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Poll
Question: Which piece(s) do you consider the hardest? select up to 5.
Alkan Concerto for solo piano - 6 (15%)
Alkan Le Festin d'Esope - 0 (0%)
Alkan Le Preux - 1 (2.5%)
Alkan Scherzo focoso - 0 (0%)
Balakirev - Islamey - 2 (5%)
Beethoven - Hammerklavier - 4 (10%)
Chopin - any of etudes 10/1, 10/2, 10/7, 25/6 - 3 (7.5%)
Chopin - Allegro de concert - 1 (2.5%)
Dreyschock - Revolutionary etude with left hand in octaves - 0 (0%)
Fumagalli - Fantasy on Robert le Diable for lh only - 1 (2.5%)
Herz - Fantasy on Non piu mesta - 0 (0%)
Liszt - 1837 Transcendental Etudes - 10 (25%)
Liszt - Clochette Fantasy - 1 (2.5%)
Liszt - Don Juan - 5 (12.5%)
Liszt - Tarantella di bravoure - 1 (2.5%)
Mereaux - selections from etudes - 1 (2.5%)
Tausig - Fantasy on Halka - 1 (2.5%)
Thalberg - Fantasy on Robert le Diable - 0 (0%)
Thalberg - Fantasy on La Traviata - 1 (2.5%)
various - Hexameron - 1 (2.5%)
Alkan - finale of Symphonie - 1 (2.5%)
Total Voters: 11

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Author Topic: Most technically demanding piano piece written during Liszt's lifetime  (Read 1377 times)
ronde_des_sylphes
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« on: January 14, 2017, 04:39:59 PM »

So.. I've succumbed to the poll curse.

I've an underlying motivation though. I'd be really interested in hearing of pieces I've missed out which are of a comparable level (consider it a request for education!) I've kept it specifically to within Liszt's lifetime as that really was the pinnacle of pianistic indulgence. This selection has also been broadly kept within my direct experience, though I don't know much about the Mereaux. It shouldn't be too hard to find recordings of the vast majority of these, if people are curious.
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mjames
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« Reply #1 on: January 15, 2017, 12:55:57 AM »

Played as cycles, Liszt's, Chopin's, and Alkan's etudes are up there. I'll pick Alkan's concerto considering the stamina required to play it, approximately 50 minutes of music! Another stupidly difficult piece would be Chopin's Rondo Brillante op. 16 and maybe his Op. 2 variations.

I should listen to more of Liszt's paraphrases, feel a little bit guilty that I'm not familiar with them as much as I should be. 
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Pianism is my religion, Bach is my God, and Chopin's my prophet.
ronde_des_sylphes
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« Reply #2 on: January 15, 2017, 01:37:57 AM »

I genuinely don't know what five I'm going to pick! Probably I'm tending towards some of the Alkan, Hexameron and the Fumagalli, which I think is extraordinary prototype lh only writing - not great musically but the ingenuity is quite something as is the difficulty. Someone has kindly put a score video up:
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visitor
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« Reply #3 on: January 15, 2017, 02:43:05 AM »

This is a great post and i like the chronology limit.

Hmm based on this composer's birth and death and by some of the style and devices used, i would place
This at the more to most difficult side of the technical spectrum though by no means more so than several works in the poll....  I have searched for the score for a while...no luck as of yet, but it is a blast to listen to, glad i can make folks aware of it in this discussion/setting
 Cool
Slavka Atanasijević b 1850 d 1897
Op 1
Na te mislim, koncertna fantazija na temu popularne srpske pesme / I think of Thee, fantaisie concertante on a popular Serbian song

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ronde_des_sylphes
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« Reply #4 on: January 15, 2017, 12:32:17 PM »

Sorry visitor, I don't think that sounds particularly difficult. Fairly standard paraphrase techniques and nothing overly challenging. Attractively put together though.

@mjames, tbh I think the Alkan op.39 set is a lot harder than the Chopin sets, with the caveat that a few of the Chopin etudes are plain awkward. They are largely conquered territory though in a way the Alkan isn't. Maybe that will change with time. I also think the op.39 set is harder than the 1851 TEs. Compared to the 1837 version I think it's a much closer contest.

All of the Alkan here is really difficult, imo. It's hard for me to make specific choices, but I'm going to opt for the solo concerto and Le Preux. I don't think an adequate a tempo recording of the latter exists. The last movement of the Symphonie is the hardest thing I've ever played in front of other musicians, and I made a bit of a mess of it, frankly.. a lot of a mess probably Smiley

Of the others which I think are genuinely very or ultra-difficult, rather than "just" difficult - I'd like to give an honourable mention to the Dreyschock. Emulating it is quite remarkable and it's pretty crazy that two posters here have done it! I'm picking the Fumagalli, because, whilst it has accessible sections, I think it's just crazy, and I see something of a gauntlet being thrown down in the form of the piece being dedicated to Liszt.

I'm going to pick the 1837 TEs. A few aren't too bad but overall extremely difficult. The Clochette is a bit of a notorious piece and honourable mention again. The other two Liszt pieces are extremely difficult too.

The Thalberg and Tausig I also believe to be close to extreme level difficulty but probably just a touch short of the Alkan. Even Michael Ponti made heavy cuts when he recorded the Robert le Diable.

Finally, picking Hexameron because it is a cornucopia of just about every difficulty going at that time in pianistic history.

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visitor
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« Reply #5 on: January 15, 2017, 04:05:26 PM »

Sorry visitor, I don't think that sounds particularly difficult. Fairly standard paraphrase techniques and nothing overly challenging. Attractively put together though.
...

totally fair. Your eara are much more atuned to picking out what is difficult and what elements you
have encountered and can navigate through. It probably just sounds hard to me as well since i dont have a ton of experience with this type of music, the closest being a couple of Gottschalk concert pieces from years ago....i would likely see it as not as difficult if i had the score and read through a few of the naughtier sounding parts. But totally see where you come from Smiley
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ronde_des_sylphes
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« Reply #6 on: January 15, 2017, 06:17:05 PM »

totally fair. Your eara are much more atuned to picking out what is difficult and what elements you
have encountered and can navigate through. It probably just sounds hard to me as well since i dont have a ton of experience with this type of music, the closest being a couple of Gottschalk concert pieces from years ago....i would likely see it as not as difficult if i had the score and read through a few of the naughtier sounding parts. But totally see where you come from Smiley

Gottschalk is probably fairly atypical of this style as embodied by Liszt, Thalberg and later Pabst and Tausig, amongst others.

What strikes me about the 1837 TEs is that the fairly straightforward ones in the 1851 set (eg 1, 3, 6, 11) aren't that much harder in the earlier version, but some of the already difficult ones (5, 8, 12 spring to mind) are positively venomous in the 1837 configuration.
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stevensk
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« Reply #7 on: January 15, 2017, 08:12:43 PM »


All of them are simple when you have learned them. Very simple indeed  Wink
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octave_revolutionary
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« Reply #8 on: January 15, 2017, 08:20:30 PM »

I usually don't like to write in comments on threads like these, but I just have to point out something here.

I can't believe that anyone has picked any of the original version of Chopin's etudes without having selected his Revolutionary Etude in octaves. True, some of the things in this poll are brutally difficult, and the reason I haven't voted at all is that I'm not familiar with many of the lesser-known works among them. But I have played practically ALL of Chopin's etudes, 12 out of 24 of Liszt's etudes (although NOT in the trickier early versions), as well as Don Juan, and I am currently working on Le Preux, and well....... NONE of all that stuff that I mentioned comes close to the difficulty presented by playing the Revolutionary in octaves. I mean, can you even imagine what it's like to play scales and arpeggios in octaves almost non-stop at MM=100+ per quarter-note at volume level F to FFF for three minutes straight?!! None of the stuff in this poll that I heard or played even intimidates me any more. I suppose if Dreyschock's version of Op. 10-12 doesn't strike you as being the hardest thing you ever heard, I suppose I did a pretty good job of making it sound fairly easy:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=svjhEyqaGxs

Oh, and how about adding Op. 25/2 in octaves (as Liszt played it) to this poll?! THAT must really be a challenge!   Cheesy Wink

Having said all that, I suppose beside the above video, the most difficult thing that I've ever performed in public was a transcription of Wagner's overture to Tännhauser - done by Liszt, which I had to partially rewrite in some passages, both because they were most unpianistic and unplayable- especially in light of the fact that I played it in the same tempo as a top-notch orchestra would have done. That transcription should DEFINITELY be included in this poll.

And then, there is always the possibility that something even more absurdly diffcult had been composed during Liszt's lifetime than anything discussed in this thread but that was simply of such poor or uninteresting musical content that it never saw the light of day. We must consider that possibility.......
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octave_revolutionary
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« Reply #9 on: January 15, 2017, 08:29:55 PM »

All of them are simple when you have learned them. Very simple indeed  Wink

I believe it was Heinrich Neuhaus that pointed out that "playing the piano isn't difficult- what's difficult is to learn to play it".

@stevensk Whether you're serious or not, this Neuhaus quote sure is accurateSmiley
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ronde_des_sylphes
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« Reply #10 on: January 15, 2017, 08:40:30 PM »

I usually don't like to write in comments on threads like these, but I just have to point out something here.

I can't believe that anyone has picked any of the original version of Chopin's etudes without having selected his Revolutionary Etude in octaves. True, some of the things in this poll are brutally difficult, and the reason I haven't voted at all is that I'm not familiar with many of the lesser-known works among them. But I have played practically ALL of Chopin's etudes, 12 out of 24 of Liszt's etudes (although NOT in the trickier early versions), as well as Don Juan, and I am currently working on Le Preux, and well....... NONE of all that stuff that I mentioned comes close to the difficulty presented by playing the Revolutionary in octaves. I mean, can you even imagine what it's like to play scales and arpeggios in octaves almost non-stop at MM=100+ per quarter-note at volume level F to FFF for three minutes straight?!! None of the stuff in this poll that I heard or played even intimidates me any more. I suppose if Dreyschock's version of Op. 10-12 doesn't strike you as being the hardest thing you ever heard, I suppose I did a pretty good job of making it sound fairly easy:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=svjhEyqaGxs

Oh, and how about adding Op. 25/2 in octaves (as Liszt played it) to this poll?! THAT must really be a challenge!   Cheesy Wink

Having said all that, I suppose beside the above video, the most difficult thing that I've ever performed in public was a transcription of Wagner's overture to Tännhauser - done by Liszt, which I had to partially rewrite in some passages, both because they were most unpianistic and unplayable- especially in light of the fact that I played it in the same tempo as a top-notch orchestra would have done. That transcription should DEFINITELY be included in this poll.

And then, there is always the possibility that something even more absurdly diffcult had been composed during Liszt's lifetime than anything discussed in this thread but that was simply of such poor or uninteresting musical content that it never saw the light of day. We must consider that possibility.......

I could be picky and say that the Dreyschock doesn't formally exist, and your version  (which is of course insanely difficult Smiley ) is "only" a reconstruction, likewise the Cimirro recording (also on youtube). Tbh that was one of the reasons I didn't select it, the other probably being that the solo concerto, for example, has more varied difficulties. I did make a point of honourable mentioning it though, because it's one hell of a feat.

Not sure about Tannhauser: my opinion is that Norma and La Sonnambula are harder; maybe a couple of the early 1830s paraphrases too (I must refresh my memory re the Auber La fiancee one.. can't remember exactly what it was like).

Yes re the disappeared stuff.. the Mereaux is really cult stuff and I can't comment in an educated manner on it; likewise I have a gut feeling some of the Stradal Wagner transcriptions are very tough but am not familiar with them.
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octave_revolutionary
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« Reply #11 on: January 15, 2017, 08:57:01 PM »

@ronde_des_sylphes I can ASSURE you safely, that Liszt's transcription of Norma is DEFINITELY not harder than Tannhäuser!!!! To a great extent, Tannhäuser's difficulty lies precisely in the fact that, just like the Alkan solo concerto that you mentioned, it presents different technical challenges that constantly alternate between one another, and rapidly at that, on top. I even remember reading somewhere that Liszt himself used to get tired while playing it!!  Tongue

With regards to Mereaux, your observation is certainly amusing, as most of his etudes are, at best, second-rate music, but there are a few, maybe a dozen at the very most, that do have a certain charm, some even have grandeur.....

As for Chopin's etudes, I feel the hardest ones are: 10-2, 25-6, 25-8, 25-10, and 25-12. What's often difficult about Chopin is that he's so concise, everything's so exposed...... and for example, the difficulty in 26-10 is not the fast parts, but the cantilena in the middle section and the ability to mantain the integrity of the piece itself.
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ronde_des_sylphes
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« Reply #12 on: January 15, 2017, 09:09:43 PM »

It's OK, I take your opinion seriously. Which part of Tannhauser caused you the most difficulty? I think the pages and pages of alternate octaves are a pure stamina issue and not really that hard.  I'm fairly sure the anecdote you refer to is from his later years but I don't have the Alan Walker books to hand right now. I suppose you don't find the G major lh octave section in Norma very hard: it's never really worked well for me. On the other hand, the chordal jumps in the Eb march section 5 and 6 pages from the end, which has a bit of a reputation, I've never really had a problem with.
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octave_revolutionary
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« Reply #13 on: January 15, 2017, 09:32:29 PM »

Which part of Tannhauser caused you the most difficulty?

ALL OF IT!!!!!!  Shocked Roll Eyes Embarrassed Angry Tongue

 Grin Grin Grin Grin Grin Grin Grin

Even the opening is insanely difficult to pull of with sincerity and profundity. It just doesn't let up, gives you no peace, no rest, no"truce"  Wink Wink......... it's a nightmare just thinking about it  Roll Eyes..........

and the single repeated notes at the end......... enough to make a seasoned veteran cry........

I also played a version where I rewrote the end to make it sound more "orchestral"

Of course, every single version I've ever heard, namely by Gyorgy Cziffra, Rudolf Kerer, and some fourth-rate pianist on the Internet, were well below sub-par tempo. I also heard a pathetically distorted version tempo-wise, by the great Josef Hofmann, but it was a piano-roll which I can't take at face-value.

I think I fear the Tannhäuser more than Op. 10-12 in octaves, at this point. Imagine.
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ronde_des_sylphes
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« Reply #14 on: January 15, 2017, 09:44:32 PM »

ALL OF IT!!!!!!  Shocked Roll Eyes Embarrassed Angry Tongue


 Grin
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octave_revolutionary
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« Reply #15 on: January 15, 2017, 09:55:14 PM »

I forgot to add: when I speak of the difficulty of the Tannhäuser transcription, I refer to it as its being played in the correct, orchestral tempo- not slowing down where the going gets tough, of course.  Smiley
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stevensk
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« Reply #16 on: January 16, 2017, 08:01:53 PM »


-OMG Its so tiresome whith all this "which is hardest" "Which is fastest" "Who can play moonlight sonate mov1 fastest in the world?
 -How old are you? Arw you all tenagers? Stop this nonsense!  Angry
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octave_revolutionary
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« Reply #17 on: January 16, 2017, 09:17:22 PM »

-OMG Its so tiresome whith all this "which is hardest" "Which is fastest" "Who can play moonlight sonate mov1 fastest in the world?
 -How old are you? Arw you all tenagers? Stop this nonsense!  Angry

I smell a jealous (and technically very inept) professional pianist  Angry Angry Angry Angry
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stevensk
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« Reply #18 on: January 16, 2017, 09:28:14 PM »

I smell a jealous (and technically very inept) professional pianist  Angry Angry Angry Angry

i dont think he must be inept or jealous, but the question is somewhat musically immature  Wink
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octave_revolutionary
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« Reply #19 on: January 16, 2017, 09:35:04 PM »

Well, some smell come from the own noise.  Wink
I smell a jealous (and technically very inept) professional pianist  Angry Angry Angry Angry

Oh, and I forgot to add: a foreigner who just can't get his English right  Grin Grin Grin Grin Grin Grin Grin Grin
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stevensk
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« Reply #20 on: January 16, 2017, 09:35:56 PM »

Oh, and I forgot to add: a foreigner who just can't get his English right  Grin Grin Grin Grin Grin Grin Grin Grin

-So what?
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ronde_des_sylphes
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« Reply #21 on: January 16, 2017, 09:37:12 PM »

-OMG Its so tiresome whith all this "which is hardest" "Which is fastest" "Who can play moonlight sonate mov1 fastest in the world?
 -How old are you? Arw you all tenagers? Stop this nonsense!  Angry

It's a bit of fun. And hopefully at least one of us learns about the existence of some more ultra-difficult music with interesting technical challenges.
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stevensk
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« Reply #22 on: January 16, 2017, 09:39:22 PM »

Oh, and I forgot to add: a foreigner who just can't get his English right  Grin Grin Grin Grin Grin Grin Grin Grin

-A foreigner ..relative what country?  Grin
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octave_revolutionary
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« Reply #23 on: January 16, 2017, 09:42:14 PM »

-A foreigner ..relative what country?  Grin

Why, whatever country you happen to be from, naturally..........
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stevensk
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« Reply #24 on: January 16, 2017, 09:50:47 PM »

Why, whatever country you happen to be from, naturally..........


LOL, so you are not from a country!  Grin Grin Grin Grin
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octave_revolutionary
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« Reply #25 on: January 16, 2017, 09:56:43 PM »

@stevensk For your information, ALL the above posts in which I quoted you were directed to YOU.

DUHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH Ѫ
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stevensk
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« Reply #26 on: January 16, 2017, 10:05:28 PM »

@stevensk For your information, ALL the above posts in which I quoted you were directed to YOU.

DUHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH Ѫ

I guess so but you know, Im always polite  Wink So, from what non foreign country are you from?
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octave_revolutionary
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« Reply #27 on: January 16, 2017, 10:17:38 PM »

-OMG Its so tiresome whith all this "which is hardest" "Which is fastest" "Who can play moonlight sonate mov1 fastest in the world?
 -How old are you? Arw you all tenagers? Stop this nonsense!  Angry

@stevensk Well, IMO your first post on this thread (quoted above) was hardly polite, nor was this one from April 21, 2016:

Oh, why??  Angry  I hate this kind of octave pecking bombastic pianoplaying. Is it an improvement of Chopin´s etudes? -No!! Its just silly and really bad taste. No wonder people prefer Richard Clayderman

but anyway..... I'm Portuguese-American (from the USA) and learned how to play the piano in Russia.
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stevensk
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« Reply #28 on: January 16, 2017, 10:31:03 PM »

@stevensk Well, IMO your first post on this thread (quoted above) was hardly polite, nor was this one from April 21, 2016:

but anyway..... I'm Portuguese-American (from the USA) and learned how to play the piano in Russia.

-Ok, so we are both foreigners relative all other countrys where we dont live. Now, I must go to bed. Its night in my foreign country. Good night Octave!
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octave_revolutionary
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« Reply #29 on: January 16, 2017, 10:32:59 PM »

Good night  Smiley
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lostinidlewonder
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« Reply #30 on: January 16, 2017, 10:50:49 PM »

Although working out what might be the hardest might be fun I think it also has some damaging points. Unnecessarily putting obstacles in the way in terms of difficult doesn't help, if you think it's super difficult then it will get more difficult, get on with the job. Also what is impossible for someone is impossible there are no degrees of impossibility so it is not clever to consider what is more impossible for you. Playing pieces simply because of their difficulty is a bad idea, choices of repertoire should reveal itself in a much more ordered manner relevant to your musical path.

I agree much on this list is very tough but I see it in terms of the work to get through not some etherial idea of difficulty. You won't find many people who have seriously and successfully tried their hands at pieces on this list so you are mostly going to get people with all these etherial ideas. IMHO work is work it's just the amount of it to get through, technique acquisition in these pieces would be really silly.
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ronde_des_sylphes
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« Reply #31 on: January 16, 2017, 11:52:54 PM »

technique acquisition in these pieces would be really silly.

If your technique is good enough that you start from "nearly" being able to play difficult pieces then pushing forward by attempting them can be very useful. In contrast, for someone to go from eg Beethoven op 49 set to these would be utterly fatuous.
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« Reply #32 on: January 17, 2017, 02:19:44 AM »

If your technique is good enough that you start from "nearly" being able to play difficult pieces then pushing forward by attempting them can be very useful. In contrast, for someone to go from eg Beethoven op 49 set to these would be utterly fatuous.

Ya! And it's amazing how often this kinda thing happens with different bounds.
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« Reply #33 on: January 17, 2017, 12:31:15 PM »

i dont think he must be inept or jealous, but the question is somewhat musically immature  Wink

I don't think the question is musically immature; like I said it's a bit of fun. This is something which comes up on this forum from time to time: I don't think that interest in extreme difficulty and technical feats is a defining symptom of musical immaturity at all. Some people interested in such things may well be, but equally it's also a manifestation of curiosity, as I tried to hint in my first post.

This is one of my favourite recordings I've made: if anything it's on the slow side, and I don't think it's the playing of someone musically immature.  It is of course the prerogative of others to disagree  Wink

http://www.pianostreet.com/smf/index.php?topic=49794.0
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« Reply #34 on: January 17, 2017, 09:26:13 PM »



and the single repeated notes at the end......... enough to make a seasoned veteran cry........

I think I fear the Tannhäuser more than Op. 10-12 in octaves, at this point. Imagine.

I actually had a quick look at the repeated notes today and didn't find them that bad.. Though I'm obviously not absolutely a tempo on a short bit of practice. The lh ones appear to be exactly the same technical issue as occurs for a few bars in Thalberg's Moses Fantasy - I used to find them a complete nuisance but I've become much more secure on them; they were fine last time I played the section in recital and they went OK in studio too. After me saying that, they will probably go wrong next time out! Your left hand is appreciably better than mine though. Has to be to play Dreyschock Wink
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