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Thread: Piano Concertos Ranked by Difficulty

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    Senior Member chu42's Avatar
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    Default Piano Concertos Ranked by Difficulty

    I don’t have real playing experience with a large amount of the pieces here so I would really appreciate feedback on placement. Even if you don't like lists like these I hope you can explore some new repertoire since I've tried to include many lesser-known concertos :)

    Factors taken into account include technical difficulty, staminal difficulty, interpretative difficulty, difficulty of synchronization with ensemble, and it is vaguely sorted by difficulty within their classes from top to bottom.

    Extraordinarily Difficult
    Sorabji Concerto per suonare da me solo
    Sorabji Concertos
    Busoni Concerto
    Messiaen Des Canyons aux Étoiles
    Barber Concerto
    Alkan Solo Concerto
    Carter Concerto
    Ives Emerson Concerto
    Ginastera Concerto No.1
    Rautavaara Concerto No.1
    Lutoslawski Concerto
    Ligeti Concerto
    Rautavaara Concerto No.2
    Corigliano Concerto
    Cage Concert for Piano and Orchestra

    Ridiculously Difficult:
    Ginastera Concerto No.2
    Bartok Concerto No. 2
    Prokofiev Concerto No.2
    Xenakis Palimpsest
    Babbitt Concerto
    Bartok Concerto No.1
    Messiaen Oiseaux Exotiques
    Bortkiewicz Concerto No.2
    Strauss Burlesque
    Rachmaninov Concerto No.3
    Busoni Indian Fantasy
    Tveitt Aurora Borealis
    Scriabin Prometheus or the Poem of Fire
    Perle Piano Concerto No. 1
    Brahms Concerto No.2
    Korngold Left Hand Concerto
    Perle Piano Concerto No. 2
    Rozycki Concerto No.1
    Kapustin Concerto No.6
    Ravel Left Hand Concerto

    Extremely Difficult:
    Tchaikovsky Concerto No.1
    Marx Concerto
    Atterberg Concerto
    Ireland Concerto
    Kapustin Concerto No.5
    Rachmaninov Concerto No.1
    Lyapunov Concerto No.1
    Rubinstein Piano Concertos
    Penderecki Concerto
    Lyapunov Concerto No.2
    Medtner Concerto No.1
    Medtner Concerto No.3
    Bortkiewicz Concerto No.3
    Medtner Concerto No.2
    Bliss Piano Concerto
    Brahms Concerto No.1
    Rachmaninov Concerto No. 4
    Schoenberg Concerto
    Liebermann Concerto No.2
    Liebermann Piano Concerto No.1
    Vaughan-Williams Concerto
    Liszt Totentanz
    Bortkiewicz Concerto No.1
    Moszkowski Piano Concerto No.2

    Very Difficult
    Tchaikovsky Concerto No.2
    Rimsky-Korsakov Concerto
    Ravel Concerto in G
    Tchaikovsky Concerto No.3
    Prokofiev Concerto No.3
    Chen Er Huang
    Macdowell Piano Concerto No.1
    Macdowell Piano Concerto No.2
    Rachmaninov Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini
    Kapustin Concerto No.4
    Schnittke Piano Concerto
    Jaëll Concerto No.1
    Stravinsky Concerto for Piano and Winds
    Liszt Concerto No.2
    Debussy Fantasy for Piano and Orchestra
    Rautavaara Concerto No.3
    Prokofiev Concerto No. 4
    Scriabin Concerto
    Xinghai Yellow River Concerto
    Rachmaninov Concerto No.2
    Stenhammar Piano Concerto
    Franck Variations
    Liszt Concerto No.1
    Chopin Concerto No.2
    Bronsart Concerto
    Chopin Concerto No.1
    Kapustin Concerto No.3
    Reinecke Concerto No.1
    Moszkowski Piano Concerto No.1
    Britten Diversions for Piano Left Hand and Orchestra
    Reinecke Concerto No.2
    Prokofiev Concerto No. 5
    Khachaturian Piano Concerto
    Bartok Concerto No.3
    Alkan 3 Concerti da Camera
    Balakirev Piano Concerto
    Schumann Concerto in A Minor

    Difficult:
    Saint-Saens Concerto No.3
    Beethoven Concerto No.4
    Hummel Concerto No.2
    Kapustin Concerto No.2
    Adams Century Rolls
    Beethoven Concerto No.5
    Poulenc Concerto
    Saint-Saens Concerto No. 2
    Mendelssohn Concerto No.2
    Moscheles Concertos
    Saint-Saens Concerto No.5
    Massanet Concerto
    Dvorak Piano Concerto
    Saint-Saens Concerto No.4
    Beethoven Concerto No.3
    Mozart Concerto No.20
    Mendelssohn Piano Concerto
    Weber Konzertstück for Piano and Orchestra
    Arensky Concerto
    Gershwin Rhapsody in Blue
    Prokofiev Concerto No.1
    Chopin Andante Spinato et Grande Polonaise Brillante
    Gershwin Concerto in F
    Grieg Concerto
    Mozart Concerto No.27
    Mozart Concerto No.15
    Mozart Concerto No.17
    Busoni Early Concerto
    Mozart Concerto No.22
    Mozart Concerto No.25
    Janacek Concertino
    Yoshimatsu Memo Flora
    George Gershwin Variations on the theme of "I Got Rhythm"
    Shostakovich Concerto No.1

    Less Difficult:
    Shostakovich Concerto No.2
    Ustvolskaya Concerto
    Nyman "The Piano Concerto"
    Scott Early One Morning
    Mozart Concerto No.21
    Mozart Concerto No.23
    Mozart Concerto No.16
    Mozart Concerto No.26
    Mozart Concerto No.19
    Haydn Concerto No.11
    Beethoven Concerto No. 2
    Kabalevsky Piano Concerto No.2
    Emerson Piano Concerto No.1
    Kabalevsky Piano Concerto No.1
    Beethoven Concerto No. 1
    Kabalevsky Piano Concerto No.3
    Last edited by chu42; Jun-25-2019 at 04:06.

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    Senior Member 20centrfuge's Avatar
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    This list is amazing! Thank you so much for it. Although music isn't primarily liked based on it's difficulty, it is very interesting to note the works that require extra dedication and skill.

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    Senior Member mikeh375's Avatar
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    Great list, makes me realise how much music I don't know.
    Perhaps the Britten PC should be added...very to extremely difficult perhaps, (well it was written by one of the 20thC's greatest pianists).
    Last edited by mikeh375; Feb-02-2020 at 15:19.

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    Senior Member flamencosketches's Avatar
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    I am surprised you put the Dvorak so low. Isn't it supposed to be monstrously difficult to play?

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    Senior Member starthrower's Avatar
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    Could the idea that some of these are "ridiculously difficult" be chalked up to the fact that some composers aren't very good at writing for the piano? Or that some of them are pianists who compose around their own personal idiosyncrasies? I remember Ligeti mentioning four composers who really knew how to write for the piano. I think he mentioned Scarlatti, Debussy, Chopin, and maybe Bach. But I'm not sure about the last one?
    “Music makes you feel feelings. Words make you think thoughts. But a song can make you feel a thought.”

    - Yip Harburg

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    Quote Originally Posted by starthrower View Post
    Could the idea that some of these are "ridiculously difficult" be chalked up to the fact that some composers aren't very good at writing for the piano? Or that some of them are pianists who compose around their own personal idiosyncrasies? I remember Ligeti mentioning four composers who really knew how to write for the piano. I think he mentioned Scarlatti, Debussy, Chopin, and maybe Bach. But I'm not sure about the last one?
    Were that the case, Sorabji, Alkan, Lutosławski and, most especially, Busoni, wouldn't be in that part of the list?!

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    Senior Member pianozach's Avatar
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    A lot of Composers I'm not familiar with on this list.

    I've played a couple Mozart concertos.

    But when people are talking difficult-to-play concertos the first name usually mentioned is Rachmaninov.

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    Senior Member flamencosketches's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ahinton View Post
    Were that the case, Sorabji, Alkan, Lutosławski and, most especially, Busoni, wouldn't be in that part of the list?!
    Is Lutosławski a particularly idiomatic piano composer? I wonder why he didn't write more piano music.

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    Senior Member chu42's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by flamencosketches View Post
    I am surprised you put the Dvorak so low. Isn't it supposed to be monstrously difficult to play?
    According to Leslie Howard, yes.

    However I took it upon to look through the score and learn much of the piece—it is not extremely difficult at all and most of the writing is very similar to Beethoven's concerti.

    Perhaps Howard, being a Liszt specialist, found trouble with the more classically oriented writing.

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    I think the four concertos of F.X. Scharwenka belong on this list. They are attractive to listen to yet extremely challenging for the pianist -- Scharwenka wrote them for himself to perform. Steven Hough's recording of Nos. 1 and 4 is superb. In your very fine list, which seems well-prepared to me, Scharwenka's concertos would probably belong in your first three categories.

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    Senior Member DavidA's Avatar
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    Th3 Henselt is usually mentioned as fiendishly difficult although it doesn’t sound it.it apparently has long stretches as the composer had a very long stretch himself. Of course the art of writing a virtuoso concerto is that it sounds difficult as well as being difficult and something like the Rachmaninov 3 or the Tchaikovsky does just that. Always seems to be pretty pointless to write a very difficult work which doesn’t sound difficult and doesn’t take the audience’s breath away. Alkan is apparently fiendishly difficult but doesn’t sound it which is why pianists avoid it.
    Last edited by DavidA; Feb-10-2020 at 22:09.

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    Senior Member DavidA's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by pianozach View Post
    A lot of Composers I'm not familiar with on this list.

    I've played a couple Mozart concertos.

    But when people are talking difficult-to-play concertos the first name usually mentioned is Rachmaninov.
    Of course Mozart is easy to play badly and very difficult to play well. As Schnabel said, “ The sonatas of Mozart are unique; they are too easy for children, and too difficult for artists.” ...
    Last edited by DavidA; Feb-10-2020 at 22:07.

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    Senior Member Joachim Raff's Avatar
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    Nice list but what about Victor Bendix Piano Concerto? One of the best, but not sure how difficult it is to play.

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    Senior Member flamencosketches's Avatar
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    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.
    Last edited by flamencosketches; Feb-16-2020 at 15:34.

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    Senior Member DavidA'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.
    Interesting then that a 15-year-old girl knocked it off in the BBC Young musician of the year. I wonder if Prokofiev ever figured that a teenager not yet doing her GCSEs would’ve done it. Just shows the incredible standard among young musicians today
    Last edited by DavidA; Feb-16-2020 at 18:32.

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