most demanding orchestral part

August 4, 2011 at 02:16 PM ·

What´s the technically demanding orchestral part you have heard or seen?

For 2:nd or 1:st violins or any other instrument

Many of the 20:th century concertos or really demanding for the orchesta as well as the soloist. Schoenberg, Ligeti, Penderecki etc. but there are propably a  lot more demanding things out there.

Replies (22)

August 4, 2011 at 04:01 PM ·

Although I began playing violin in elementary school, I did orchestra only from about 14-21 y/o -- with heavy-duty symphonic training during the last few of these years.  So I have played only a small chunk of this material compared to what the professionals here and quite a few non-professionals have handled.  Still, some memorably demanding scores come to mind:

  • Wagner: Der Fliegende Holländer (The Flying Dutchman) Overture.
  • Verdi: Requiem -- notably the wicked downward runs in the second movement.  I don't think the notes themselves are so hard; it's the bowings that make these runs tricky.  I find the upward runs a good deal less challenging.
  • Richard Strauss: Tod und Verklärung (Death and Transfiguration).  On first run-through, my desk partner took one look at the jagged downward run of 16ths, starting from high G, shortly into the Allegro molto agitato section, and said, "Oh, forget it!"

August 4, 2011 at 05:58 PM ·

I think you got it when you said some of the 20th century composers. Twelve-tone music is incredibly hard to navigate, so I'm putting in a vote for Schoenberg.

August 4, 2011 at 06:20 PM ·

When I saw Berg's Lulu at the Met... I was just like, "...... Damn."

Hardest orchestra part I've played was probably the first violin part to Schostakovitch's 10th Symphony, which one of my teachers has described as being nearly as technically difficult as his violin concertos. I've only played in a couple really top notch youth orchestras, though, so I still have a lot left to see..

August 4, 2011 at 06:25 PM ·

Hi Andreas-While it's not a big programmatic tone poem or as epic as say Beethoven's 9th I think the Prokofiev Classical Symphony is a "B-Word"  


PS: Beast...Bear...

August 4, 2011 at 08:54 PM ·

 The more salient question would be "what is the most difficult audible part in the literature?" So much of the repertoire is so difficult (or simply impossible to play), that one might as well throw a dart at the mass of late-19th and 20th C. music and you'll land on something. Experienced players know they can't play every note, but they are skilled at knowing what they have to play. There's no reason to obsess over impossible music that isn't heard. Don Juan may be hard, but one can easily hide in the volume and chromaticism--just get the last note of the lick and you'll be fine.

Some music is difficult sheerly because of its transparency-there's a good reason why orchestras continue to demand Mozart 39 or Brahms 2 for auditions. A few years ago, the Oregon Symphony required the Romanza to Mozart's Eine Kleine for an audition. Seriously? Why? Well, because  a simply line like that separates the real players from the wannabees. The same is true of many passages in Shostakovich 5, such as #9-12. You can fake a lot of the repertoire, but you can't fake such passages unless you just air-bow.

Other types of music are difficult because they combine a number of problems: rhythm, intonation, tempo. Some of Copland's works, like the 3rd Symphony, fall into this category. Billy the Kid has spots in which someone ALWAYS goofs the rhythms and plays in the rests. The less predictable the music, the harder it is. HIndemith also falls into this category. The Symphonic Metamorphosis has some really nasty chromatic passages, and his Mathis der Mahler is another bad one, especially the last movement (I still remember watching Cleveland Orchestra members smirking at each other during this work years ago). Prokofiev and Copland have too much bloody high stuff.

Believe it or not, I find the orchestral accompaniment to Vivaldi's 4 Seasons to be very scary. Not for any technical reasons, but just because the phrases don't begin where you think they should in the bar.

Finally, much of the repertoire is difficult just because the edition is so poorly notated, or hand-notated. Porgy and Bess is an absolute reading nightmare. 

August 5, 2011 at 02:58 AM ·

 Moldeau, viola part.  Not so technically challenging, but a challenge for endurance...  

August 5, 2011 at 04:22 AM ·

Wager's "Magic Fire Music" is nearly impossible. Thankfully, it's more effect than music.

August 5, 2011 at 06:06 AM ·

"So much of the repertoire is so difficult (or simply impossible to play), that one might as well throw a dart at the mass of late-19th and 20th C. music and you'll land on something. Experienced players know they can't play every note, but they are skilled at knowing what they have to play. There's no reason to obsess over impossible music that isn't heard."

I was mostly thinking about works that has been recorded and have got the musical qualities too.

I assume that a New Complexity work might be worth mentioning but  I am not familiar with  the Symphonic works of for instance Fernehough or Huber.


August 5, 2011 at 07:05 AM ·

 Oops, forgot those annoying arpeggios in the Moldau. Not impossible, just needs more attention than it deserves.

August 5, 2011 at 12:51 PM ·

1. Walton, Symphony #2.  The counting is tricky.

2. Vaughan Williams, Tuba Concerto (1st violin).  Awkward, awkward, awkward.  Great piece though.

3. Hindemith, Mathis der Maler symphony.  My left hand protested the patterns.

August 5, 2011 at 01:02 PM ·

The hardest orchestral fiddle solo I know comes at the end of "Valse Triste" by Sibelius.

Number 4 first violin has to play just ONE NOTE, G natural. I have witnessed many fine players defeated by nerves here, and unable to get the bow onto the string.

Technical difficulty is one thing, human psychology another. The dreaded "pearlies" can make the simplest passage impossible. Another such spot is in the second movement of Schubert's "Unfinished" ............ don't remind me !!!!!

August 5, 2011 at 01:59 PM ·

 Mahler 10 opening viola section solo.  It goes very high with lots of leaps and is very exposed.  The story goes that Mahler had just discovered that his wife had finally left him and that he had a terminal heart condition.  He then sat down and took it out on the violas!

August 5, 2011 at 02:20 PM ·

 gorecki 3. 

nearly an hour of playing slow and quietly. its simply ruins your spine!

August 5, 2011 at 04:21 PM ·

Liszt wrote some pretty scary stuff

August 5, 2011 at 08:41 PM ·

Tchaikovsky wrote stuff that was impossible to play.  Well, you could play it if you had 6 fingers on your left hand, but for normal humans, it is impossible.  I've also seen similar stuff in Schubert.


August 6, 2011 at 11:30 AM ·

Giving another nod to the Baroque, almost anything in a string quartet transcription of Bach's "Art of Fugue". Just one note wrong or out of place and the whole edifice promptly collapses and it's next to impossible to find your way back in. The only good thing is that in the orchestral version you could always blame it on the conductor :-)

August 6, 2011 at 11:52 AM ·

For me, quiet fast off-the-string stuff is probably the hardest to play as a section - Schumann 2 2nd movement, Bizet Symphony, Elgar 1 second movement, Elgar Falstaff. It's not accidental that some of these are famous (or infamous) audition pieces. I agree with another poster who said that it's not just techical difficulty and cited the Unfinished. Especially when you're not allowed on the E string!

August 6, 2011 at 01:18 PM ·

A number of interesting choices.  The list can be almost endless, but the following, off the top of my head, are more mainstream as far as what one is likely to be asked for at an audition:

1. Strauss - Don Juan

2. Schumann - Sym. #2 scherzo

3. Mendelssohn - Midsummer night;s Dream, Overture

4. Profoffieff - Classical Symphony, Sym. #5, Romeo & Julliette, Death of Tybalt

5. Shohshtakovich - Sym. #5 - around p.4 I think, where the main motive is taken through all kinds of permutations

6. Mozart - Sym. #39 last mvt.

7. Beethoven - Sym. #3 Scherzo and last mvt.; Sym. #9 slow mvt. - for control and style

And we haven't even touched the Opera reperoire yet!

August 6, 2011 at 03:40 PM ·

Raphael, you're right about that section of Schostakovitch 5... everybody was like "AHHH!!!" whenever we got there. I feel like most of Schostakovitch 10 was worse, though...

Preparing excerpts from Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet right now. Tons of fun.

Hmm... another couple passages I found really hard (though not the hardest) were the second movement of Hindemith's Symphonic Metamorphosis, and the second and fourth movements of Mendelssohn's Scottish Symphony.

August 6, 2011 at 04:56 PM ·

 I'd say the entire first violin part to Mahler 5 is pretty crazy, as well as Copland's Clarinet concerto.  I'm working on it  for orchestra placement auditions for school... crazy leaps and parallel fifths all over the place.

August 7, 2011 at 12:57 AM ·

I'm supposed to be going on a Mahler 1 weekend workshop in early September, ending with a public performance. However, I've just received an email from the organizer telling us that it has been postponed until some as yet undecided date "later in the academic year". Which means there's a statistically significant chance I'll miss it because I've one or more weekend concerts or gigs every month for the coming year. Ah well, if I do manage to get to it I'll have had a few extra months to work on my technique.

August 8, 2011 at 06:11 AM ·

Besides almost all Strauss, I would have to say Mahler 9.  Very tricksy...


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