Sonatas
    Chopin- Etudes Op.10, Op.25
    Franck- Symphonic Variations
    Schumann- Toccata
    Liszt- Reminiscences de Norma
    Moszkowski- Piano Concerto No.2
    Albeniz- Iberia
    Schubert- Wanderer Fantasy
    Ravel- Toccata
    Ginastera- Toccata
    Scriabin- Vers la Flamme
    Alkan- Etudes Op.35
    Kapustin- Preludes and Fugues
    I take you to mean this in no particular order of difficulty, otherwise Szymanowski's studies wold not be above the Chopin/Godowsky ones!

    Just a few small corrections:

    Finnissy has two "n"s and his 5½ hour piano works is A history of photography in sound.
    Sorabji wrote eight works for piano and orchestra titled "concerto"; do you mean the published one (i.e. no. 5)?
    "Meraux" should read "Méreaux"
    What do you have in mind by your reference to "Godowsky- Etudes", as the Chopin/Godowsky ones are already mentioned further up your list?

    From what I've been told, (although it's hardly for me to say), the list might perhaps be extended to 101 to include my own Étude en forme de Chopin...

  2. #62
    Senior Member chu42's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ahinton View Post
    I take you to mean this in no particular order of difficulty, otherwise Szymanowski's studies wold not be above the Chopin/Godowsky ones!

    Just a few small corrections:

    Finnissy has two "n"s and his 5½ hour piano works is A history of photography in sound.
    Sorabji wrote eight works for piano and orchestra titled "concerto"; do you mean the published one (i.e. no. 5)?
    "Meraux" should read "Méreaux"
    What do you have in mind by your reference to "Godowsky- Etudes", as the Chopin/Godowsky ones are already mentioned further up your list?

    From what I've been told, (although it's hardly for me to say), the list might perhaps be extended to 101 to include my own Étude en forme de Chopin...
    Very rough, old, edition of my list that has since been updated and reformed. Nearly pointless list anyhow. I do try to include more variety over accuracy, because God knows that this list could consist entirely of Sorabji and the like.

    Still rough, order very approximate. Just a bunch of difficult pieces that might prove interesting, I guess. I made this list in the first place because too many people were plugging La Campanella as the most difficult piece.

    Sorabji- Symphonic Variations/Symphonies for Piano
    Sorabji- Opus Clavicembalisticum
    Finissy- A History of Photography in Music
    Sorabji- Piano Concerto
    Sorabji- Piano Sonatas
    Martino- Pianississimo
    Finnissy- Piano Concerto No.4
    Ligeti- Piano Concerto
    Rautavaara- Piano Concerto No.1
    Stockhausen- Klavierstücke 1-X
    Busoni- Piano Concerto
    Alkan- Etudes Op.39
    Xenakis- Synaphai
    Carter- Piano Concerto
    Messiaen- Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus
    Alkan- Trois Grandes Études
    Chopin-Godowsky- Studies on Chopin
    Ferneyhough- Lemma-Icon-Epigram
    Barber- Piano Concerto
    Ligeti- Etudes
    Xenakis- Mist
    Busoni- Fantasia contrappuntistica
    Reger- Bach Variations
    Bolcom- Twelve New Etudes
    Feinberg- Piano Sonatas
    Finnissy- English Country Tunes
    Bartok- Piano Concerto No.2
    Ginastera- Piano Concerto No.1
    Hamelin- Etudes
    Boulez- Piano Sonatas
    Penderecki- Piano Concerto
    Szymanowski- Etudes Op.33
    Messiaen- Oiseaux Exotique
    Schoenberg- Piano Concerto
    Villa-Lobos- Rudepoema
    Méreaux- Etude No.45
    Beethoven-Liszt- Symphonies
    Prokofiev- Piano Concerto No.2
    Beethoven- Hammerklavier Sonata
    Ives- Concord Sonata
    Rachmaninov- Piano Concerto No.3
    Liszt- Transcendental études on Paganini
    Vine- Sonata No.1
    Berlioz-Liszt- Symphonie Fantastique
    Alkan- Scherzo Focoso
    Mozart-Liszt- Reminiscences de Don Juan
    Brahms- Variations on a Theme of Paganini
    Godowsky- Passacaglia
    Ravel- Gaspard de la nuit
    Liszt- Transcendental Etudes
    Prokofiev- Piano Sonatas
    Lutoslawski- Two Studies
    Crumb- Makrokosmos I/II
    Brahms- Concerto No.2
    Alkan- Grand Sonata
    Balakirev- Islamey
    Wagner-Liszt- Tannhauser Transcription
    Prokofiev- Piano Concerto No.3
    Sciarrino- Piano Sonatas
    Rachmaninov- Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini
    Liszt- Sonata in B Minor
    Strauss- Burleske
    Scriabin- Piano Sonatas
    Stravinsky- Trois mouvements de Petrouchka
    Alkan- Le Festin d'esope
    Ravel- Piano Concerto for the Left Hand
    Alkan- Le Preux
    Liszt- Rondo Fantastique
    Tchaikovsky- Piano Concerto No.1
    Godowsky- Etudes
    Rachmaninov- Piano Sonatas
    Rachmaninov- Scherzo from Midsummer’s Night Dream
    Rachmaninov- Etudes Tableaux
    Franck- Violin Sonata
    Khachaturian-Cziffra- Sabre Dance
    Chopin- Piano Sonatas
    Chopin- Etudes Op.10, Op.25
    Franck- Symphonic Variations
    Schumann- Toccata
    Liszt- Reminiscences de Norma
    Moszkowski- Piano Concerto No.2
    Rossini-Cziffra- William Tell Overture
    Albeniz- Iberia
    Schubert- Wanderer Fantasy
    Ginastera- Toccata
    Scriabin- Vers la Flamme
    Alkan- Etudes Op.35
    Kapustin- Preludes and Fugues

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  4. #63
    Senior Member Phil loves classical's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rbacce View Post
    This one seems almost impossible to me:

    For a pro pianist this is not that difficult. The hardest part is to ignore the extraneous markings, they are just for show or a musical political agenda. I thought it was funny how he even specified something at 1/2 sustain and another at 3/4.
    "Forgive me, Majesty. I'm a vulgar man. But I assure you, my music is not.“ Mozart

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    Senior Member chu42's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Phil loves classical View Post
    For a pro pianist this is not that difficult. The hardest part is to ignore the extraneous markings, they are just for show or a musical political agenda. I thought it was funny how he even specified something at 1/2 sustain and another at 3/4.
    The problem is that if we take it at face value then it is likely one of the most difficult pieces. Overall, I don't have a high opinion of Ferneyhough, I think he's somewhat better than Finnissy but he's not nearly as good as his forerunners Sorabji and Charles Ives.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XNClpXXb7cw

    Honestly, nothing needs to be more difficult than this, unless you can make it as beautiful.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Phil loves classical View Post
    For a pro pianist this is not that difficult. The hardest part is to ignore the extraneous markings, they are just for show or a musical political agenda. I thought it was funny how he even specified something at 1/2 sustain and another at 3/4.
    How do you know it’s not that difficult? And who have you talked with about it? How many pianists that you know have even tried it? This manuscript is all over the place and it’s a mess to get through just by looking at it. Not that difficult. Whatever its musical value may be, it’s a technical nightmare and would require weeks or even months to perfect. Ask them how weeks or months it took to learn... and that includes the thousand and one details written into the manuscript that are obviously meant to be played and not ignored. Let’s give any pianist tremendous credit for tackling something this technically harrowing.
    Last edited by Larkenfield; Aug-26-2019 at 00:35.
    "That's all Folks!"

  7. #66
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    Quote Originally Posted by Larkenfield View Post
    How do you know it’s not that difficult? And who have you talked with about it? How many pianists that you know have even tried it? This manuscript is all over the place and it’s a mess to get through just by looking at it. Not that difficult. Whatever its musical value may be, it’s a technical nightmare and would require weeks or even months to perfect. Ask them how weeks or months it took to learn... and that includes the thousand and one details written into the manuscript that are obviously meant to be played and not ignored. Let’s give any pianist tremendous credit for tackling something this technically harrowing.
    A lot of markings are unneccessary, and could be cleaned up if he wanted to. He is really making it more seem difficult than it is, compared to other difficult pieces, of course. It is really not much different than this. As in the recent thread in music theory, Ferneyhough doesn't expect it to be followed to the letter (in fact it wouldn't make sense to).

    "Forgive me, Majesty. I'm a vulgar man. But I assure you, my music is not.“ Mozart

  8. #67
    Senior Member Phil loves classical's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Larkenfield View Post
    How do you know it’s not that difficult? And who have you talked with about it? How many pianists that you know have even tried it? This manuscript is all over the place and it’s a mess to get through just by looking at it. Not that difficult. Whatever its musical value may be, it’s a technical nightmare and would require weeks or even months to perfect. Ask them how weeks or months it took to learn... and that includes the thousand and one details written into the manuscript that are obviously meant to be played and not ignored. Let’s give any pianist tremendous credit for tackling something this technically harrowing.
    A lot of markings are unneccessary, and could be cleaned up if he wanted to. He is really making it seem more difficult than it is, compared to other difficult pieces, of course. It is really not much different than this, which is much less conventional in density and rhythm and require more awkward hand positions. The Ferneyhough flows more easily. As in the recent thread in music theory, Ferneyhough doesn't expect it to be followed to the letter (in fact it wouldn't make sense to).

    Last edited by Phil loves classical; Aug-26-2019 at 13:39.
    "Forgive me, Majesty. I'm a vulgar man. But I assure you, my music is not.“ Mozart

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    Besides the incredible set of 100 Sorabji etudes, Skalkottas' 32 Piano Pieces and some of Wuorinen's works (Concerto 3 etc) also have a reputation for being exceedingly difficult.
    Didn't know that Beethoven/Liszt Symphonies were, thought they were more for household use. But I guess there's a lot of voices ...

    And Nørgård's brilliant Concerto in Due Tempi ...
    Last edited by joen_cph; Aug-26-2019 at 14:07.

  10. #69
    Senior Member Phil loves classical's Avatar
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    Here is a performance of both Music of Changes and the Ferneyhough I've just found. See what I mean about the awkward hand positions of the Cage?



    "Forgive me, Majesty. I'm a vulgar man. But I assure you, my music is not.“ Mozart

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    Senior Member chu42's Avatar
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    If we were to limit the selection to pre-Modernism and Serialism then the most difficult piece may very well be Alkan's Op.76 Trois Grandes Etudes, particularly the second piece in the set. Otherwise, we have Busoni's mammoth Concerto and Reger's Bach variations, plus some Liszt monstrosities. What's great about these works is that they don't sacrifice musicality for difficulty like many pieces of New Complexity are apt to do.

    Alkan's Introduction, Variations and Finale: 22 minutes of hell for the right hand that is well thought out, creative, and elegant- much more than can be said about many other pieces of Alkan.


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    No one has mentioned a Bach fugue. A couple from the WTC come to mind. Surely a fugue in 4 (or even 3) parts would be extremely difficult.
    Last edited by TwoFlutesOneTrumpet; Aug-27-2019 at 18:59.

  13. #72
    Senior Member chu42's Avatar
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    Bach himself had more difficult fugues in the Art of Fugue, and while all his fugues are not easy, other composers have had far more difficult fugues:

    Busoni Fantasia Contrappuntistica- Fuga III is nearly impossible.


    Reger Variations and Fugue on a theme of Bach:


    Sorabji has some very dense fugues here and there, and of course Beethoven has the Hammerklavier 4th movement.

  14. #73
    Senior Member Bwv 1080's Avatar
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    Ian Pace wrote of Richard Barrett's Tract:
    http://www.musicweb-international.co...eb01/pace1.htm

    As for the greatest challenge, beyond any doubt that is provided by Tract. It's one of the hardest piano pieces ever written, in a way I would describe as 'transcendental' - meaning a difficulty that lies on the very fringes of possibility. There are a number of such 'transcendental' pieces that come to mind: Xenakis Evryali, and some of the piano parts in works such as Eonta, Synaphai and Keqrops, several works of Michael Finnissy such as English Country Tunes, all.fall.down, some of the Verdi Transcriptions and the Piano Concerto No. 4, Clarence Barlow's Çogluotobüsisletmesi, Walter Zimmermann's Wüstenwanderung (which I have recorded for Metier). A few other pieces skirt the border of this category: the beginning of Stockhausen's Klavierstück X, Bussotti's Pour Clavier. All the other pieces pose great pianistic challenges, but not in that league of difficulty.

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