Most Difficult Piano Pieces of All Time5 min read
Every pianist wants to constantly learn, grow and get better at their piano playing skills. And although in the beginning questions like ‘what are the easiest songs to play on the piano’ might be asked, eventually the inevitable question of ‘what are the most difficult piano pieces’ do come forward. We have tried to make a list of the most difficult piano pieces of all time that make even the most professional musicians shudder with fear. Go ahead and take a look.
1. Gaspard de la Nuit – Ravel
‘Gaspard de la Nuit’ was published in 1908 and is considered one of Maurice Ravel’s most eminent piano works. This comes as no surprise because when Ravel set out to write the piece, he wanted it to be one of the most challenging pieces that was ever written. It was inspired by the many prose ballads of Aloysius Bertrand and has set numerous new standards in various respects. This is an extremely technically challenging piece and according to one of the top pianists who has attempted to play this piece it is “like having to solve endless quadratic equations in my head”. Its tonal composition is also quite difficult.
2. Trois Mouvements de Petrouchka – Stravinsky
Russian composer Igor Stravinsky produced his famous ballet and orchestral work Petrouchka (or Petrushka in English) in 1911. The work revolves around the love and entanglements of three puppets and instantly became popular. This is no piece for a beginner with its multiple fast tremolos, super-fast glissandi and rapid jumps that span over two octaves. So, beware of this intimidating piece. It surely does scare many professionals too!
3. La Campanella – Liszt
La Campanella or ‘Little Bell’ is part of a larger work – the Grandes Etudes de Paganini. This is known to be one of the most difficult pieces to ever be written for the piano. When the work had just appeared, various musicians literally said it was unplayable! Franz Liszt is regarded as one of the greatest pianists in the romantic era. He was a very creative composer whose pieces are widely considered challenging. But La Campanella tops the charts by far. The piece demands a lot technically from the pianist including its huge jumps in the right hand that are played at a really speedy tempo.
4. Opus Clavicembalisticum – Sorabji
We’re almost certain that you didn’t even try to read the whole name out loud! This work by Sorabji may have a difficult name to pronounce, but it is definitely much tougher to play. It lasts for over four whole hours and is spread across twelve movements. How crazy is that! It is such a challenging piece to play that the composer himself said “The closing four pages are so cataclysmic and catastrophic as anything I’ve ever done…” If the composer himself calls his own piece “catastrophic”, you know this is not one for the faint-hearted.
5. Hammerklavier – Beethoven
Ludwig van Beethoven is one of the most popular and brilliant composers the world has ever witnessed. His lifetime of work brought a number of masterpieces that are still played and adored today like Fur Elise, Eroica Symphony and the Fifth Symphony. Hammerklavier Sonata, which is also widely known as Piano Sonata No. 29 in B flat major op. 106 is one of Beethoven’s later pieces that was also considered unplayable for a long time. It made its official public appearance in 1836 when it was performed by the well-known Franz Liszt. The piece lasts for around 45 minutes to an hour.
6. Etudes for Piano – Ligeti
As compared to the other composers on this list, Gyorgy Ligeti was much more modern. He was born in 1923 and died in 2006. His Etudes for Piano consists of around 18 pieces for solo piano and was considered avant-garde. It has many interesting features such as unanticipated time signatures, fast polyrhythms, challenging dynamics and so on. Since these pieces are so technically challenging and demanding in their nature, they are performed very rarely.
7. Piano Concerto No. 2 – Prokofiev
Sergei Prokofiev is a distinguished Russian pianist and composer who has created numerous masterpieces in his lifetime. Piano Concerto No. 2 is probably one of his toughest piano pieces ever produced. It consists of rapid jumps with both hands, a third staff and the inevitable first movement cadenza. This piece is followed by extremely challenging movements and lasts for a duration of five minutes.
8. Fantaisie – Impromptu, Op.66 – Chopin
Fredric Chopin is another mastermind composer who has blown people away with his incredible work. He has supposedly written over 200 pieces out of which most of them were for solo piano. Etude in E Major, Larghetto and Waltz No. 10 in B Minor are some of his most well-known pieces. Chopin’s Fantaisie is super challenging without a doubt. One of its most strenuous aspects is that it demands the left hand to play in triple time while the right-hand plays in duple time. This is one of the most laborious pieces of all time.
9. Sonata No. 5 – Scriabin
Alexander Scriabin was a Russian composer who was greatly influenced by Chopin in his early works. He loved to experiment with polyrhythms and was fascinated by atonal sounds. This piece is not just a technical workout for the fingers and arms, but also for the mind. With a wide array of other technical difficulties in the mix, this piece will drive anyone absolutely crazy.
10. Islamej – Balakirev
This piece by Mili Alexejewitsch Balakirev is on a whole other level of technical difficulties. This challenging piece was published in Moscow in 1870. The piece is almost eight minutes long and requires thirds, jumps, octaves and runs to be thoroughly mastered at a high tempo. It is described as technically one of the most difficult piano pieces of all by Hans von Bülow who was one of the greatest pianists of the 19th century.
After going through this list, we are sure that you’re almost as flabbergasted as us! These are works of some of the greatest composers and pianists in history and they were definitely not kidding when they sat down to write them. If you venture out to try your hands at any of these pieces, we’d only like to wish you all the very best for your endeavors!