The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: What is the most difficult piano piece to play? | August 27, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

What is the most difficult piano piece to play?

Like so many others, The Ear had always heard it was “Islamey” or “Oriental Fantasy” by Balakirev.

And that always struck me as odd since so much of Liszt is so deliberately virtuosic.

Then I heard the works of Sorabji and figured that is really hard, no matter how easy Marc-Andre Hamelin makes it seem.

But now piano virtuoso Stephen Hough (below) has opened my eyes – and ears — to what he thinks is the most difficult piano work ever written. Furthermore, his view was apparently supported by no less a judge than Rachmaninoff.

So what is it?

Take a look and listen:

Do you agree? What do you think is the most difficult piano piece ever written – or that you ever played or heard?



  1. Chopin’s Etudes

    Comment by Wally — November 27, 2014 @ 11:52 am

  2. Those Ligeti Etudes that were featured on WTE awhile back seem like good candidates. I noticed that most of the Hard Music talk was about older repertoire. By extrapolation, it seems that not much much newer music is being learned or played. Drat.
    Ravel’s Scarbo, from Gaspard de la nuit, is my “traditional” music Hardest Piece candidate. La Valse is another, but most players refine Ravel’s piano solo arrangement to suit their own playing.
    I thought that the comment that the composer of the Hough Hard piece probably could not play his own music was a most salient comment. As a pianist who writes for the piano. I try not to EVER write something I cannot play.
    Since I can play just fine, but am not a concert artist, my music will always be at this certain level, which is not top-tier virtuostic. I am OK with this, since most players are not at this level. The audience for concerts is NOT the same target audience as the one for new compositions.

    Comment by Michael BB — August 27, 2012 @ 9:20 am

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