Really Hard Music...

March 7, 2004 at 05:57 PM · Just curiosity, but what's the hardest piece of orchestral music that you've ever played? Something that really made you sweat blood when practicing.I must admit I found Till Eulenspiegels very hard, and the Rite of Psring was insanely difficult at times too.

Replies (82)

March 7, 2004 at 07:06 PM · Anything by R. Strauss

March 7, 2004 at 08:05 PM · A horrible symphony by Bizet, an early work. He seemed to have had little idea of violin playing - for example, there were bits you had to play with 4th finger on two strings. We gave up on the last movement. The conductor said it was the piece that made him switch from violin to viola (it was hard for viola, too, though).

March 7, 2004 at 08:24 PM · parts of Wagner's Vulkarie (don't know the spelling).

March 7, 2004 at 08:59 PM · Rachmaninnov's Symphonic Dances. The first violin part is hellish. I haven't played any Strauss. . . if I get in to the summer festival I applied to, I'll experience Death and Transfiguration this summer. Hmm.

March 7, 2004 at 09:30 PM · i agree with the richard strauss opinions, death and transfiguration is quite a piece of work to put together, heh, meaning it's very very difficult.

March 7, 2004 at 09:32 PM · La Noche de los Mayas suite for orchestra by Silvestre Revueltes was quite challenging. Tchaikonvsky's 4th symphony had some tricky stuff in it, but I only had 36 hours to learn it, so that may have been what made it tricky. I'd overall though the Reveultes was harder.

In terms of speed. Glinka's Ruslan and Ludmilla Overture has to take top prize. In performance it never went horribly fast, but in rehearsal, my teacher and I figured it clocked in at about 185 to the half note.

March 7, 2004 at 09:49 PM · I haven't played any "extreme bad ass difficult" (;)) pieces yet, (would be somewhat unusual in a youth orhestra ;)) but I think the hardest parts were in Bernstein's "West Side Story" and "On the Town" Suites, Copland's "Appalachian Spring" or Ravel's Piano Concerto in G. Well, not the real stunners yet ;)

However it's interesting to play things by composers who seem to have little experience of violin playing and thus applied pianistic things to the violins, which regularly are worth a knot in the fingers. To some extent I experience this in Schumann's 4th symphony currently. John Williams often also has such things in his violin parts (Star Wars, Harry Potter etc.)

March 7, 2004 at 11:28 PM · the Nielsen Overture to "Helios" is pretty tough for the violins as well as the violas

March 8, 2004 at 02:20 AM · Greetings,

Ben, that is a really interestin question. In terms of sheer notes and stuff then of course there is Strauss, Wagner, mahler, Bartok Conceto for orchestra and so on. But, after a while that stuff tends to become slightly seocnd nature. The stuff that can really kill you is what looks too easy in practice and crashes in performance. These kinds of simple passages involve long, slow delicate bow strokes, string crossings in piano and bow distribution problems (you mean, like, if the section has only two bows beteen twenty players, who is going to use them?)

So, the really hairy stuff is , in my opinion, things like the slow movement of the Mozart clarinet cocnerto, or the opening of the symphonies (diito beethoven) or the intonation in the last movement of the 40th symphomy and so on.

Of corse the opening sustained harmonic of Mahler 1 is not a good place to get the bow shakes. Another real pig is Beethoven five. If only one section/player has a bad night the first movemnt can get rocky -real- fast. Heard that happen with the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra two weeks ago...(Superb concertmaster, by the way. Anybody know who the poor dude is?)



March 8, 2004 at 02:39 AM · Don Juan, that was one doosey.

Brahms 4th symphony was really really difficult, I remember that.

March 8, 2004 at 03:25 AM · Greetings,

I learnt Don Juan with a good youth orchestra and very solid professional bowings. Those became ingrained very deeply. Then, years later I had a lesosn on it from Erich Gruenberg for an orchestral audition. He just picked the fiddle up and said `This is how we played it in the Philarmonia.` Ane he played it like a wild gypsy with the most contra intuitive and virtuoso bowings I had ever seen. That was a level I could not aspire to and it threw me completely ;) I had similar experiences in the Paginin Caprices where he showed me that the dangerous and non-text book bowings often get produce results of an unexpected nature.

Brahms four is actually pretty routine except the opening which is an exmaple of the kind of dangerous , exposed intnation and bowing I mentioned above. Last time I played it with a reasonably competent amateur orchesta it sounded like a bleating nanny goat that had just discovered a tiger in its bed and was trying to remain useen,



March 8, 2004 at 03:51 AM · It's Die Walkure...

I've never performed Strauss's orchestral works, but I know how ridiculous they are. I am challenged by Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven (my insecurities about my bow arm get the best of me--working on it). I'm much happier with Tchaik, Shostakovich or Brahms. But then, it's good to be challenged.


March 8, 2004 at 03:59 AM · has anyone here played the david diamond "rounds for string orchestra"? i wouldn't call it "extremely difficult", but it's an awesome piece, and when it's played at the assigned tempo (i think half note=132 or something), it is quite a rush

to play.

March 8, 2004 at 04:22 AM · Greetings,

Kismet, Simon Rattle allocatedthree times more rehearsal time for `simple` Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert than he did the Romantics. You are not alone. In symphonies...noone can hear you scream!



March 8, 2004 at 08:12 AM · Walter Piston's 4th really got to me a few years ago, on the viola, when I was 16. It was gorgeous. But it had a very bizarre rhythm indeed.

March 8, 2004 at 11:08 AM · Greetings,

if you want bizarre rythms then have a go at Ives 4th,

Not a prune to be heard,



March 8, 2004 at 11:33 AM · I still have nightmares about the Ligeti piano concerto. The rhythms are completly unreasonable and there are only 4 1st violins so you really hear it when not together. Also Richard Strauss' opera "Die Frau Ohne Schatten", although I've heard that one of his other operas is harder. "Die Frau" is like "Don Juan" stretched over 4 1/2 hours.


March 8, 2004 at 12:35 PM · The Planets Suite is hard! In Shostakovich No. 1 the notes are not very difficult but in ensemble playing it is hard. Russlan and Ludmilla by Glinka is also hard.

March 8, 2004 at 03:04 PM · Bartok Concerto for Orchestra, but I'm sure there's harder stuff out there.


March 8, 2004 at 05:58 PM · Himdemith's "Mathis der Maler" symphony is a great piece and very chalenging part to learn.

Also Mahler #7 & #9.

March 8, 2004 at 07:16 PM · I'll second Peter's vote; I seem to recall Mathis der Maler was wickedly harder than anything, including Strauss.

March 8, 2004 at 09:32 PM · One really hard orchestral piece is Shostakovick 8 or any Shostakovich symphony. its all these chromatic intervals that takes a lot of practicing. Tchaikovsky 4 is brutal in the last movement but its the greatest movement ever written! Even the last mvt of the Barber Violin Concerto, the orchestra has to play the spicatto part that the solo violinist has to play

March 8, 2004 at 10:26 PM · La Mer is also totally fubar.

March 8, 2004 at 10:49 PM · Really the last movement of Tchaikovsky hard? I thought it was really bad at first, but even though I only had a couple days to learn it, I found it, other then a couple of spots, to be quite managable. You just need finger patterns I found, and when you hit a wrong note or missed something, you just keep going, and it was easy to stay on. It's such a great symphony, so much fun to play! I love the bassoon solo in the second movement. Makes me melt everytime!

March 8, 2004 at 11:27 PM · Well, there are different kinds of difficulty. For example, Tchaik symphonies can be exhausting, I know, because I played that infamous Tchaik 5 when I was eight months pregnant and nearly keeled over. The violin part is relentlessly noodley.

Something like Mathis der Maler, to me, was difficult both mentally and physically, with difficult passages that are rather unpredictable or seemingly illogical.

Then there are the pieces that are tricky to count, like

Stravinsky, or even Appalachian Spring.

And, of course, ones that are difficult because they are so exposed, like Mozart, or the slow movement of Shostakovich 5.

March 8, 2004 at 11:56 PM · Laurie, second that on Tchaikovsky- I did Tchaik 5 this weekend and I was exhausted by the final presto dash to the finish. The actual notes in La Mer are fiendish- I had to give those a long hard think. I've got a super hard concert this summer- Don Juan and Brahms 4 all in one evening. I don't know how I'll cope with that on. or me, the Rite of Spring was rhythmically insane, and the actual notes and divisis were really hard too- I'm just lucky that I haven't had to play any Birtwistle or Boulez...

March 9, 2004 at 12:50 AM · Out of curiousity, has anyone played the Red Violin Concerto by Corligiano, either the accompianiment or the solo part? Though I haven't played this piece or anything, I saw Josh Bell playing it with the Dallas Symphony at a rehearsal and it seemed VERY VERY difficult.

March 9, 2004 at 03:17 AM · I agree, Shostakovick has some hard passages not only in orchestra works but also in the string quartets! Believe me!

March 9, 2004 at 03:58 AM · the shosty quartets are tricky, lots of funny chromatics, they take a lot of energy.

March 9, 2004 at 05:07 AM · Susan, surely you aren't talking about Bizet no. 1 symphony? I LOVE that piece...and the part didn't sound that bad but maybe I wasn't listening carefully. If you guys want to see a nasty excerpt then play the Bernstein violin serenade. The third movement, "Eryximachus", is like the most difficult thing I've ever played in orchestra and I was in the seconds too. It is the most unnaturally fingered, full of string crossing, presto, fast paced, difficult excerpt ever. The firsts were still practicing it SLOW before our concert. Luckily, there IS a snare drum playing at the same time hehee. PS it was my birthday saturday and I got a down comforter.

March 9, 2004 at 05:10 AM · Dear Norwegian Prune.

Happy Birthday. But is not a `down` comforter a contradiction in terms?



March 9, 2004 at 05:51 PM · I don't get what you mean exactly Buri, did I spell down wrong? I can be a bit defective sometimes.

March 9, 2004 at 05:58 PM · "Down" can also mean sad or depressed. :( And a comforter could be something or someone that comforts you and makes you feel good. I think Buri is seeing some kind of oxymoron in this.

March 10, 2004 at 09:37 PM · Anyone played Hindemith's Symphonic Metamorpheses?

Boy was I ever relieved after playing that one!

March 9, 2004 at 09:25 PM · Greetings,

Paul, you are asking-me- about spellnig...

Have a good birthday,


March 10, 2004 at 09:45 PM · "I still have nightmares about the Ligeti piano concerto. The rhythms are completly unreasonable and there are only 4 1st violins so you really hear it when not together. Also Richard Strauss' opera "Die Frau Ohne Schatten", although I've heard that one of his other operas is harder. "Die Frau" is like "Don Juan" stretched over 4 1/2 hours.



Yes, I'm doing Die Frau with LA opera now. It took a long time to learn; and at first was quite overwhelming. I don't know Ligeti Violin concerto, I played 4th violin and that was extremely difficult. Some of the other violins had difficult passages in scordatura.

March 11, 2004 at 12:30 AM · "Don Juan"

Schoenberg Verklarte Nacht

Bartok Concerto for Orchestra

March 12, 2004 at 11:05 AM · well, my hardest piece at the moment would be a piece we haven't actually started in orchestra yet (perhaps there's a reason for that lol)

Peter Sculthope's Sun Music II, a piece in which there is not much in the violin part, but non-specific notes, and heaps of rests. The work is mainly for percussion. The thing that makes this piece hard is the fact that we're a youth orchestra, with hardly anyone (in the string sections) in Universities (2 in second violins, maybe 3 or 4 in first violins), and they're asking us to play this piece of 20th Century Music that no-one in the orchestra knows how to read. FUN!

But i'm sure we'll get harder pieces. I'm actually looking forward to next semester when we'll be doing the last movement of Beethoven's 5th Symphony :>

March 13, 2004 at 06:42 PM · I've only played in my local orchestra for two years and the most impossible piece that I came across was John William's Superman Theme. You really have to be super human to play those runs.

March 13, 2004 at 07:46 PM · Norwegian Violin Star: being that you probably wouldn't find the Bizet difficult!! All of us amateurs did though. The 'horrible' referred mainly to the difficulty, the piece itself is quite nice and certainly has some good tunes.

Enjoy the comforter :))

March 14, 2004 at 03:41 AM · Pierre Boulez

March 14, 2004 at 04:34 AM · Currently sweating over the Figaro overture (the Presto) - partly cos I'm not putting the hours in but mainly cos we've got one rehearsal only and I have no idea if the conductor's going to try to be flash by taking it at break-neck tempo.

March 14, 2004 at 04:44 PM · Mozart symphonies... ahhh!!!!!

March 15, 2004 at 06:09 AM · Some of the difficult ones: Bartok Concerto for Orchestra, movement five, last two pages; Prokofiev Cinderella ballet; Ravel Daphnis et Chloe Suite.

To me, the most difficult are not the very hard technically but the very hard ensemble wise, such as all Mozart, Haydn Symphonies. Everything must be ever so clean, in tune and together! You could fake your way in Bartok, not so in Mozart or Haydn!

March 15, 2004 at 07:22 AM · You can definitely fake your way in the last mvt of the Bartok concerto for orchestra - I played it in January, and this is what happened. One of the other violinists was saying how difficult it was, and that they could never play the notes etc. I told them 'fake it' and they were a little shocked. So I got this other guy to actually play the notes to her, and then I just played any random selection of notes and asked her to guess which version was Bartok's. She admitted she couldn't tell the difference...



March 16, 2004 at 01:04 AM · Greetings,

and the interesting thing is tha once you give yourself permission to fake it you actually start playing most of the notes,



March 16, 2004 at 07:09 AM · That's strangely true Buri.

March 16, 2004 at 07:32 AM · Wasn't in my case, lol.



March 16, 2004 at 11:19 AM · Greetings,

Carl , learn to fake more. You might find "When Harry met Sally," helpful,



April 24, 2004 at 03:40 PM · Schostakovich Symphony no.10 mov.2 and 4. features some really fast parts and cressendos. If the second movement is played in 4 minutes it often sounds better then the 5 minute versions. If the conducter and the orchestra are great of course!

January 23, 2005 at 07:22 AM · Mathis der Mahler (Hindemith)

Ein Hendenleben (Strauss)

Don Juan (Strauss)

Bluebeard castle (Bartok) tough!!!

Romeo and Juliet (Prokofiev) Tibaldo's unconfortable and fast!!

January 23, 2005 at 04:59 PM · It's interesting to see that most of the choices were the pieces with the most notes. But many of these notes were written for effect and not for clarity. True, Don Juan is very hard, but most of the difficult passages are in FF sections and can be played without too much hysteria that is so characteristic of young musicians. If people used less bow and tried not to play like a trombone player, the runs are actually not that difficult. Many of these runs are also doubled by the winds, brass and lower strings, so you have support. Yes, Ein Heldenlieben is difficult, but with good practice, the notes come together and once again are doubled by someone else.

But playing a Mozart Symphony or a Beethoven Symphony, that is a true challenge. These pieces really show the difference between Conservatory and professional orchestras. To blend together and play phrases organically as a section shows true maturity and sophistication, and everyone must participate to make this happen. No faking in these pieces. It must be large scale chamber music. With someone like Strauss, even though you shouldn't really "fake", missing passages will not hurt the integrity of the music, but a sole violinist who plays a wrong note in the 1st movement allegro of Mozart's 39th symphony could spell disaster.

January 23, 2005 at 05:53 PM · yeah, strauss and bartok will kill ya.

January 23, 2005 at 06:11 PM · Has anyone else played Tchaikovsky's "Manfred" Symphony? Something like 47 min. long and insanely difficult from beginning to end - like "Francesca da Rimini" (now there's a major biyatch). It ended the career of one of our first violins - he was just recovering from an injury and picked the wrong week to come back to work, poor guy.

January 23, 2005 at 07:09 PM · Kevin:

I agree (and with Buri who expressed a similar opinion above).

But I seem to recall a finger breaker in Strauss' Solome that is pretty darned exposed.


January 24, 2005 at 12:49 AM · Please, someone mention the Firebird soon. I hate feeling like the only one.

January 24, 2005 at 12:56 AM · My top 3, in no particular order:

Verklarte Nacht


Beethoven 9

January 24, 2005 at 04:06 AM · My youth orchestra is playing til eulenspiegel which is insane. And we sight read firebird which was also really tough.

Next trimester we are playing daphne and chloe which i think is hardest of all 3 of them.

January 24, 2005 at 07:09 PM · "Bump" by Christopher Rouse is pretty tough to practice. But when it's put together it's so loud that the notes you miss or play out of tune aren't so noticable.

Also, Hummel is very awkward. You think you have it and then all of a sudden something totally weird (violinistically) occurs and throws you off balance.


January 24, 2005 at 07:19 PM · Great question. For me it has to be Mahler Symphony Number 1, specifically two measures in the fourth movement I never figured out how to play. Haven't looked at it since, maybe a second go would yield different results. We played Death and Trasfiguration the concert before and I didn't have nearly the problem with that piece. I think Buri made an excellent point about bow distribution/slow/soft spots in orchestral works though. Unfortunately, it's not just about playing the right notes. In an orchestra, it's also about balance, and sometimes you've got to play several decibels softer than you would ever have to worry about playing in a solo just to get the balance right. So much control can be hard to muster, especially in very slow moving passages.

January 24, 2005 at 08:22 PM · I second the nomination for Don Juan! Yikes! I remember bringing it to my teacher for help, and he said, "Forget it, you are on your own!" He was joking, of course, but it spoke volumes!

January 24, 2005 at 09:07 PM · Agree about Don Juan. My daughter plays it in her school orchestra, and since she belongs to those kind of players who try to play "the all written notes", she needs to practice hard to perfect all written passages.

Kimberlee, if you mean the first two measures from 4th movement of Mahler's 1st Symphony, check my fingering: (space is between measures)

Start from 2nd position:

43424131 123324121131 4

Don't know about bow directions in your orchestra, but it's better to start it down bow. (Sorry, out of topic...)

January 24, 2005 at 11:29 PM · solome, gad.

January 24, 2005 at 11:31 PM · Greetings,

wow, a slight difference of opinion with Rita! I gotta get some prunes quick.

I think Don Juan is easy. I played it in a youth orchestra when I was about thirteen and yep, I played all the notes. it lies under my hand size very well. So maybe that has somehting to do with it. The snag is you have to practice it, of course.

Now Mozart is a real pisser...



January 25, 2005 at 12:40 AM · Thanks for the fingerings Rita, but the measures I was speaking about come about a page or two into the fourth movement, as I recall--any fingerings for that?

January 25, 2005 at 12:46 AM · Greetings,

hang in there until I get to a score. We can make it this weeks project for everyone!


Cheers and prunes,


January 25, 2005 at 12:47 AM · I just finished a tour last night that had a very long program. Technically, it was not so demanding but the sheer physical demand of holding an instrument up and playing for over 2 hours with very few (almost none) rests, is very hard on the body.

February 1, 2005 at 12:10 AM · Hindemith's sinfonische metamorphosen is difficult...i have to know it in 2 days for the orchestra i am in..AHHH :(

February 1, 2005 at 04:27 PM · Hi,

I have played the Strauss, Bartok, etc., etc.. Actually the most difficult piece I ever encountered was the Gwendolyn Overture by Chabrier where in the last section literally not a single member of the orchestra could play the notes and all had to fake two pages and hope to make it somewhat together at the end. Just brutal!


P.S. For subtleties... well, things like Mozart, Haydn, Debussy will also kill you to get the sound and ensemble right.

March 20, 2005 at 04:35 PM · I was so excited to perform John William's Harry Potter only to find out that violins got none of the good tunes and a million tricky runs.

March 20, 2005 at 05:02 PM · I found Andrea Chenier (sp?) really hard. I also performed a quintet for strings and marimba by a South American composer that was really crazy rhythmically. Sorry, I can't remember the composer's name. It's been 10 years.


March 21, 2005 at 02:50 AM · A lot of hard stuff above...

Kodaly comes to mind, although I dont remember the piece cause I faked the entire way through it.

I remember falling to pieces trying to sight-read in Elgar's introduction and Allegro. Not brutally difficult but grueling for a bad reader like myself.

And whoever said Mozart is right! Hard to make the runs in the Haffner symphony line up with what everybody else is playing :)

May 17, 2005 at 11:29 PM · shostakovich 5th, first movement

May 18, 2005 at 04:58 AM · I've heard Nielsen's 6th symphony is literallyu unplayable at some points.

May 18, 2005 at 06:04 AM · That figures; it's also unlistenable!


May 18, 2005 at 01:55 PM · I agree with the first movement of Shosty 5. Also has anyone played the 1st violin part to the Copland Clarinet Concerto? The beginning is gorgeous and not too hard but the fast section has some of the most God awful leaps and counting. When (if) it comes together it sounds really great but I thought it was pretty ridiculous.


May 19, 2005 at 04:17 AM · first movement of shosty 5? i think 3,4 are just as hard at least.

May 26, 2005 at 04:15 AM · the 4th movement of shosty 5 played by my former HIGH SCHOOL ORCHESTRA, i graduate this sunday and had my last day of school wednessday May 25.

May 27, 2005 at 06:28 PM · Ein Hendenleben (Richard Strauss) takes the cake for me. Six flats in spots and 45 minutes long.....

May 27, 2005 at 09:05 PM · I actually find Don Juan to be a little easier than the other "impossible" excerpts. It lies under the hand quite well- if you tinker around for a while, you can find some good fingerings. It is fast though- keeping the hands coordinated can become difficult.

I find Mozart 39 (all of it) to be extremely hard. The first and last movements are difficult for their quick notes and fast tempos. The slow movement is near impossible to play with a beautiful sound, quietly, slowly, and with few audible bow changes.

Mahler 5 I find to be difficult- the first movement really puts you through the works (lots of accidentals, really high, fast, and with some awkward melodic lines). Then, you have to play four more movements. Not easy...

Beethoven 9 is particularly difficult,, along with many parts of the Brahms symphonies. Bartok is always difficult- there are always a few lines or excerpts in there (Concerto for Orchestra, The Miraculous Mandarin) that need some attention. They're usually not terribly hard all the way through, but a few sections are really tricky.

May 28, 2005 at 05:43 AM · Flight of the Bumblebee. You simply cannot read the music that fast.

May 30, 2005 at 04:35 PM · What do you consider to be the toughest "good" orchestral piece you have ever heard (but not played)?

Some works seems to be more challenging for the conductor then the players like Mathis Der Maler while other pieces like Flight of the Bumble Bee seems to be harder for the players.

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