The 12 Hardest And Most Difficult Piano Pieces Of All Time

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Written by Robert Jackson
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If you are interested in learning the piano, you might want to have a goal to shoot for. That might include eventually playing some of the most difficult piano pieces of all time. The world of classical piano is vast, and the techniques required to play the pieces below can challenge even the most accomplished of classical pianists.

Take a look at our list of very hard piano pieces below, and consider listening to a few of them. That way, you might have a goal to shoot for in the distance!

1. Piano Sonata No. 29 (The Hammerklavier) – Beethoven

In many ways, Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 29 more famously known as the Hammerklavier is the granddaddy of all difficult pieces for the piano.

This is the piece that most other piano pieces are compared to.

It’s Beethoven’s hardest sonata and is widely recognized as one of the most challenging piano pieces of all time.

It takes approximately 45 minutes to finish, and it is incredibly challenging all the way through.

2. La Campanella – Liszt

Without a doubt, it would be very easy to fill up this entire list with nothing but Liszt pieces.

He is widely recognized as one of the greatest pianists to ever walk the face of the Earth, and some of the pieces he composed are incredibly challenging.

One of the top pieces is La Campanella. While it might not be a very long piece, it will leave you wishing you had some extra fingers.

The piece means “little bell,” and is often played as a member of a set of pieces that pay homage to Paganini.

It has broken octaves, large jumps, and is meant to be played extremely quickly.

3. Etude Op. 25 No. 11 (Winter Wind) – Chopin

The works of Chopin are among some of the most challenging ever written for piano.

One of his pieces that gets a significant amount of attention is hisEtude Op. 25 No. 11 otherwise known as the Winter Wind Etude.

Given the name, the piece may leave you feeling like you are in the middle of a snowstorm.

Even some of the top pianist, such as Horowitz, have had a significant amount of difficulty playing this piece.

There are dozens of etudes, and all of them are challenging, but this one is undoubtedly at the top of the list. 

4. Gaspard de la Nuit – Ravel

Just about everything that Maurice Ravel wrote is incredibly challenging, but this might be his most challenging piece.

It is actually a set of multiple pieces, and the technical difficulty required to play this piece well is unbelievable.

Even playing just one of these pieces requires a tremendous amount of experience and attention to detail.

The piece may leave you feeling like you are trying to solve math problems as you go.

5. Opus Clavicembalisticum – Sorabji

Even though he might not be as well-known as some of the other classical pianists, Kaikhosru Sorabji is known for writing pieces that are intentionally difficult.

There are a number of reasons why this piece is so challenging.

It has a total of 12 movements, it lasts more than four hours, and it closes on an absolutely catastrophic note.

If the goal is to make pianists feel like they have just spent a few hours at the gym, this piece certainly does the job.

Only tackle this piece if you don’t have anything to do for the next few hours!

6. Sonata No. 5, Op 53 – Scriabin

If you are looking for a unique challenge, then you may want to listen to this Sonata.

Sonata number 5 by Scriabin is known for its numerous polyrhythms that will leave you scratching your head.

Even though it is challenging enough to learn the notes, it is even harder to draw out the different rhythms and play them in harmony.

The piece leaves some people wondering what the composer was thinking about.

7. Piano Sonata No. 23 in F Minor (Appassionata) – Beethoven

Beethoven wrote 32 sonatas, and they vary widely in terms of their difficulty.

One of the hardest is the Appassionata Sonata.

This is the hardest sonata that he composed during the middle period, and its level of difficulty compares to just about anything he wrote during his late period.

The first movement is already hard enough, with its cascading runs, but the final movement will leave you in perpetual motion.

8. Ballade No. 4 – Chopin

Chopin wrote four ballades, and all of them are incredibly challenging.

They evoke gorgeous feelings and nobility, and they are some of the highlights of the Romantic period.

Without a doubt, the hardest of the 4 ballades is number 4.

It was Schubert who said that it is a shame that peace is only 12 minutes long, as it contains the experiences of a lifetime.

By the time you get to the end, you will already be exhausted, but that is where the hardest notes are.

9. Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op. 16 – Prokofiev

Prokofiev is known for being incredibly dark, and this concerto is no different.

All of the movements are incredibly challenging, but the xadenza that highlights the first movement is unbelievable.

There are tons of jumps that stretch your hands, and you will certainly be sweating by the end of it. 

10. Three Movements from Petrushka – Stravinsky

Tackle this piece only if you dare.

All of the movements contain a lot of glissandos, there are numerous jumps that span two octaves, and it takes forever to learn.

It is a long piece that evokes a wide variety of emotions, but if you can play it well, you will hold the attention of everyone in the room from start to finish. 

11. Goldberg Variations – Bach

There are many people who describe Bach’s works as being very mathematical.

Indeed, that was the style of the Baroque era.

On the other hand, plenty of his pieces are still incredibly challenging.

One of his most difficult works is the Goldberg Variations.

While not all of them are incredibly difficult, some of the variations are among the hardest pieces ever written for classical piano.

The variations challenge even some of the most accomplished professional pianists.

12. Piano Sonata No 2 in B Flat Minor – Chopin

Even though Chopin did not write a lot of piano sonatas, all of them are incredibly difficult.

One of the most difficult is Chopin Sonata number 2.

It contains his famous Funeral March, but also an unbelievably challenging first movement.

The famous funeral march was even played at Chopin’s own funeral.

By the time you get to the fourth movement, you are absolutely exhausted, but that is where the most difficult passages lay in wait for you.

Take a listen to this piece, and see if it is something you want to play down the road.

Summing Up Our List Of Hard Piano Pieces

If you are interested in tackling the classical piano, you may want to listen to a few of these pieces.

Even the most accomplished pianists in the world struggle to play these pieces.

It is even more impressive when you consider that they memorize these pieces and play them live.

If you are just starting out, consider beginning with some easy pieces. Then, work on the technique required to master some of the most difficult piano pieces of all time.

If you would like to play these pieces one day, you need to find a great teacher who can help you develop the foundational skills you need to progress at the piano.

Then, wow your family members and friends with your skills!

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Robert is a professional pianist and writer who's been playing the piano for over 20 years. He studied music education at college and now works as a full time musician and piano teacher all over the country.