What is the hardest piano piece? Top 11 most difficult pieces for piano

What is the hardest piano piece?

Pianists, like other musicians, often look for the best pianists and hope to emulate or even surpass them in some way.

The piano is a musical instrument with a very long history. Over the centuries, many composers have written beautiful music for it. And of course, among all the variety of piano music, there are very difficult piano pieces.

What is the hardest piano piece in the world?

I think every student someday asks himself the question – what are the most difficult pieces for piano? Can I play them or how long do I need to study?

The list of hard pieces is very long! These include many challenging concertos with orchestra, such as the concertos composed by Bartók, Scriabin, and Rachmaninov, technical etudes, such as the works composed by Brahms, Scriabin, Chopin, or Ligeti, and suites, such as Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit or Stravinsky’s Trois Mouvements de Petrouchka.

Below we take a look at our Top 11 Most Difficult Pieces of Music.

Defining “Hardest”

But first, let’s define what the concept of “hardest” means.

When we hear the words “difficult piano composition”, we, first of all, imagine big, complex chords and very fast tempo passages. But technical difficulty is not the only challenge! For example, classical pianists sight-read long pieces of music, and jazz pianists improvise with complex combinations and transitions of harmonies. Polyphony in music for piano – also presents a particular difficulty.

It is impossible to cover all genres and styles of music in one list. Therefore, we have compiled for you the top 11 most difficult piano pieces in the classical genre.

Top 11 Most Difficult Piano Pieces Ever Written

Let’s start! I propose to learn together about the most hardest and beautiful musical piano pieces ever written and listen to them. All of them are difficult to play and they are parts of the piano repertoire of professional musicians. Also below the video, you will find sheet music of these pieces.

1. La Campanella – Franz Liszt

I decided to start our list with a wonderful etude by Franz Liszt La Campanella. He is a Hungarian composer of the 19th century and belongs to the era of romanticism. Liszt himself was an outstanding pianist, and his compositions show us his piano prowess.

La Campanella is one of the parts from the  6 Grandes Etudes De Paganini. Its name means “little bell”. Indeed, in a piece, we hear light, fast jumps throughout the keyboard, which imitate the sound of bells. Let’s listen to this piece.

Franz Liszt – La Campanella – Free sheet music


2. Gaspard de la Nuit – Maurice Ravel

The next will be a piece by the French composer Maurice Ravel – Gaspard de la Nuit.

This is a piano suite in three parts, each based on a poem from a collection of poems written in 1836 by Aloysius Bertrand. It consists of three parts – Ondina, La Gibet, and Scarbo.

Particularly difficult is the third part –  Scarbo. When the composer wrote this piece, he wanted to surpass Balakirev’s piece “Islamey” in difficulty. Indeed, Scarbo is one of the most technically extremely difficult pieces.

All three musical pieces are very mysterious, dark, and fantastic. Ravel himself said:

“Gaspard has been a devil in coming, but that is only logical since it was he who is the author of the poems. My ambition is to say with notes what a poet expresses with words.”

Maurice Ravel – Gaspard de la Nuit – Free sheet music


3. Piano Sonata No.29 B flat major op. 106 Hammerklavier – Ludwig van Beethoven

In third place on our list, I chose the famous 29th sonata in B flat major of Ludwig van Beethoven. It is better known as the Hammerklavier. The sonata was written in 1818, it was first performed in public only in 1836 by Franz Liszt.

In those days, the pianoforte was still not the dominant instrument. Many musicians still preferred the harpsichord. Beethoven wrote his Sonata No. 29 specifically for the fortepiano, emphasizing this in the title – Hammerklavier.

In total, Beethoven wrote 32 piano sonatas. Hammerklavier Sonata is a sonata in four movements –

  1. Allegro
  2. Scherzo, assai vivace
  3. Adagio sostenuto. Appassionato e con molto sentio
  4. Largo Allegro Risoluto

Among the difficulties of this sonata, one can single out not only technically difficult passages and extremely fast tempo, but also the duration of the entire piece. Sonata is 45 minutes long.

Ludwig van Beethoven – Hammerklavier – Free sheet music


4. Reminiscences de Don Juan – Mozart/Liszt

The next great musical piece on our list is Franz Liszt’s fantasy on themes from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni – Reminiscences de Don Juan.

In addition to his compositions, Liszt’s musical heritage also includes a large number of arrangements and fantasies on themes by other composers. These are a lot of arrangements of romances by Franz Schubert, and many fantasies on themes from operas by Mozart, Wagner, Verdi, and others.

“Reminiscences de Don Juan” is a wonderful virtuoso piece, combining the beauty and simplicity of Mozart’s melodies with the virtuosity and scale of Liszt.

Franz Liszt – Reminiscences de Don Juan – Free sheet music


5.  “Devil’s Staircase” – György Ligeti

György Ligeti is a 20th-century Hungarian and Austrian composer who wrote many works for the piano. Some of the most famous (and hardest) are his etudes. These pieces combine the highest level of technique and artistic musicality and beauty.

My favorite is the very interesting Etude No. 13 “Devil’s Staircase”. This is a dynamic and rhythmic toccata that moves up and down the piano polymetrically, with chromatic scale motifs and bell ringing impressions. I highly recommend listening!

6. Etude Op. 25 No. 11 (Winter Wind) – Fryderyk Chopin

I would like to invite you to listen to another very hard piece of music – Etude No. 23 by Fryderyk Chopin. Fryderyk Chopin is a famous Polish romantic composer of the 19th century. Chopin was a talented virtuoso pianist and wrote most of his musical works for the fortepiano. The most difficult and famous are his 24 Etudes. It is also called the Winter Wind. Its main difficulty is long quick passages in the right hand.

Etude No. 23 by Fryderyk Chopin – Free sheet music


7. Goldberg Variations – Johann Sebastian Bach

I think it would be wrong not to mention baroque music in our list. Although most of the most difficult songs were written during the Romantic era or the 20th century, the music of the Baroque era was also not easy. Johann Sebastian Bach, the German composer, created a huge amount of beautiful music, including the harpsichord and early fortepiano.

The Well-Tempered Clavier, a collection of 24 preludes and fugues in 2 parts, is considered to be the pinnacle of Bach’s work. But now I want to talk about another of his compositions – the Goldberg Variations.

It is a very long and difficult piece consisting of a theme and 30 variations. Due to its difficulty, it is quite rare to hear it in the repertoire of even the most professional pianists.

Johann Sebastian Bach – Goldberg Variations – Free sheet music


8. Variations on a Theme of Paganini – Johannes Brahms

Let’s return to the era of romanticism, to the 19th century, to the works of the famous Hungarian composer Johannes Brahms.

Music for fortepiano occupies a very important place in the work of Brahms. “Variations on a Theme of Paganini” is a magnificent virtuoso work for a fortepiano solo. Brahms used the theme of Paganini’s 24th Caprice and wrote 28 variations on it (2 movements of 14 variations each).

Playing this piece is a real challenge for any musician. It requires excellent technique, musicality, and endurance.

Johannes Brahms – “Variations on a Theme of Paganini” Part 1 – Free sheet music


Johannes Brahms – “Variations on a Theme of Paganini” Part 2 – Free sheet music


9. Piano Concerto No. 3 – Sergei Rachmaninoff

The last three items on our list are concerts.

“A concerto is a classical music composition that highlights a solo instrument against the background of a full orchestra.”

This genre appeared at the time of the Barocco era and soon became very popular. A piece is a very long, large musical piece, usually in three movements.

The third concert of the outstanding Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff is a very beautiful and hard musical piece. It can be heard in the final rounds of the world’s hardest classical musical competitions.

10. Concerto No. 2 – Bela Bartok

Bella Bartok is a Hungarian composer and virtuoso piano player. He wrote a huge amount of pieces for fortepiano, ranging from easy children’s songs to his most difficult second concerto for solo piano and orchestra.

It has a traditional form of three movements – the first and third parts are fast, and the second is slow.

In this piece, Bartók uses all the possibilities of fortepiano and modern techniques such as clusters.

Let’s listen to this unusual beautiful musical piece.

11. Concerto No. 2 – Sergei Prokofiev

And last on our list was another piano concerto. This piece, composed by the Russian composer of the 20th century Sergei Prokofiev is another beautiful and very difficult example of the music of the 20th century. This piece is really extremely technical and challenging!

Unlike the traditional form, it consists of four parts –

  1. Movement – Andantino. Allegretto
  2. Movement – Scherzo. Vivace
  3. Movement – Intermezzo. Allegro moderato
  4. Movement – Final. Allegro tempestoso

Playing the Most Hardest Piano Songs – FAQ

Who is the “hardest” pianist?

Over the past centuries, there have been many outstanding virtuoso pianists in the world who are able to perform the most challenging pieces. These are Hans von Bülow, Arthur Rubinstein, Glenn Gould, Martha Argerich, Lang Lang, Mitsuko Uchida, Daniel Barenboim, Maurizio Pollini, and others.

What is the hardest technique in piano?

It’s very individual. Depending on the strength, the size of the hands, and even the character of the pianist, the answer will be different. For one player, octaves and chords are difficult, while for another it may be a finger technique. But most pianists consider polyphony to be the most challenging technique.


What is the hardest piece by Chopin?

All of Chopin’s works are quite hard. Even the simplest of his preludes are already advanced playing. The most difficult works of Chopin include his second piano sonata and third sonata, and some of his etudes – No. 1, 2, 18, and 23.

What is Liszt’s hardest piece?

Liszt’s compositions are also very difficult and accessible to advanced and professional musicians. The most challenging ones include Sonata in B minor, Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2, and many piano transcriptions.

Summing Up Our List Of Hard Piano Pieces

Here we have come to the end of our article. If you are a beginner student or just an amateur musician, listen to these works! I am sure they will give you a lot of pleasure and inspiration. Just imagine how it is to listen to a live performance of these pieces, and even more so to play!

Perhaps one of these pieces will become your dream, goal, and motivation to achieve great success.

If you are just starting your journey in the musical world, I invite you to find out how long it takes to learn to play the piano, when is the best time to start musical lessons, and how to practice at home.

I hope my article was useful to you and you liked these wonderful challenging piano pieces.

Which one do you like the most? Which one do you want to play in your own performance? Do you want to add something else to my list of hardest pieces? I invite you to share your opinion in the comments.

Best regards, your Lucy.

2 thoughts on “What is the hardest piano piece? Top 11 most difficult pieces for piano”

  1. I played Etude No. 23 by Chopin, an incredibly beautiful piece! And the most difficult for me was “Islamey” by Balakirev. I played this piece when I was at the Academy of Music, it was so hard!


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