Complex large-scale piano works

Lately I get a lot more out of listening to and trying to understand new works (new to me) than I do out of re-listening to classics for the 1000th time. I’ve also found that I get extra pleasure from fully ‘learning’ complex/intellectual, and difficult to dissect works. For instance, this week I finally wrapped my head around Scriabin 8th, Medtner Minacciosa, and Feinberg 4. So, thinking specifically of piano works and sonatas in the 8-mins plus category, what are some that you all think might be worth my time? (I especially love Russian sheeyats, and anything post 1900).

Some on my to-do list include:

  • Myaskovsky 3 & 4
  • Busoni Fantasia Contrappuntistica
  • Ives Sonata 2 (I know it, but not as well as I’d like)
  • Berg Sonata 1 (Shame on me, I’ve only heard it a few times)
  • Medtner Sonata Op. 30 (The only remaining one that I don’t really know)
  • Ustvolskaya Sonata 2

Berg sonata should be a quick one for you. I love that piece. For piano works, my current project is the Diabellis, but I’m almost there. For the most part, orchestral music still needs to be my focus for new rep I reckon.

Medtner’s second improvisation - a gensui big variation work.

Familiar enough with Godowsky’s Passacaglia too? That’s one I found both immediately attractive and a source of great depth and inner weaving tapestries.

Yeah, I know both of those. But they aren’t really on the level of complexity that I’m looking for. I’m thinking of music that is incredibly unpleasant on first listen, but reveals itself to you after some time and effort.

I’m on break, so I’ll finally start posting some more classics for you this week.

Have you heard da Yudina in da Berg? Great rec!

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Thanks mate!

You mean music that’s deliberately labyrinthine?

The problem with incredibly unpleasant on first listen is that it could just mean it’s insanely shit :sunglasses:

So this is basically going to be exclusively post-1900 music?

This is certainly music which won’t be for everyone, but I enjoyed exploring the Russian avant garde 5-6 years ago. Protopopov, Mosolov, Lourie, etc. My way in to it was Prokofiev’s early studies, which are great too unless you’re familiar with them already.

I still have lots to do in this area as well. The aforementioned Reger vars for one, but also the Ives on your list for instance.

True, the concord is a great piece. I used to listen to da Doc and Kirkpatrick in that quite often back in the day. I’ve mostly forgotten it however.

The ones I like that come to my mind:

  • Copeland Piano Variations
  • Barber Sonata
  • Shostakovich Sonatas 1 & 2
  • Szymanowski Masques & Sonatas
  • Jolivet First Sonata
  • Bartok Sonata & Sonata for 2 pianos and percussion

Good call on Szymanowski. I familarised myself with the second sonata last year in preparation for Debargue’s recital (there’s a great recording by Richter). However, I don’t think I’ve really listened to it much since. I didn’t find it to be a particularly hard one to understand, but some other people I know really struggled with it.

It’s another massive challenging piece that Hamelin has performed a little but then never recorded.

It’s one of those what the fuck things in life - Most of us mere mortals would work on the piece for months and months and then milk it for all it’s worth, and he just randomly perfs it a bit in Japan then throws it away :whale:

On the other hand, practically every piece I’ve ever performed was months of work for only one performance.

Dere is some really hard stuff that I played exactly twice in public: all da Scrib op 8 as a set, da Brahms Paganini book 2, da Pimp-Donizetti Parisina.

Quite shit, I must add…

At least you’ll have the opportunities to play these again. My piano playing days are done.


Ok, how about songs you learnt n never played in pubic (sic) even once.

Fo moi:
Pimp tot, Tchaik 1, mozart c minor conc, Brahms 1, Balakirev Islamey, Beethoven 5, Rach conc 1 n prok 3 (never a full public perf fo doze)

Like tits on a bull tru


Both the concerti I learnt (Rach 1 and Chopin 2). I would’ve performed the latter except that was when my dystonia caused me to postpone the performance and play a left hand programme instead. Everything else I’ve learnt for performances or auditions since I was 23 or so. Only exception I can think of right now is Schumann ABEGG and some Albeniz pieces from Iberia.

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Back to the topic. One piece that I’ve been intrigued by is Boulez sonata 3. I think the full score is not even available?

Music can be complex in different ways too. On the one hand you have composers like Bartok, Szymanowski, Messiaen, Vine etc who used a complicated harmonic language to express themselves in which might be a barrier to peer through, but once you do the content there might not necessarily be hard to grasp (though the language is usually there for a reason). On the other hand you have things like Bach, late Beethoven, Busoni etc which are or can be completely tonal, but where the content might be really hard to figure out. I’ve probably had more rewarding experiences within this latter category in recent years myself - especially the Busoni concerto which finally opened up to me only this past spring. Also thinking about sitting down with Beethoven’s late quartets which I suspect belong here too.

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