Most technically difficult violin piece?

August 21, 2010 at 03:49 AM ·

So, what in your opinion is the most technically challenging piece of music written for the violin? I'm including absolutely anything here - a Pag Caprice, a section from a sonata or concerto, written by anyone. You may or may not play it, it can be regarded as highly unmusical, you may hate it to death and beyond - the only criteria is technical difficulty, eg bowing, fingering, string crossing, persistent high speed, long duration, attention sustain! , anything. This is just meant as a bit of light-hearted fun, nothing serious :)

Any advance on Pag Caprices 5 and 11? 5 for the fingering patterns and high speed string crossing, 11 for the interval jumps. Or Locatelli's Labyrynth, for the open strings which need to ring out while fingering adjacent strings on either side?

Replies (52)

August 21, 2010 at 12:01 PM ·

Jim: we had this discussion before, but anyways, my opinion is that a Mozart concerto,  the Beethoven and Schoenberg  concerti and the solo works by J.S.Bach  are among the most difficult pieces to perform. Also the Bartok solo sonata. Now I speak about technic issues and interpretation, beauty of sound,musicality... You can count on the fingers of your hands to find violinists who really can do it, but you wont reach 10.

Now for the notes and virtuoso violinists ( there are plenty of them,but few musicians) I would say Paganini / in E major...There is not much open strings in E major and the sequences are very difficult...  God Save the KIng is very difficult but more then often, not very well played. Ernst  works are not easy... Wieniawski Ecole Moderne is a fascinating work and of course the 24 Caprices of Paganini, a masterpiece.

August 21, 2010 at 05:29 PM ·

There are so many! I think everybody knows I'm doing the Erlkonig, it's hard, but not as hard as some other pieces such as the sextet from Lucia di Lammermoor on solo violin by St-Lubin, or how about Solo Ysaye? The Otello fantasy by Ernst is difficult, Locatelli 24 capricees are quite the something as well. It really depends on what one thinks is technically difficult, I honestly find nothing difficult with a little bit of time dedicated to said difficulty.

August 22, 2010 at 04:24 AM ·

This gets my vote if I had to pick just one.  Especially from the 5:40 mark on.

August 22, 2010 at 06:58 AM ·

Perpetuum Mobile by Novacek............honestly, I have the music for this, just need to get it up to tempo so to create that 'Aural Illusion'. But I'm not counting 1,2,3,4,5,6, rather 1 & a, 2 & a, bringing that high melody even closer to just behind the pulse.

Paganini no.9.....for jumping all those high fences.

And since you mentioned etuden, what about...................

Rode, 24 caprices

Mazas, opus 36, nos, 58-75

Dancla, opus 73, 20 brilliant & charcteristic etudes,

Alard, opus 41, 24 caprices,

Dont, opus 35, 24 caprices,

Rovelli, opus3/5,12 capricen,

Sivori, opus 25, dodici studi-capricci,

For various tachnical difficulties...........

August 22, 2010 at 07:53 AM ·

Depends on your perspective of course and (since we are being light hearted) twinkle twinkle is an impossible goal to a total beginner :D 

For a different view how about 'Spiegel im Spiegel' (Arvo) just getting perfect tone, vibrato and dynamics on each interminable sustained note...

Its all over you tube (often used as bait for someone's photos or video) here's one sensitive version thats violin where the soloists are actually recognized...


August 22, 2010 at 04:44 PM ·

 Anyone who is NOT of a nervous disposition may wish to download a free PDF of the Ernst from

August 22, 2010 at 07:12 PM ·

The last rose of summer is SO much fun! Not kidding! To really play it you have to let go and just do it. Those pesky double stopped harmonics are the hardest part I think. I like the last two variations the most, the part before the finale. The variation with the arco and pizz, and the quadruple stopped variation.

August 22, 2010 at 11:35 PM ·

Vernon - I have no idea how one would even start.  Perhaps in another 40 yrs or so:-\ .  Could you upload a segment of you playing it? 

[self edit] there's a video of hilary hahn:


August 22, 2010 at 11:49 PM ·

Vernon, you must be a top rank virtuoso... Many violinists, even among the very best, could not play that piece... Kremer was one of the very first to record it and Julian Sitkovetski , before him, during the 50,s. Sitkovetski died of leukemia and was at the time among the very best violinists in Russia with Oistrach and Kogan!!!

August 23, 2010 at 03:16 AM ·

 Vernon is either gloriously gifted or he's trying really hard to impress us.  I don't mean any disrespect, I just don't see how you can play Erlkoenig and The Last Rose of Summer as a self-taught player with only one year of study with a teacher?  Sorry man, if you can pull it off then you have my respect but even my teacher (who was a top-tier pro before he retired) says those pieces are pretty brutal.

August 23, 2010 at 03:46 AM ·

Maybe he's referring to the first measure of each piece. I can nail the two of them!

August 23, 2010 at 04:49 AM ·

C'mon Vernon, upload a recording - prove em wrong! :)

August 23, 2010 at 06:37 AM ·

Vernon didn't actually say he played the piece, and that's the impression I got. I thought he was simply making an inspired and excited commentary about playing it.

August 23, 2010 at 08:34 AM ·

I'm autistic I'm able to do weird things, the violin is my weird thing. I eat sleep and breathe violin so you can imagine.

August 23, 2010 at 12:10 PM ·

It would be great if you could upload a video or yourself playing a section of it - that would be extremely impressive !!!

August 23, 2010 at 03:28 PM ·

Why can't a self-taught player play the Last Rose of Summer? Self-taught does not mean you can hear or express music written in the sheets. It means you don't get a lot lot lot of conventions and standards of socially acceptable violin playing, and might miss a lot of details and have a lot of basic imperfections. But this goes the same whether you play Last Rose of Summer or whether you play Spring Sonata, the imperfections might be the exactly the same and of same amount.

Of course Vernon might be able to play it! And maybe even well! He maybe just wont have the same quality and sound as all professionally trained musicians can fulfill. But I think he can get the intonation, rhythm and musicality nicely done.

I am self-taught and am debuting with Beethoven's Kreutzer sonata (but only first movement) next weekend on concert...(but it will be full of self-taught imperfections).

August 23, 2010 at 03:39 PM ·

In the seventies, my brother Jan (who plays the piano and the oboe) and I listened to a DG recording of Joshua Epstein playing Bartók's Sonata for Solo Violin, and we both liked the piece, and the way it was played, very much. For my next birthday, Jan had got the sheet music as a present for me. Surprise indeed! I faithfully tried to play the piece, but had to give up after many months and only one page -- sort of.

Later, my wife and I were hosts to a member of a visiting Baroque orchestra, who told us that he had played the Bartók Solo Sonata in his final examination recital at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, obviously before specializing in Baroque style.  "It just requires a lot of patience", he said.

I don't know if it is the most difficult piece there is, but it must be very difficult to play. And I do not play it, but it still is something of a dream for me.

August 23, 2010 at 04:49 PM ·

Music that you are hearing from your soul is always the best, even if you reconstitute a piece already composed,or if you imagine a new one. Usually,composers write what they hear deep inside. Musicians recreate their ideal  in material sound of an existing piece...

August 23, 2010 at 05:16 PM ·


I have a nice story to tell you,  a true one and it happenned a very long time ago.

After a Fritz Kreisler recital,a young violinist came to the master backstage and told him: " Mr. Kreisler, I am able to play just the way you do... "Would you like to hear me play he said" in front of everyone? Kreisler replied, " no, it wont be necessary " The young man asked "and why please " ?... " because I believe you my dear friend... ( the young violinist did in fact exist and was a top player, one of the only known 3 protégé of Kreisler, being: Arthur Leblanc, Oskar Shumski and Josef Hassid...) Now, readers, can you guess who was the young man among these 3 fellows?

Vernon has been playing for a while... 12 years at least... Menuhin after just a few years of tuition could perform the Brahms and Beethoven concerti like a mature artist... The same for Milstein. So it might be possible that Vernon can play difficult pieces even if he is self-taught...  It must be very challenging... I do not need evidence after thinking about it. I believe him.

August 23, 2010 at 06:42 PM ·

I will put something up here I just don't have good recording materials.

August 23, 2010 at 08:41 PM ·

Recording materiel quality doesn't matter much right now. I'm sure the essence of your playing will shine through. It would be great to hear you.



August 24, 2010 at 02:06 PM ·


Great story. My guess is that Josef Hassid was the player.


August 24, 2010 at 02:30 PM ·

 The problem people are stuck on the theory that one must have a teacher and practice for years before he can accomplish anything.  There are some people who have talent, and can learn things quickly and do not need the guidance and years of practice that most of us need. 

Good luck on your concert  Lena Sverkersson.

August 24, 2010 at 07:26 PM ·

Hi Bart: It is true that Hassid was a protégé of Kreisler. Hassid even played on a Vuillaume that belonged to Kreisler for a while, but Flesh found him a Stardivari later and it is the violin that you hear on his few recordings...

Arthur Leblanc was studying in Boston with one of the closest friend of Kreisler, Felix Winternitz. Leblanc was Acadian (maritime Province-Canada). Fritz Kreisler himself introduced Leblanc to Jacques Thibault and Leblanc could persue his studies in Paris. He premiered the Darius Milhaud concerto in 1949. Played eight times in a row the same year at Carnegie Hall . His agent: the famous Arthur Judson. Leblanc played the Kochanski del Gesù ( just sold by Rosand) until 1949. Later he owned the Desrosiers Stradivari. He was also the protégé of Thibault and Kochanski. Leblanc was a violinist composer and was always by the most famous critics of the time compared to Fritz Kreisler... Szeryng commented that Leblanc was the most gifted fellow violinist he had heard and that his sound was simply glorious. Leblanc stopped concertizing during the early 50,s because he was treated for severe psychiatric illness. He never recovered.

As for Shumski, if it was him,he would have mentionned it...

August 24, 2010 at 10:36 PM ·

i would have to say that the Ysaye sonatas are not only very difficult technically and in sound colors, but they are also very physically demanding. i would say the same thing about the 3rd movement of the Sibelius violin concerto.

August 25, 2010 at 02:01 PM ·

 hi guys,i have an answer for this question that most of you will agree with...

well,the most difficult and challenging peace is "variations on GOD SAVE THE KING" by Nicolo some different violinists playing it on youtube....


August 25, 2010 at 03:59 PM ·

Omar: I have already mentionned this above and agree with you. I have the first edition of the piece edited in 1851 in Paris by Schonenberger from the original manuscript. It was written for violin and orchestra and is the opus 9 of Paganini.

The first execution was done by Paganini himself in Berlin,april 29 1829. You have also a very descriptive compte-rendu of Fetis,a musicologist at the time,who explains in the most accurate details how Paganini executed each variations in public.

Unfortunately, the youtube execution are not faithful at all towards the original manuscript and performers skipp some variations and omit some difficult passages from beginning to the end.

None has really played the piece yet as it is supposed to be and as Paganini performed it. Paganini in one of his correspondace to his friend and lawyer Germi, wrote that the God Save the King exposed all the limits of what he could display in virtuosity, saying he had great pride in performing them in all Europe. "This piece of mine will convince all the sceptics about my art " he mentionned  to Germi...


Ref: Nicolò Paganini by Edward Neill, editions Fayard, 1991

August 26, 2010 at 03:23 AM ·

 In no particular order, a list of real finger twisters. : - )

1.  Scherzos from Bartok Quartets 2 and 4   - very difficult at the very rapid tempos the composer asks for.

2.  Ernst's Polyphonic Etudes (including the Last Rose of Summer).

3.  The Bartok Solo Sonata

4.  The Schoenberg Concerto


August 26, 2010 at 02:28 PM ·

Thank you, Robert Keith. I will need lots of it!

August 26, 2010 at 06:13 PM ·

 When you've got the solo Bartok under your belt (ahem!) then you may like to consider Haba's Fantasy Op 9a for solo violin.  Most players will be exploring new territory in the microtonality of the work.  It's about 8' 30" long. The only recording I've found is on the net, by Antonin Novak - whose quartet recorded some of Haba's microtonal works in the '60s.

August 26, 2010 at 11:19 PM ·

No, I never learned anything quickly... I took me 5 years to learn that piece! And it's always going to take time.  Which is another reason I'll probably never succeed in a real school. I'm a slow, persistent perfectionist. I'm putting it together now, since I've never played the whole piece together. I took it apart to learn it in sections literally at times cutting out a few measures at a time just to learn those and not let myself jump ahead. (Which is the only problem most of us suffer from, even me!) I still think my worst section of that piece is the second variation, it's my weakness, but It won't be eventually.

August 27, 2010 at 04:36 AM ·

When Nathan Milstein was asked what was the most difficult piece he ever played, he said the Liszt/Mephisto Waltz  that he had composed.  He said is was extremely difficult.  Pinkas Zuggerman said it was impossible.  So I would add that piece to the discussion.  Can't remember the exact spelling but you get the idea.  I can't remember anyone playing it except Rachel Barton-Pine in her "Instrument of the Devil" CD.  Its an amazing piece.  Perhaps there are other recordings, but I'm not aware of them.

August 27, 2010 at 06:48 AM ·

That's my goal to write the most difficult piece for myself. Paganini did it, Ernst, Wieniawski, vieuxtemps  you see! They all wrote those pieces as challenges to themselves!  Which means we as violinist have to fall into their mindset to understand it. When I was learning paganini, I practiced late into the night with arppeggios, and with Wieniawski it's a whole different thing.

August 27, 2010 at 07:12 AM ·

I think you guys should put a higher goal than just composing the most technically difficult piece. For that you can just take some virtuosic piano sonata and play the upper line.

You should write the most technically difficult piece AND one that makes all the old ladies in the audience crying from emotions.

August 27, 2010 at 07:34 AM ·

We're waiting on you, Lena! :)

August 27, 2010 at 09:08 AM ·

@Lena:You should write the most technically difficult piece AND one that makes all the old ladies in the audience crying from emotions.

Thats easy - just let me play any of the above....

January 2, 2012 at 06:51 PM · Does anyone know of any recording of Dancla's 20 Etudes (op 73)? Thanks.

January 2, 2012 at 09:18 PM · What is the hardest piece that has been performed well and uptempo live?

That would propably be a more interesting question since there are many pieces out there that are almost impossible play.

A new complexity work would propably take the price. Something by Klaus Huber perhaps?

Don´t know about his violin concerto but his string quartets are extremely hard.

January 3, 2012 at 11:38 AM · I found on YouTube a live video with the first play of Noam Sivan's transcription for solo violin of the Liszt's only piano sonata (!!) Player is Giora Schmidt. It's the complete piece, and last about half an hour. Well, I'm not a violinist, but I really doubt that a more technically difficult piece exists. Milstein open the way, and Sivan follow it. What next? Berlioz's Fantastic?

January 3, 2012 at 12:07 PM · Schoenberg Concerto

January 3, 2012 at 02:04 PM · "I found on YouTube a live video with the first play of Noam Sivan's transcription for solo violin of the Liszt's only piano sonata (!!) Player is Giora Schmidt"

Very demanding for sure but that piece doesn´t work well on soloviolin. Soloviolin pieces are in general easier then playing stringquartets for instance since you don´t have to worry about timing.

March 6, 2013 at 01:13 PM · Hey guys....Maybe you haven't heard this piece or simply forgot about it but Paganini's Variations on Nel cor piu non mi sento is definitely in my top 5 of most difficult violin pieces. even some of the best players don't play it well (in my opinion) my favorite recording is by the amazing Dmitri Makhtin

March 6, 2013 at 06:02 PM · the Chaccone is more difficult than all of the pieces already mentioned if it is played at a metronome marking of 800. The reason I make this absurd example is because many of the so-called "show pieces" have much less musical content than the Chaccone. I would not trade this one piece for all of the combined works of Sarasate, for instance.

March 6, 2013 at 08:19 PM · I vote for Waxman's Carmen Fantasy as played by Heifetz:

The finale is super-human! No other violinist would dare to make it look easy.

October 28, 2015 at 07:57 AM · Berio Sequenza VIII for solo violin for sure.

I think it's even harder than the Bartok solo violin sonata.

Also, both of Bartok's mature violin sonatas especially the 2nd.

October 28, 2015 at 12:31 PM · Taking Jim's suggestion for a "broad range of answers" literally, how about a raw beginner tackling "Twinkle" for the first time? Come to think of it, "Twinkle" still has its demands well past the beginner stage.

October 28, 2015 at 05:55 PM · Vernon said: "I'm autistic I'm able to do weird things, the violin is my weird thing. I eat sleep and breathe violin so you can imagine." But what's wrong with learning everything there is to know about trains? :)

But on the original topic, I haven't tried to play it but Kreisler's "Recitative & Scherzo" certainly appears to be very difficult. My own Mount Everest is the Bach Chaconne.

October 28, 2015 at 08:42 PM · Pieces by Bach or Mozart. The more one plays them one feels the need of refining the sound and musical contents to perform them better. Same with Beethoven,Schubert and to some extend Mendelssohn as well.

October 29, 2015 at 03:39 PM · My daughter and I think it is Korngold

played musically like Heifetz.

October 29, 2015 at 04:27 PM · One thing I've noticed: new pieces feel difficult at first, then eventually (even if it's years later), they feel easy. Then you go back, perhaps even more years later, and your standards are higher, and you realize again that it wasn't as easy as you thought.

October 29, 2015 at 05:24 PM · Take a look at Roger Sessions Sonata for Solo Violin. It makes the Bartok Solo Sonata seem like Lightly Row.Also, Schoenberg Concerto. I remember going to Frank Music in NYC and saying to Mr. Frank that I wanted a copy of the music and score of the piece. When he came back with the goods, he said "you know, it's a lot easier to buy the music for this piece than it is to play it.'

November 1, 2015 at 12:26 AM ·

The champion of double/triple stops/chords.

One page of this would give me tendinitis IF I could even remotely play it but 6 minutes!!

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