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Thread: Piano Concertos Ranked by Difficulty

  1. #16
    Senior Member pianozach's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by flamencosketches View Post
    I just finished listening to the Prokofiev 2 concerto and wanted to see where you had ranked it, as to my ears it sounded ridiculously, fiendishly difficult. There is this part:



    ... where I wondered how on earth he expected anyone to play that. I question whether he could even play it himself. Anyway, the biggest challenge, I expect, would be endurance. The first movement cadenza alone is just relentless. It doesn't let up for a second. Anyway, in addition to being insanely difficult, it's a beautiful, uniquely dark work. I gained a lot of respect for Prokofiev when I heard it for the first time.

    I see you've ranked Barber (among others) in a tier above this one. Really, the Barber? It's a beautiful concerto, but it doesn't sound more difficult than the Prokofiev 2, to my ears anyway.
    As a pianist, I can attest that THAT passage looks actually fairly easy to play, although a fast tempo WOULD make it challenging.

    The middle staff seems to be an editorial choice, and this could easily be notated on two staves.

    The left hand is merely a D major arpeggio and lydian scale [#4th tone] (except for the beginning low E bass note, and the F natural passing tone at the end).

    The right hand is also D lydian scales and arpeggios, except for the last quarter note value of the measure, where, again, there's the F natural [although notated this time as an E#].

    The passage is monorhythmic, so that's easily worked out. Yeah, 32nd notes, but for the most part they're all predictable. Except that there's a C natural (instead of a C#) in the second set of 32 notes, although I suspect that might actually be a "typo".

    Those two seemingly random quarter notes in the middle staff at the end of the measure are merely octave doublings of the notes on the top staff, although the first is an octave above, while the last is an octave below. Reaching these at this speed would probably require some rubato at those points, but that would likely be acceptable.

    As you mentioned though, endurance is likely the real issue here. I've not tried to play this, nor am I sure I've ever spent any time seriously listening to this concerto, but I HAVE played the 3rd movement of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata. It, too, has individual passages that seem daunting, but are, in reality, merely a bit 'challenging'. I can play them . . . BUT . . . after several pages of these these challenging sections, it becomes more of a marathon, and you can get worn out before you get to the last several pages.

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  3. #17
    Member Joachim Raff's Avatar
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    Surely it becomes a technical exercise more than a musical one when the score is so intense?

  4. #18
    Senior Member pianozach's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Joachim Raff View Post
    Surely it becomes a technical exercise more than a musical one when the score is so intense?
    That IS the challenge. It IS musical, and when playing a virtuoso piece of this level, you not only must have the technical prowess to simply PLAY it, but you have to make it sound effortless AND musical simultaneously.

    This piece WILL sound like an etude if you cannot do all this. It may still sound impressive, and that's how I used to do so well at Bach Festival competitions as a teen - flash, speed, passion, and fire, but lacking in nuance and subtlety. Some subito dynamics would fool the judges every time.

    I'd also kick a$$ with Mozart as well - I would find every bit of musical humor in the sonatas and concertos and freakin' MILK IT like a scenery chewer.

    But that's more difficult to pull off with Romantic-era material - the super-advanced stuff requires far more maturity and focus IMO.

    But that's just MY wheelhouse. There are plenty of pianists that have their own areas of success and challenges.
    Last edited by pianozach; Feb-17-2020 at 18:03.

  5. #19
    Senior Member DavidA's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by pianozach View Post
    As you mentioned though, endurance is likely the real issue here. I've not tried to play this, nor am I sure I've ever spent any time seriously listening to this concerto, but I HAVE played the 3rd movement of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata. It, too, has individual passages that seem daunting, but are, in reality, merely a bit 'challenging'. I can play them . . . BUT . . . after several pages of these these challenging sections, it becomes more of a marathon, and you can get worn out before you get to the last several pages.
    The Moonlight sonata doesn't provide serious challenges of a virtuoso nature I wouldn't have thought. My wife played it as a teenager in public.

  6. #20
    Senior Member pianozach's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DavidA View Post
    The Moonlight sonata doesn't provide serious challenges of a virtuoso nature I wouldn't have thought. My wife played it as a teenager in public.
    Um, . . . you may be thinking of only the 1st movement of the Moonlight Sonata [Actually the Piano Sonata No.14 "Quasi Una Fantasia" Opus 27 No.2]. (Don't be embarassed, it's a common misconception that the 1st movement is the whole thing.) That's the placid, calm, reflective, moody movement. But there are three movements to this sonata, per the custom of the day.

    The second movement 'presto agitato' is sort of like "filler". Inconsequential. A brief respite between the moodiness of the 1st and the stürm und drang of the 3rd. Flippant, nonchalant. Deceptive . . . a false throwback to a simpler time.

    The third movement is like a storm trying to blow your house down. It drops on you like a bomb exploding, blowing the 2nd movement out of the water. It is unrelenting, going on for over six minutes of unforgiving patterns in both hands.

    Time for you to have a listen to the whole thing . . . . , in context. You'll absolutely love it.

    Last edited by pianozach; Feb-17-2020 at 18:45.

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