Hardest (tastefull) symphony or orchestral part?

July 2, 2005 at 04:15 PM · I know that some modern composers write extremely hard but tasteless orchestral parts.

If you exclude the tasteless works, what is the hardest orchestral part you ever heard in terms of technique?

Replies (65)

July 2, 2005 at 05:32 PM · It depends on your definition of tasteless, I guess... as well as your definition of technical difficulty. Keeping your right arm from falling off during 43 minutes of tremolo in a Bruckner symphony is a feat all its own in my book. But from the simple standpoint of playing all the notes, the hardest part I've had to read in a long time was the _Harry Potter_ suite.

July 2, 2005 at 05:55 PM · Maybe we have different HP version, I don't think its hard at all.

July 2, 2005 at 06:08 PM · Andreas,

As you get older, your definition of "tasteless" will definately evolve. Mine certainly did. Up until this year I hated just about anything that was modern, because I was ignorant of it all.

In terms of a very difficult orchestral piece, I'll have to say Dutilleux (you might find it tasteless), the 4th movement. Very fast string crossings, playing diminished fifths across 3 strings, staccato.

July 2, 2005 at 06:45 PM · It´s up to you to define what´s tastefull or not.

I find a lot of Ligeti´s stuff tastefull but not his most extreme stuff for instance.

July 2, 2005 at 07:05 PM · "Dutilleux (you might find it tasteless), the 4th movement"

What work?

July 2, 2005 at 09:34 PM · Smetana's prelude to the opera Sold Bride

Alla breve, presto, all quavers, very long:)

also William Tell by Rossini? found it very hard

July 4, 2005 at 03:43 PM · Richard Strauss' "Don Juan" and Bartok "Concerto for Orchestra"

July 4, 2005 at 04:06 PM · And Strauss Heldenleben...

July 4, 2005 at 08:36 PM · Bartok's orchestra concerto definitely goes on the list, I agree.


July 6, 2005 at 07:41 AM · No avantgarde works, yet? Some of them are tastefull!

July 6, 2005 at 03:31 PM · Bartok - the wooden prince - some sqeaky high bits that take a while to pitch but a great piece to perform

July 7, 2005 at 12:45 AM · Any slow movement is musically challenging. Take Borodin's Nocturne: the notes are easy, but if you want to get it to be stunningly absolutely beautiful, it's VERY hard.

July 10, 2005 at 07:18 PM · I agree that slow movements can be hard but the hardest thing for me is odd-time signatures. In particular when there are a lot of changes in timesignatures.

July 10, 2005 at 08:07 PM · Strauss Heldenleben deffinetely!

The scores from Wagner's works are inhuman in general.

But yes, in terms of sound difficulties, I vote for all the classical symphonies. And in terms of playing it with the whole orchestra, the beggining of Beethoven's fifth is allways risky.

July 13, 2005 at 07:44 AM · "The scores from Wagner's works are inhuman in general."

Really, I have never found any Wagnerwork that hard!

Some of the Avantgarde works are crazy though. Take a look at Pitoprakta by Xenakis, for instance.

July 13, 2005 at 07:59 AM · The hardest one I have played is Schoenberg's "Verklarte Nacht".

July 13, 2005 at 05:07 PM · The CIM orchestra did Rachmaninoff 1st symphony and it had some hard parts...but they might have been easier if we could actually read the notes. The parts were hand-written.

July 16, 2005 at 07:16 PM · Of course, the modern works are allways in the SF domain:)

What about Enescu's third symphony?

July 16, 2005 at 07:46 PM · Andreas, if you have never found Wagner hard, then you've barely played any Wagner.

I once remember preparing an excerpt for an audition (turns out it was the wrong Wagner one though), and the enharmonics and the complete awkwardness of it all was a real finger breaker.

July 16, 2005 at 08:48 PM · Wagner isn't hard? Maybe not if you practise it at 1/10th the speed! Wagner can most definitely be hard.

Though I have not played it, I have many colleagues who confirm that some of the stuff from Harry Potter is extremely difficult.

July 17, 2005 at 06:54 AM · Don Juan is so exciting!!!hahaha

July 17, 2005 at 07:02 AM · Wagner didn´t write easy works but he hardly wrote a competitor for the hardest orchestral violinpart ever.

July 17, 2005 at 05:58 PM · Don Juan!!

July 17, 2005 at 07:09 PM · Back to old Richard Strauss? It is a real delight to look at the score from Zarathustra or Ein Heldenleben...you would rather go and study Paganini for hours...

August 1, 2005 at 06:09 AM · Our youth symphony (Tacoma) is going to be doing Don Juan this year...I"m so scared...they test us on all our parts so I'm going to have to practice like a maniac..

August 4, 2005 at 09:59 AM · Any Rossini overture is much harder than a Wagner work.

August 4, 2005 at 10:06 AM · I find Bruckner difficult, because you become VERY tired in the right hand with nonstop tremelos.

I find Shostakovich difficult, because the music isn't intuitive and is awkward at times on the violin.

I find Mozart difficult, because it's hard to play in one voice with the rest of the section.

Smetana's The Moldau has a hard part in the thunderstorm section, with lots of large jumps and runs.

Haven't really had problems with Mahler, Sibelius, Beethoven, Brahms, or Tchaikovsky.

August 5, 2005 at 12:33 AM · in terms of technical stuff, lots of bartok, shostakovich 5, of course don juan and other strauss works.

August 5, 2005 at 06:20 AM · When I started this thread I expected many modern and avantgarde works mentioned.

I am very surprised that no one has mentioned any yet.

August 5, 2005 at 11:35 AM · Maybe that stuff isn't played too often by your average group?

I did play in a back-up orchestra for the Kronos Quartet on a song called "Rubber Band Lady". It was very tough counting the rhythms, but I would never call it anything other than a wonderful expereince and delightful to watch such creative genius up close. :)

August 6, 2005 at 05:26 AM · I thought that maybe someone had heard a very demanding and yet tastefull avant-garde orchestral part.

August 9, 2005 at 11:33 PM · At NRO this summer, we had to learn the first and second violin parts to Don Juan in two days. Our section only had one 20-minute rehearsal of being in the first violins before we had to play it in concert this past Sunday. Hard..... yes. Bruckner is always hard for stamina, as is Wagner. Some parts of Wagner are near impossible to play, especially some of those excerpts from the Ring Cycle. Oh, and the first page of Harry Potter is extremely difficult.

August 10, 2005 at 01:06 AM · Not so long ago, roughly about a month ago, I played a piece with a violin quartet in our summer composition class at MYS that a talented young boy named Andrew wrote called "The Attack of the Dead Tango Dancers". It had a lot of fairly complicated rhythms, and had a modern sound with clashing B naturals and B flats a few times throughout the piece. The harmony was REALLY modern. It sort of had a Karl Jenkins (diamond music) sound, amoung other things. It's an original composition.

I will keep you all up to date on this piece.

August 10, 2005 at 03:38 AM ·

September 24, 2005 at 11:30 AM · Still no new works mentioned?

Personally I find Bartok´s and Stravinsky´s hardest orchestral parts harder then anything by Strauss.

Anyone agree?

September 24, 2005 at 01:42 PM · I agree that Bartok's and Stravinsky's parts are harder than Strauss' in a different way. With Strauss, you usually get a bit of time to relax, although the difficult passages might as well be concertos. With bartok and particularly with Stravinsky, you don't necessarily find as difficult of passages, but there are few times that you can relax. Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, for instance, is not technically very difficult, but the rhythm, style, and ensemble of the piece makes it one fo the most difficult for any orchestra to attempt. The bartok Miraculous Mandarin has some excruciatingly high parts in the first violins near the end, doubled with fast notes and difficult rhythms. It may not have the ridiculous leaps and arpeggios of Strauss' Don Juan, but the length of the passage makes it tiring (but extremely rewarding). So I could definitely see where someone might find these harder to play. However, I think that in an audition, the hardest excerpts to play (which I unfortunately got to experience first hand) are:

Don Juan

Schumann Scherzo

Mozart 39 Mvts. 2 and 4

Beethoven Eroica and Symphony No. 9

Schumann is currently the bane of my existence.... so these are only the ones I find the most difficult (and they are fairly standard).

September 24, 2005 at 06:08 PM · I agree about "the Mandarin" by Bartok.

Harder then anything by Strauss if the tempo is the same (apr. at least when the timesignatures are compared)

I would love to play Pithoprakta and Jonschaies by Xenakis.

Pithoprakta in particular seems really fun and demanding.

Do you have any incredibly hard but yet very interesting work to recomend.

September 25, 2005 at 04:51 AM · I guess there probably isn't anything avant garde that is widely performed enough for "everybody" to know it, the way "everybody" knows Flying Dutchman, Schumann #2, Don Juan, etc.

I don't know if it belongs on the "most difficult" list, but the 2nd mvt. of Lutoslawski's Concerto for Orchestra is not a walk in the park...

September 25, 2005 at 05:03 PM · Mahler 7. Not only is it technically difficult, you need stamina!

September 27, 2005 at 06:35 AM · Bartok's Mandarin has a pattern at the end, though... that makes it much more comfortable to play. Same with the Concerto for Orchestra. Don Juan always seems to be changing, isn't intuitive, modulates to strange keys every measure, etc.

September 30, 2005 at 06:16 AM · "Bartok's Mandarin has a pattern at the end, though... that makes it much more comfortable to play. Same with the Concerto for Orchestra. Don Juan always seems to be changing, isn't intuitive, modulates to strange keys every measure, etc"

True but it´s pretty short while the Mandarin is long and demanding things come up pretty often.

I found it harder than Don Juan but it depends on what mood the conductor is in.

September 30, 2005 at 07:53 PM · The last movement of Hindemith's Mathis Der Maler.

When you listen to the movement it is beautiful. But the 1st violin part is a killer. ("Anybody hurt?!?! MEDIC!!)

September 30, 2005 at 09:09 PM · the first page of don juan (the audition menace) is only difficult to play in the audition actually. when you do it together with 30 people it is not a problem. coz the art of fake comes in. i really did practice that bit for some time prior to some auditions, but getting it spot on at the standard tempo is beyond my capabilities.

October 6, 2005 at 02:27 PM · Mathis Der Mahler is a true challenge.

The fast scales aren´t as "in your face" as in the William Tell Overture for instance but it´s significantly harder to play.

November 11, 2005 at 06:16 PM · Of pieces I've played, either Mahler 7 or Mahler 9...both are about one and a half hours of awkward passages, sudden register changes, tempo variations up to several times per line, using the entire dynamic spectrum in a matter of seconds, near-impossible chords, drastic key changes sometimes several times in the middle of a single phrase, and both require extreme concentration throughout. Mahler 9 also can be very emotionally draining during the final movement...especially the last four minutes, which are barely audible.

I also think that Wagner is quite difficult (sections of the "Ring", or the ending of Tannhauser, for example), as well as everything that R. Strauss wrote (ok, so not everything). There are some very difficult passages in some Nielsen symphonies, and some very awkward passages in many of Prokofiev's works. Also, playing viola in a Johann Strauss waltz is very tough, the 'stars and stripes' is a KILLER, and so is the violin part in the 4th movement of Mahler 3. Just my humble opinion, I'm sure there are many more difficult things out there that I've never had the opportunity to play.

November 11, 2005 at 09:48 PM · People have mentioned Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra and Miraculous Mandarin as being hard, but I think Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta is definitely more difficult. At least from a violist's perspective. Lots of chromatic writing and tricky accidentals, and keeping everything together is quite a challenge with so many string sections!

November 13, 2005 at 06:10 PM · "but I think Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta is definitely more difficult"

Good call.

Bartok was propably the first western composer that understood the Eastern timesignatures and structures used in Raga etc.

I am surprised that no one mentioned any modern works (1950 or later) yet.

I have listened to a lot of modern works lately and some of Xenakis works seems pretty weird.

I would love to learn Jonchaies. Pithoprakta seems pretty tough too.

November 28, 2005 at 04:31 AM · I would agree with the comment about the Harry Potter suite (full orchestra version). Literally NOBODY, not even our concertmaster, got all the notes when I played this with my city's symphony...and our concertmaster is an oberlin graduate and experienced teacher who has been playing/teaching for decades. (One day I was bored and showed it to some people in my high school orchestra just to see the looks on their faces...)

November 28, 2005 at 05:52 AM · Greetings,

what`s all this stuff about tasteless? Does the younger generation spend its time in the rests chewing its parts (as it were)?

For the past few weeks I have been condemned to work on bringing up a performance of Mozart 40 with an amateur orchestra with a mixed bag of competence. That experience has reminded me of the difficulty even seasoned pros have with intonation in the last movement development section.

I developed a interest in this symphony after reading Harnoncourt`s thoughts on the suject. To whit, he argues that at this time the 19c symphony format of `heavy duty` first movement and virtuoso last had not fully evolved and that if one pays attention to the tempo indications in relation to Mozart`s whole ouvre the actual speeds of the outer movement should be the first mov played rather fast and the last moveemnt consoderably slower than is normal. he cites the rate of harmonic change in the last movement in support of this position. It is also a heck of a lot easier to play in tune taken slower....

Anyway, the particular conducter (actually a very good musician) was taking the first movement at a decent lick and the last at one hell of a pace by anyone`s standards and it really was turning into a technical/intonational nightmare. To preserve my own sanity I sat down with the aforemntioned page in a corner bvefore the concert and tried to figure out the best way to resolve the intonation problems. I ran through a lot of different ideas before coming back to the simple truth that on the whole we sing in tune. By singing through all the arpeggios I was able to restore my hearing which had been distorted by the previous rehearsal on this work. In the process of working through the offending bars I gradually collapsed the page into a kind of etude with all the nasty bits runnign into each without breaks. I then cooked the fingerings so it could be played as a double stopping exercise with smooth string crossing using long legato slurs. In order to make it effective as an etude I mirrored each upward arpeggio with its reverse. Taht really makes yer think abit....

Playing around with orchestra parts is a real larf at times.



November 28, 2005 at 09:19 AM · This is so funny that you mention Mozart 40, Buri. Every single time this thread has come up, the last movement of Mozart 40 is the only thing that comes to my mind. When I played it in college (after having several other concert experiences already under my belt), I was humiliated by my inability to make it sound decent at the incredible pace our conductor asked. It haunts me still today, that I couldn't even play a simple Mozart piece right.

November 28, 2005 at 03:56 PM · There´s many pieces of music on the Harry Potter sountrack cd.s but I didn´t find anything called the Harry Potter suite.

Where can I find it?

November 28, 2005 at 08:56 PM · Greetings,

I belive it is at Christopher Hogwood's,



November 29, 2005 at 09:00 AM · Should that be Christopher Hogwart's?



November 29, 2005 at 12:13 PM · exactly

October 27, 2015 at 09:52 AM · One of the hardest orchestral music is Prokofiev's 2nd symphony. Every part is technically very demanding(rhythm, fast passages, multiple stops etc.) and there are few orchestras that manage to perform it well

And it's definitely harder than Bartok's Concerto for orchestra

October 27, 2015 at 05:26 PM · A colleague told me the story of a modern composer (Xenakis, perhaps?) who composed a piece for an international cello competition. It turned out to be unplayable by the competitors.

October 27, 2015 at 05:59 PM · My own recent experience was an orchestral tone poem by a local composer in which the first violins were required to play a passage at the far end of the fingerboard involving the third F, G and A on the E-string. Some took the safe option of playing the passage an octave down, but it didn't really matter because it was being doubled by the piccolo (one wonders whether the composer had really thought through the relative dynamics of high woodwind and violins playing at that pitch). Personally, I think the modern fashion for "composing" at the computer keyboard with immediate MIDI playback has a lot to answer for when it comes to next-to-unplayable scores, and if not unplayable then it can be wretchedly over-cerebral - indeed, I have recently experienced such from another local composer.

October 30, 2015 at 06:52 AM · Yeah, the Harry Potter Suite (the real one, not the watered-down school arrangement) has these stupid-ridiculous runs. They don't "fit" very well on the instrument, and you need six fingers to hit everything...it's obviously an orchestration from a keyboard part.

...to the point that some friends who are experienced professionals that play film scores regularly look at it and say, "well, sometimes, you have to guess if the composer wanted an effect, or actual notes." :P

November 18, 2016 at 05:17 AM · I find it hard to believe how little to no mention there is of The Rite of Spring.

November 18, 2016 at 06:07 AM · Rite of Spring is not all that hard to play, if you can count.

Harry Potter is really hard. A difficult Strauss piece that no one has mentioned yet is Josephslegende. And another vote for Concerto for Orchestra.

November 18, 2016 at 10:28 AM · In recent times I have played a few pieces that I have found challenging, but manageable with sufficient practice, as an experienced amateur violinist.

Another problem I find, which makes the pieces more challenging, is the amount of off string notes. Classical era pieces are the main culprit. I did a concert once which was entirely classical era pieces and my hand was about to drop off at the end which is rarely the case, I feel I have very good stamina when it comes to orchestral playing.

However by far the trickiest piece I have had to play is Walton 1. Just keeping up was a major struggle. When I was given my part at the first rehearsal I thought there had been a mistake as it was 42 pages long, that's about double the amount of pages I would expect for a symphony of that length.

November 18, 2016 at 03:04 PM · Probably the end of Wagner's Die Walkure... just totally impossible, but fortunately inaudible most of the time! Right now I'm playing Prokofiev's Cinderella ballet score, and it's right up there with the hardest stuff, and it never stops. It's a lot like whack-a-mole; as soon as you defeat one challenge another pops up before you've caught your breath.

November 18, 2016 at 04:23 PM · I have trouble with orchestra parts that contain a lot of rests. I hate counting rests, and I hate just sitting there and not playing. I end up staring off into space and missing my entrance. I don't know how anyone performs Mozart violin concertos when you've got all those rests you have to count at the very beginning while the orchestra is playing.

November 18, 2016 at 04:54 PM · Perhaps we should substitute the term "effect" for "tasteless" (which doesn't mean much, especially in the context of the original question). Much of the Romantic and modern repertoire contains accompaniment such as scales or fast chromatic passages that are just meant for effect, and it really doesn't matter whether you hit every note. Perhaps level of difficulty should be based on:

-did I notice the mistakes?

-did my stand partner notice the mistakes?

-did anyone else in the section notice the mistakes?

-did the conductor hear the mistakes?

-did the audience hear the mistakes?

But some of those passages ARE heard, and that's where the problems are. I was going to mention Mathis der Mahler as well, but you can scrape by the last page or so undetected. The work that pisses me off the most is probably John Williams' Star Wars. Those licks are just stupid. I refuse to practice them. But it doesn't matter because no one will know.

What about 9-12 in Shostakovich 5? Everyone has to nail those notes.That's why it appears on so many auditions.

What about: Copland 3? La Valse? Classical Symphony? 3 Places in New England?

November 18, 2016 at 05:51 PM · I think part of the problem with many modern compositions (i.e. contemporary, or near so) that are stupendously difficult is that the composer today is most likely to be doing his composing at a computer keyboard, and listening to a MIDI playback. He may not necessarily be a string player, which can exacerbate the issue if he doesn't consult with a string player during the process of composition.

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