Most difficult concerto ever?

April 22, 2007 at 10:42 PM · I'm curious to find out what people think is the most difficult violin concerto ever written.

Replies (95)

April 22, 2007 at 11:44 PM · The never-ending question returns

April 22, 2007 at 11:51 PM · Ligeti?

April 23, 2007 at 12:04 AM · Britten, Joachim, Elgar

April 23, 2007 at 12:05 AM · I want to see someone do a ridiculous version of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.

Something to put Erlkonig to shame.

April 23, 2007 at 12:45 AM · I have to say, Britten is the most difficult concerto I've worked on in terms of technical obstacles.

April 23, 2007 at 12:50 AM · Schoenberg (personal chops sadly lacking)

Mozart A Major K 219 (personal chops still lacking, but at least I can try!)

April 23, 2007 at 01:07 AM · How hard you guys think is Rochberg (not the Stern version but the original one)? Harder than Ligeti?

I believe Milstein said there's no such thing as being difficult, either you can play or you can't play. There's a lot of truth to this. To me, most concerti are all difficult.

I can't; therefore I play.

April 23, 2007 at 01:14 AM · I would say its quite subjective to say the MOST difficult but Britten is certainly a top 5

April 23, 2007 at 02:34 AM · Schoenberg? Heifetz said he need 6 fingers to play it.

April 23, 2007 at 04:28 AM · Armand:

Dohnyani wrote a set of variations on Twinkle for piano and orchestra...not sure how difficult it is for pianists but it is certainly a virtuoso piece.

Kevin

April 23, 2007 at 04:35 AM · Very interesting responses! I actually haven't heard the Ligeti, Schoenberg, or Britten. How do these compare to the Nicholas Maw concerto or Bartok no. 2?

April 23, 2007 at 04:58 AM · It's a very individual thing. Some players have a kind of overall technical apparatus that makes concerto X more do-able than concerto Y. Others, equally talented and accomplished will feel the opposite. I also feel that one's particular kind of musicality and emotions factor in as well. If one has srong feelings for a piece it can help toward overcoming technical hurdles.

Someone mentioned Elgar, for example. Oddly enough I just decided to start to review it today, never having gotten it in my fingers in the past to any sort of performance level. But I'd sooner perform that, or some other 'little tidbits' such as Brahms, Sibelius, or Paganini #1, than the Prokoffiev #2, which was the hardest thing for me that I studied back when I took lessons, or say, Bartok #2, which I could never get into just as a listener. (I like #1.)

Heifetz, in an interview said that the Mozart and Beethoven were the hardest concertos "and", he added, "I'm talking technically, too!" I read somehere that Ricci and Oliveira, no mean technicians, both agreed that the Ginastera is the hardest.

April 23, 2007 at 05:07 AM ·

April 23, 2007 at 05:42 AM · Several come to my mind. Shoenberg, Ginastera, and perhaps Penderecki 1.

April 23, 2007 at 07:35 AM · I think Prokofiev 1 is harder than no. 2.

Schoenberg sounded pretty impossible to me.

April 23, 2007 at 01:04 PM · I've never even heard the Schoenberg. Has Joachim already been mentioned?

April 23, 2007 at 02:20 PM · I think it is Ernst.

April 23, 2007 at 03:31 PM · It must be some of the Viotti concertos. It is just frases stapled on top of each other. I simply do not understand them all. The are to difficullt.

Or what about Ysaye no 1? I can't even find the score - it is THAT hard!

April 23, 2007 at 03:38 PM · Has anyone tried playing the Miklos Rozsa violin concerto. That one sounded crazy hard to me...

April 23, 2007 at 03:40 PM · Haven't tried yet, but I want to! What a neat piece! It's like Magyar-peasant meets Hollywood-schmaltz meets Heifetz-virtuosity. Good stuff.

April 23, 2007 at 07:48 PM · Oh boy, I was just listening to the Ginastera the other day and it sounds pretty nasty.

April 23, 2007 at 09:25 PM · The good news is that I certainly will never be trying to play any of those.

April 23, 2007 at 09:34 PM · im surprised no one has mentioned stravinsky...

April 23, 2007 at 10:16 PM · i would say the mendelssohn and any mozart concerto. mozart is always hard and the mendelssohn has probably gotta be the most well known concerto and its getting really hard to find a perfect perfomance of it in my books

April 23, 2007 at 11:56 PM · Well, it depends on what you mean by difficult. Surely by any definition, Schoenberg Concerto is right up there. I think the famous quote is that a violinist said that you would need an extra finger to play it and the composer replied, "I can wait." When I bought the music and score to it many years ago at Frank Music in NYC, Mr. Frank said, "you know it is a whole lot easier to buy the music to this piece than to play it."

April 24, 2007 at 03:38 AM · What about the Brahms Concerto? I havent even dreamed of actually attempting it in the near future (Im on Mendelssohn now), but I have heard that that is the hardest.

April 24, 2007 at 05:09 AM · Well the Brahms was written in a way that isn't convenient for a violinist. To me there are more awkward sounding concertos, but I'll let you know once I learned more of them.

April 24, 2007 at 12:52 PM · The Brahms is extremely challenging and awkward - and wonderful! With most other pieces, if I've put a good amount of work into it in the past, I'm ahead of the game when I come to review it. With the Brahms, each time I've reviewed it, it felt like I was starting from scratch!

April 24, 2007 at 02:27 PM · ernst violin concerto 2

April 25, 2007 at 01:41 AM · Vivaldi a minor

April 25, 2007 at 02:55 AM · Bill, I second that :)

April 25, 2007 at 03:31 AM · Oh yes vivaldi of course! But wait, what about the seitz concertos??

-EG

April 25, 2007 at 04:14 AM · One Seitz fits all?

April 25, 2007 at 09:16 AM · Well, once I heard from a teacher (during a masterclass in london), that for him the most difficult concerto was Beethoven.

In my personal opinion, the most difficult concerto i've ever heard (and seen..) it's the PENDERECKI violin concerto NUMBER 2 , written and played by anne sophie mutter: simply astonishing! It's such a beautiful piece, she said to me once (and it is so true), but unfortunately so a few does know it.

I suggest to buy the cd, or, better than all, DOWNLOAD THE VIDEO ON EMULE: you will SEE the thrilling performance of the premiere in 1995 with the composer among the audience...

After having seen the cadenza of this concerto I believe that god does exist: she is.

April 25, 2007 at 01:48 PM · I almost literally bumped into Penderecki at a contemporary music festival in Stavanger, Norway about ten years ago--of course this was long before I was mature enough to appreciate most of his music, but it was still cool to see him. :)

I've noticed that there are two kinds of Hardest Concerto Ever: the insane finger-breaking tonality-stretching brain-exhausting stuff like the Ligeti and Penderecki, and the sublimely simple, Apollonian, pure and clean Classicism like Beethoven and Mozart.

April 26, 2007 at 04:02 AM ·

April 26, 2007 at 01:30 PM · Heifetz did warn about the difficulty of the Mozart and Beethoven concerti. Try to find a Grumiaux recording of a Mozart concerto. I think he, to use Mozart's expression, "flows like oil" and sings like a nightingale.

April 26, 2007 at 02:52 PM · After Itzhak Perlman performed the Barber violin concerto at a National Symphony concert in Washington, D.C., in the fall of 2005, there was a question and answer session with the audience, and someone asked Mr. Perlman which concerto was the most difficult. His response was the Beethoven concerto, not because it is technically the most challenging but, he said, because it consists largely of scales and arpeggios and you have to figure out what to do with them.

April 26, 2007 at 11:09 PM ·

April 26, 2007 at 11:13 PM · Greetings,

Grumiuax seemed to have this extraordinary innate feeling for tempo and flow in the Mozart concertos. Eveb after listening to some other really great players he can come across like a breath of fresh air.

Cheers,

Buri

June 26, 2007 at 08:47 PM · The Miklos Rozsa violin concerto was just recorded by Anastasia Khitruk for Naxos, release in September 2007. It is indeed hard to play.

June 26, 2007 at 11:08 PM · I guess Bartok #2

June 27, 2007 at 09:10 PM ·

June 27, 2007 at 10:48 PM · Greetings,

Amy is the first person to answer correctly. First prize is a crate of prunes,

Cheers,

Buri

June 28, 2007 at 03:28 AM · I'm afraid to know what the second prize is, and am therefore cancelling my guess.

June 28, 2007 at 10:36 PM · The Brahms for difficulty/challenge and for lyrical beauty.

June 29, 2007 at 12:55 AM · Art is not about difficulty.

Difficulty can't be measured. Its rather the question how close somebody can get to the composers thought. In this respect any concerto can be very easy or very difficult. Nowadays we are too much focused on technically cleanliness as a measure on how good a violinist can handle his repertoire. However I listened to performances not technically perfect but thrilling and vice versa absolute perfect performanceses which I found completely boring.

Certainly there are concertos which go quicker into your fingers than others but this doesn't has any meaning to their artistic value. The Ernst concerto is as well amongst the top ten in this respect, but its difficulty doesn't express anything artistically. Its the narcistic output of an highly skilled violinist and rightfully so became almost forgotten.

My personal choise (even though I am only an amateur violinist) is the Brahms concerto for its depth in thoughts and its complexity. Thats why all those highly skilled prodegee kids don't touch it.

June 29, 2007 at 04:04 AM · I'm begining to think that Tchaikovsky is the hardest, to make it interesting and not try to thoughtlessly copy whatever you heard some Russian do 50 years ago.

I am so sick of that concerto now....

That and Sibelius. Unfortunately I'm at violin camp right now and for some reason none of these kids play sonatas. Just "Tchaik" and Carmen all day long...

I have to agree that being able to transcend technical difficulty can make some things quite enjoyable. I've hated Paganini 1 for a long time, but I recently had the good fortune to skulk outside a doorway and hear a teenage girl play it with such mastery, control, and conviction in her musicality that I thoroughly enjoyed it. It's really playing that like which convinces you that you are in the presence of a gift from another reality. If anyone can make it to Hudson, OH on July 1st, you should do it to come hear her.

June 29, 2007 at 12:04 PM · Dear Joel, I'm envious! Must be something to listen to a concerto with the "owner" playing! But I disagree about the Ernst Concerto: I can't imagine any violinist making this lot of notes sound interesting...Heifetz himself is reported to have mastered it "w/honors" as a child, but has never recorded/played it in concert AFAIK. And who writes has learned (Was at least able to play the notes, more or less in tempo) all this stuff in the remote past...

June 29, 2007 at 12:39 PM · Of course, I'm not a professional musician, but I've always thought that the most difficult concerto of all time has always been the one I happen to be working on at the moment.

:) Sandy

June 29, 2007 at 01:38 PM · Definitely John Stump's Faerie's Air and Death Waltz, from "A Tribute to Zdenko G. Fibich".

http://theweaselking.livejournal.com/1159951.html

July 1, 2007 at 02:37 PM · Milstein did say either you can either play it or you can't. But he was also asked what was the hardest piece he ever played and he said "Mephisto Waltz", his own version of the Lizt piece. I know this is not a concerto but it is a barnburner. Rachel Barton has recorded it and its good.

July 1, 2007 at 06:28 PM · Perlman was right: the hardest concerto is the Beethoven. Very tough to make it sound like music and not like scales and arpeggios.

I'd put the Schonberg up there as the most demanding, along with Penderecki. Their difficulty is as much for the ear as it is for the fingers: hard to play, and equally hard for many listeners to comprehend.

July 1, 2007 at 09:04 PM · 3 professional violinists mentioned apart of 2th Joachim, 1th Vieuxtemps.

July 2, 2007 at 03:47 AM · Ligeti? Schoenberg? regardless of technical difficuly, surely they are harder to listen to than to play?!!

July 2, 2007 at 06:04 PM · In the "well know" category, Sibelius, from the exotic list, Schoenberg, Ernst, Ligeti and Ginastera sound pretty hard.

July 5, 2007 at 06:09 AM ·

May 4, 2008 at 05:58 AM · I heard the Schoenberg and Elgar concertos were relentless

May 4, 2008 at 12:32 PM · Tischenko No.2

May 4, 2008 at 12:59 PM · My former teacher Fredell Lack performed the Roger Sessions Concerto many years ago, and as I recall she commented at the time that it was the most difficult concerto in the literature. (I've never heard the piece myself.)

May 4, 2008 at 02:39 PM · I think it's the Wieniawski in F minor (no. 1). "ViolinMasterclass.com" has this listed as grade ten (on a scale of one to ten). Making this concerto both technically and musically gorgeous is a job for only virtuosos!

May 4, 2008 at 04:34 PM · Mozart 5. Seriously.

May 4, 2008 at 04:33 PM · Being a listener and not a violinist (at least not since I was 15), I can't comment about the difficulties of playing any of the above mentioned pieces. I do love the old story about the Barber concerto: commissioned by a patron for a young violinist who complained that the first two movements did not allow him to show his virtuosity. Barber says just wait for the finale. The finale arrives and the violinist now complains that it is unplayable.

By the way, I was glad to see the Ligetti discussed here. I find it an interesting piece for the listener, certainly challenging if you are not used to some of the more "out there" pieces. Anyway, Jennifer Koh is playing this next week in six(!) free(!) performances at various Churches around Cleveland next week. I will be making the drive from Pittsburgh as I can't imagine when I will have another chance to see Ligetti's concerto live. Here is a link:

http://www.citymusiccleveland.org/Concerts/details.php?id=153

May 4, 2008 at 05:16 PM · Joshua Bell said in an interview somewhere that the Nicholas Maw concerto (written for him) was so difficult that, after having worked it up for a recording, he won't perform it anymore.

May 4, 2008 at 08:41 PM · Mara, I think I actually find Mozart 4 more challenging than Mozart 5. From a musical standpoint, I find it less demonstrative in terms of character, and so it's more difficult for me to avoid having it all sound the same.

Might also be because I worked on Mozart 4 with at least five different teachers and ended up confused about which ideas were actually mine...

May 4, 2008 at 09:56 PM · Ah, perhaps. I haven't done Mozart 4. My point was just Mozart in general.

May 14, 2008 at 11:06 PM ·

http://theweaselking.livejournal.com/1159951.html>

I think some college team of students needs to make a MIDI of that and see what it sounds like lol.

May 15, 2008 at 06:50 AM · I never really liked playing pizzicato...unless it's left hand pizzicato (like Paganini) so that's teh reason I really don't like prokofiev (#1 and #2)

Brahms is written awkwardly for violinist...Wieniawski said it was unplayable and Auer said he would never play it. Auer said Tchaikovsky VC was unplayable, however.

Paganini sounds (and probably IS) hard technically

May 16, 2008 at 02:49 AM · Mozart's violin concertoes are all difficult to play well. His No.4 may be the most difficult among all.

May 16, 2008 at 04:17 AM · Definitely the Joachim hungarian concerto. Goodness. It's giving me migraines learning it!

May 16, 2008 at 04:43 AM · What ever piece I'm working on at the moment because the most difficult piece.

May 16, 2008 at 03:17 PM · Geez, Joachim #2 isn't thaaaat difficult...#1 is from a more immature Joachim and is a bit worse...though not nearly as impressive as the #2 of course ;-)

Has anyone typed "Britten" yet?

January 1, 2009 at 01:18 AM ·

i'm currently working on the rondo of lalo's symphonie espagnole. i know its no where near the major romantic concerti such as beethoven, or brahms, or elgar, etc...

but to play it well, isn't that a huge challenge? and how difficult is it considering that we are looking at the rondo movement alone, not just the entire symphonie espagnole?

January 1, 2009 at 01:22 AM ·

also. if i'm playing the rondo well, do u think i could handle the bartok concerto 1 next? it's considered as comtemperary, right?

January 1, 2009 at 03:39 AM ·

Schoenberg if there was one that we could actually say is most difficult.

 

But, I don't think there is any one aspect of anything that could make something the hardest thing out there.  Like someone said before, there are the virtuosic ones that require immense technique, but like the Beethoven, requires great intonation and musicality.  I think that balance is most difficult to acheive.

January 1, 2009 at 04:59 AM ·

I'm a little surprised no one has said the Tchaikovsky. Through listening to recordings and studying scores it is the most difficult for what it would take out of me.

But everyone is different and will have something more difficult that another would find easy:)

January 1, 2009 at 05:19 AM ·

Most difficult viola concerto:  Bartok... 

January 1, 2009 at 05:55 AM ·

I was also under the impression the Schoenberg was the most difficult

January 1, 2009 at 10:30 AM ·

Bartok is not the most difficult viola concerto...and it is by far easier then the violin concerto. Same deal with Walton. 

Hardest for left hand...Ernst? Scheonberg?

January 1, 2009 at 11:19 AM ·

Bartok is not the most difficult viola concerto Agreed, it's just the most played. 

January 2, 2009 at 01:26 AM ·

My own yardstick:  If I can't play it well, it might be hard.  If I can, it isn't.

January 2, 2009 at 03:31 AM ·

OK, I'll bite.  What is the most difficult viola concerto?  The Bartok (and Bartok in general) seems the most difficult that I've run across. 

January 2, 2009 at 04:34 AM ·

 What Michael Divino said. Mind you, My opinion is coming from a researcher/observer's mind, but Michael's comments seem to echo what I've heard from some top notch violinists. And I can certainly see (or rather, hear) the challenges, for the aforementioned reasons, in both concertos.

January 2, 2009 at 11:47 AM ·

Well, off the top of my head, the Penderecki viola concerto is way harder then Bartok. And then for your double stops and up-bow staccato there's the Paganini Sonata for Grand Viola.

January 2, 2009 at 11:45 PM ·

Thanks Terez.  Here's a good question for this thread-

 

Would you rather have virtuosic technique or unparalled musicality and intonation?

January 3, 2009 at 04:02 AM ·

Nick -  I conceed defeat.  The Pendereck does seem to be much more difficult than the Bartok, but I like the sound of it!  I still can't make it past the first line of the Bartok however ;)  Maybe in another 5 years....  ::::sigh::::

January 3, 2009 at 09:47 PM ·

Michael, with a true virtuoso there is no choosing.

January 3, 2009 at 10:44 PM ·

There are concertos for violin written that no one will ever be able to play

Ginastera´s is one of the most demanding of the ones that are performed with decent accuracy  and recorded for sure, Ligeti´s and both of Penderecki´s are worth mentioning as well of course

I don´t know if Fernehough or Klaus Hubler or one of those people composed a violin concerto  I am pretty sure that that  it would be extremely hard to play

Klaus Hubler wrote the most demanding string quartet that is actually playable as far as I know

January 4, 2009 at 08:32 PM ·

"There are concertos for violin written that no one will ever be able to play"

 

Example? I don't really believe this statement. Leopold Auer once thought the Tchaikovsky violin concerto was "unplayable," yet today, it's one of the standards... Yes, there are works far harder than that, but it seems that no matter what a composer writes, someone somewhere will find a way to play it.

January 4, 2009 at 09:38 PM ·

 So true, Jonathan.

January 5, 2009 at 10:17 AM ·

"Example? I don't really believe this statement. Leopold Auer once thought the Tchaikovsky violin concerto was "unplayable," yet today, it's one of the standards... Yes, there are works far harder than that, but it seems that no matter what a composer writes, someone somewhere will find a way to play it."

Even I can write a concerto that no one will ever be able to play.

there are many contemporary composers that has written pieces that are impossible to play unless you are a machine or computer

 

January 5, 2009 at 10:41 AM ·

"there are many contemporary composers that has written pieces that are impossible to play unless you are a machine or computer"

If this is correct, then it indicates a degree of incompetence on the part of those particular composers. Better to have some consultation along the way as it's being written. 

January 5, 2009 at 11:27 AM ·

No composer in their right mind would ever write an unplayable piece. It's everything against what composing is about. They are taking ideas and inspiration and putting them down into music to share with you. Why would they want to take all that work and have it be known as the piece which was never heard by anyone?

The reason composers work with a musician along the way is to change things and make them more practical. Like said before, the Schoenberg was said to be unplayable yet Hilary Hahn provides one of the best performances around. The Tchaiikovsky was also one which was said impossible and yet it is played by almost every violinist that makes it to "that level" in their life time.

Your comments should have a little more research before you bluntly state things.

January 5, 2009 at 02:11 PM ·

"there are many contemporary composers that has written pieces that are impossible to play unless you are a machine or computer"

as an engineering student who constantly have to think about efficiency and practicality, i'd say that is a complete waste of time with no real contribution to the musical world. creative, but useless. i guess those composers have way too much free time and/or don't have to worry about making a living.

January 5, 2009 at 02:12 PM ·

Your comments should have a little more research before you bluntly state things.

Paul - so should yours.

The only violinists of record calling the Tchai unplayable (of who knows how many virtuosi) was the same guy who published his own "improved" version that is harder to play and the taught his students to play it. Some even before their teens.

The only reason Auer called it unplayable was because he didn't want to play it. It says nothing about if no one could or could not play it at the time. History on the other hand shows that it was both played and playable.

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