13 Hardest Songs to Play on Piano 

hardest songs to play on piano

We’ve interviewed around 20 pianists, including professional players and Enthu piano experts. Here we’re with a list of 13 hardest songs to play on a piano.

Dear readers, just a disclaimer. We think the definition of “hard” varies from musician to musician. Therefore, instead of ranking the piano pieces, we’d like to provide a concrete list of difficult piano pieces.

(P.S. Don’t mistake the numbering for ranking.)

What are the Hardest Piano Songs to Play on Piano?

1. Igor Stravinsky’s Trois mouvements de Petrouchka or Three Movements from Petrushka

Igor Stravinsky - What is the hardest song to play on Piano
Picture Credits : csosoundsandstories.org

Piano piece: Trois mouvements de Petrouchka or Three Movements from Petrushka

Composer of the piece: Igor Stravinsky

Original Pianist: Arthur Rubinstein

This piano piece has famously driven many pianists to the edge of madness. Some even say that Igor Stravinsky, composer of this piece, failed to play it; apparently, he didn’t have the left-hand technique needed to play the piece.

Initially, this piano piece was written for the ballet Petrushka: a puppet story. It was composed by Igor Stravinsky, and the genius pianist Arthur Rubinstein played it.

Among the pianists we interviewed, the majority answered that Three Movements from Petrushka was challenging. The glissandos movements and the two-octave long jump were some of their common concerns.

Anyway, watch the below video to listen to Three movements from Petrushka played by Ms. Yuja Wang but don’t be shocked. She is an unbelievable goddess.

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2. Sorabji’s Opus Clavicembalisticum

Opus Clavicembalisticum
Picture Credits: last.fm

Piano piece: Opus Clavicembalisticum

Composer of the piece: Kaikhosru Sorabji

Pianist known for playing it: John Ogdon

Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji, whose father was an Indian Parsi, grew up composing extraordinary music. Sadly enough, his fame for writing brilliant music went as far as his reputation for cutting-edge criticisms.

Once, in the Open letter to a conductor, he began by writing, “Egregious, Egotistical, Empty-pated and Exhibibionistical Sir.”

He famously said about his music, “If you don’t like it, because it isn’t the present day done thing, that is just too bad, but not for me, who couldn’t care less.”

Sorabji’s Opus Clavicembalisticum, a 12-movement piece, is one of the hardest songs to play on the piano. It goes for as long as 4 hours in concerts and orchestras. Interestingly, it’s the only piece on our list to which every pianist we interviewed has agreed to be complicated.

According to a Sorabji’s admirer, only “ten-fingered” pianists can play his music.

Click on the below video to listen to “Cadenza I” from Opus Clavicembalisticum.

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3. Liszt’s La Campanella

Piano piece: La Campanella

Composer of the piece: Franz Liszt

Pianist: Franz Liszt

A YouTube comment funnily said, “Beethoven makes pianists cry, Chopin makes piano cry, but Liszt makes both the pianist and the piano cry“. We couldn’t agree more.

As scary as it is to pianists, La Campanella squishes its listeners into a frenzied catharsis. At the piece’s beginning, the music provokes you towards euphoric oblivion but soon withdraws you into a whirlwind of mixed emotions.

La Campanella’s technicality scares most pianists, as it includes big stretches and jumps with both hands. For instance, the right hand carries most of the musical content until the third page, but then there’re big stretches for the left hand.

Another reason it’s difficult is that violinist Paganini heavily influenced Liszt. Therefore, you have to keep playing the Paganini harmonization and melody with the right hand.

One must know how to play piano with both hands without any mistakes to play Liszt’s.

Checkout this video and observe how Lang Lang carries his fingers gracefully over the piano while playing this complex piece.

4. Godowsky’s Studies on Chopin’s Etudes, Op.10 (Stanhope)

Piano piece: The Studies on Chopin’s Études, Opus 10

Composer of the piece: Leopold Godowsky

Pianist known for playing it: David Stanhope & Hamlin

Godowsky’s Studies on Chopin’s Etudes is famous for its puzzling technicality and difficulty level. And in the sweet mess of complex music pieces, Opus 10 is the perfect cherry on the top.

For instance, the composer manipulated Chopin’s left-hand techniques so that even in the two-handed etudes, the left-hand ends up with the lion’s share of the work.

That is why this piece of music is so intriguing despite its impossibility. Listen to David Stanhope playing Opus 10 in this video.

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5. Beethoven’s Sonata No.29 in B-flat Major, “Hammerklavier” (Levit)

Beethoven - hardest song to play on piano

Beethoven‘s Sonata No. 29 in B-flat Major is commonly known as Hammerklaveir. The nickname came from the page’s title on which the music was written: Grand sonata for the fortepiano.

Besides being the most difficult Beethoven piece, it is also one of the impossible songs to play on piano.

It takes around 45 minutes to play the whole piece, making it a challenge for the pianists.

Listen to Yuja Wang play Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 29 in B-flat, “Hammerklavier,” for 44 mins straight.

6. Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit-(Scarbo)

Maurice Ravel is famous for writing difficult music pieces. So much, so that amateur pianists find his name synonymous with impossibility.

Gaspart de la Nuit is a set of three pieces, of which Scarbo is the third piece. According to music historians, he deliberately made Scarbo more challenging to challenge Balakirev’s Islamey.

Inspired by a book of poetry of the same name written by Aloysium Bertrand, Ravel tried to bring alive the darkness and the horror of the poetry into his music.

One requires years of experience, patience, and unwavering dedication to pull off this piece of music on a piano.

Listen to Pogorelich playing Ravel: Gaspard de la nuit (Ondine – Le Gibet – Scarbo)

7. Balakirev’s Islamey

Balakirev's Islamey - what is the hardest song to play on piano
Picture Credits: Pinterest

Balakirev composed Islamey inspired by the folk music he encountered on his musical excursions to the Caucasus Mountains in the 1860s. Once, he heard a Circassian prince play a dance tune on his folk instrument called Islamey.

Modifying the dance tune into the themes of the poem Tamara, he composed this legendary piano piece–Islamey: Oriental Fantasy. To date, it’s one of the most difficult pieces for a pianist.

Here’s a video of Lang Lang teaching Islamey at the Royal College of Music.

8. Alkan’s Le Preux

“Le Preux” is French for “the brave.” Besides being one of the most challenging piano pieces of Alkan, it’s also unpopular amongst pianists. Considering the challenge, the unpopularity isn’t a surprise to anyone.

Alkan wrote this music piece as an etude in octaves. From beginning to end, the finger positions remain jumpy up and down the keyboard, making it extremely difficult to pull off.

That is why you won’t find any famous studio recordings of Le Preux. Some even doubt if Alkan could play the tempo, he desired for this piece.

Here’s a video of a piano student playing Le Preux.

9. Liszt’s Reminiscence de Don Juan

Liszt was highly impressed by Mozart’s Don Giovanni. He composed Reminiscence de Don Juan while under the former’s heavy influence.

This piece is undoubtedly Liszt‘s most challenging music piece. It’s long and technically scary to many pianists.

There are long jumps across the keyboard using both hands. It’s possible to play this piece only after the rigorous practice for years.

Here’s a video of Lang Lang playing Liszt’s Reminiscences de Don Juan.

10. Ligeti’s Étude for Piano No. 13

György Ligeti
Picture Credits: The Guardian

György Ligeti is a contemporary and an avant-garde pianist, unlike the rest of the list.

Ligeti’s Étude for Piano No. 13, also known as Devil’s staircase, makes you whirl around your existence. First, it brings you face to face with your existential maze. Then, it soothes you in your awareness and restlessness.

Our interviewees (the pianists we interviewed) described this piece of music as the Mt. Everest for pianists. They know it’s hard but still want to climb the high register keys.

Here’s a video to listen to Ligeti’s Étude for Piano No. 13.

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11. Alkan’s Allegreto alla Barbaresca

Charles-Valentin Alkan wrote the Concerto for Solo Piano, a 3-movement solo piano piece. The third and final movement is Allegretto alla barbaresca”.

It features technical difficulties compared to the other movements because it commences in the ‘wrong’ key of D major. On top of that, it consists of larger leaps and unusual use of 3-against-4 polyrhythms.

Here’s a thrilling performance by Hamelin playing Alkan’s Allegreto alla Barbaresca.

12. Hamelin’s Circus Galop by Hamelin

Marc-André Hamelin’s Circus Galop shows the clear inspiration of Franz Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2. Composed in the 90s, it was dedicated to piano roll makers Beatrix and Jürgen Hocker.

This 4–5 minutes composition is available in the Sorabji Archive.

Some say it’s the most complex piano piece of contemporary times. At one point in the music, one needs to press 21 keys simultaneously. Besides being fast, it requires good piano rolls to execute the music physically.

Here’s a live recording of the Circus Galop (H.D.H.D.) Live Recording On A Steinway Grand.

13. Messiaen’s Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus

Olivier Messiaen - what is the hardest song to play on piano
Picture Credits: cmuse.org

Olivier Messiaen’s ground-breaking composition Vingt Regards sur l’enfant Jésus is one of the toughest songs to play on a piano.

The title’s literal meaning is twenty gazes on the infant Jesus, which speaks about the composer’s catholic devotion.

Often compared with Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier and Beethoven’s 32 Piano Sonatas in terms of their scale, it challenges a pianist to their core.

It takes as long as two hours to play, and therefore, it’s rarely performed in full. Our interviewees expressed that It takes extreme physical and emotional stamina to play this piece.

Here’s Messiaen’s Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus performed by Yvonne Loriod.


What is considered the most challenging piano piece?

Sorabji’s Opus Clavicembalisticum and Liszt’s La Campanella are considered amongst the toughest songs to play on the piano.

How hard is Fur Elise?

Beethoven’s Fur Elise is considered moderately difficult, but that is when one tries to play the whole piece. However, it’s not amongst the hardest piano pieces.

How many days will I need to learn Alkan’s Allegreto alla Barbaresca?

It takes years and years of piano training and practice to play Alkan’s Allegreto alla Barbaresca. First, try to master more manageable piano pieces before jumping into difficult ones.

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Although it’s rarely played, we’ve concluded Sorabji’s Opus Clavicembalisticum as one of the most challenging pieces to play on a piano. Our conclusion is based on our interviewees’ opinions.

So, it’s not mandatory that you’d feel the same. However, generally speaking, all the 13 songs mentioned above are the most complex piano pieces.

If you’ve some other pieces in mind, please feel free to mention them in the comment section.

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