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The Hardest Piano Pieces – Incredible Piano Performances

March 20.2020
Looking for a challenge? Or maybe you are just searching for some inspiration or seeing where your piano journey might...

Looking for a challenge? Or maybe you are just searching for some inspiration or seeing where your piano journey might take you. In this article, we’re exploring the hardest piano pieces to play. As classical pianists have mastered their craft, a lot of them have ended up creating some songs that us mere mortals think look utterly impossible. So what are the absolute hardest songs to play? What makes them so difficult?

In this guide, we’re looking at some of the most mindblowing piano pieces. Be warned, if you’re brand new to playing, these might come across as a little bit scary, so it is best to focus on our easy beginner pieces in terms of what you are trying to play. Still, there’s no harm in aiming high.

What Makes a Piano Song Difficult?

To a beginner, most songs are difficult. So what makes a song one of the hardest piano pieces?

There are a few things that notoriously make compositions hard to learn and replicate:

Hardest Piano Pieces

Some of the most difficult pieces include…

Gardner Read – Pennsylvaniana Suite

This doesn’t sound like it is overly hard to play, but in some parts of it, the time signatures go into halves! For instance, a section in 3.5/4. Many pianists don’t know that this is even possible, let alone know how to follow along.

Liszt – La Campanella

Some of the most difficult compositions are written by the infamous Liszt. La Campanella is incredibly fast, and uses some unbelievably difficult techniques, as well as the full range of the keyboard and multiple tempos and time signatures. It verges on incomprehensible at times!

Sorabji – Opus Clavicembalisticum

Good luck if you plan to learn this. Not only does it have strange and discordant sections, it lasts for over four hours. This 10-minute section displays just what a challenge it is for musicians. It’s avant-garde, and that’s being kind, but the whole composition is unsettling and virtually impossible to get to grips with.

Stravinsky- Trois mouvements de Petrouchka

Complex playing and tempo changes, and some players even take the approach of flexible timing with this.

This is a bright and fast composition, and it is impressive if you can get to grips with it, but don’t expect to be playing this as a beginner.

Stravinsky is known as being a revolutionary composer around the time of the first world war. This piece takes you through a journey, but is one of the more upbeat in his catalog.

Brahms- Variations on a Theme of Paganini

Variations on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 35 is an 1800s composition by Johannes Brahms, based on the work of one of his contemporaries, Caprice No. 24 in A minor by Niccolò Paganini.

It was originally called “Studies for Pianoforte: Variations on a Theme of Paganini” and it explores many of the areas of emotion and style. These pieces are not just among the hardest piano pieces, they are designed for true virtuosos to study and improve their technique when expressing emotion and dynamics.

Beethoven- Hammerklavier Sonata

Most lists of classical music will include some Beethoven! That is no different when it comes to the most difficult piano compositions.

This is also called the Große Sonate für das Hammerklavier, but it is commonly just called Hammerklavier). It’s known as one of the most seminal works of Beethoven’s career, and it is not easy to play! It has some signature Beethoven styles and plenty of emotion.

Rachmaninoff – Piano Concerto No.3

You may know this from the biopic Shine, based on the life of David Helfgott, or you may just know it as a vital piece of classical music.

This is an incredibly challenging concerto, composed in Dresden in the early 1900s. Josef Hofmann, the pianist that Rachmaninoff made this concerto in tribute to, never actually performed it. He supposedly claimed it “wasn’t for him” but this could be code for “it’s too difficult”.

A Bigger List

There is a full list of hardest pieces for piano compiled by a Reddit user here. 100 pieces are on the list including some huge, famous names in the world of classical music.

Almost all of the household names in the world of classical music have, at some point, created a song that feels totally out of reach for new, beginner pianists to play. However, marveling at the abilities of these incredible musicians can be an amazing inspiration.

Summary

Most piano pieces feel hard as a beginner, and if you are looking at these through the eyes of a learner then some of the concertos on this list are nothing short of scary.

As a pianist, you will look to keep pushing yourself and become the best you can be, and the complexity of some of these concertos may be that challenge you need.

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