The question of “What piano songs are the most difficult to play?” has inspired friendly arguments among music lovers for as long as piano songs have been composed. A song which is ten hours in length is going to be “difficult” regardless of the complexity of the song itself, and if a song is unpleasant to hear, then pianists will have little interest in playing.
The only true way to determine which piano songs are the most difficult is simply to ask pianists themselves. So, challenge accepted! Here are three songs perceived as “nearly impossible to play,” chosen for their variety, depth of sound, and, of course, difficulty.
1. Eine Kleine Nachtmusik by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (“A Little Night Music” or “A Little Serenade”) is one of Mozart’s most frequently played pieces. Mozart was the world’s first child star, having composed his first piano sonata when he was only twelve-years-old. This composition was finished on August 10, 1787, but was not published until around 1827, long after his death.
Cyprien Katsaris, a world-famous French-Cypriot pianist and composer, named the fourth movement of a transcription of Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik as one of the most difficult pieces of music that he has ever played. The fact that Katsaris found even part of this piece to be difficult given his skill, technique, and accomplished career qualifies this piece as a “nearly impossible to play” piano song for this list.
2. Piano Concerto Number 3 by Sergei Vasilievich Rachmaninoff
Sergei Rachmaninoff (also spelled Rachmaninov) was a Russian composer and pianist who arguably became the greatest pianist of the early 20th century. He was the first living piano composer to make recordings of all his piano concertos, including Piano Concerto Number 3 first performed in New York City on November 28, 1909. Rachmaninoff called Concerto Number 3 his favorite, saying that it was much more “comfortable to play” than his second concerto.
Fellow musicians, however, found the concerto extremely challenging to play, making Piano Concerto Number 3 one of the most technically challenging piano concertos in all of classical music. Famous pianist Gary Graffman said that he wished that he had learned this concerto while he was a student, when he was “still too young to know fear.”
3. Hammerklavier by Ludwig Van Beethoven
Piano Sonata No. 29 in B-flat major, Op. 106 (also known as the Große Sonate für das Hammerklavier, or more simply as the Hammerklavier) is known as one of the greatest piano sonatas of all time. The piece is often considered to be Beethoven’s most technically challenging piano composition and one of the most demanding solo works in all of classical music.
The sonata was composed in 1817-1818 and was dedicated to Beethoven’s patron, the Archduke Rudolph. The Hammerklavier set a precedent with a standard performance length of 45-50 minutes (previous concerto movements were typically 15-20 minutes).
The work was admired but received as nearly unplayable by many pianists. It requires incredible dexterity and a stunning level of stamina to complete the piece. Even classical pianist Emanuel Ax stated that he believes himself too old to now learn the sonata. The time investment required both to learn and to play the piece make it a challenge many musicians simply choose not to face.
Accept the Challenge
These three pieces are among many seen as being nearly “impossible” to play, but any pianist will tell you that the most difficult piece of music is always the one you are about to learn. The best musicians are those who continue to challenge themselves, and luckily for the music lovers of the world, the three pieces above are a great way to accomplish just that!
Is there a piece that you’ve successfully challenged yourself to play? Do you have any tips (like overcoming “the wall,” or maximizing practice time) that have helped you master a particularly challenging piece? Please share your expertise in the comments section below.