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Is ‘Rachmaninov’s concerto No. 3’ toughest piano music to play

Is ‘Rachmaninov’s concerto No. 3’ toughest piano music to play

Posted September. 23, 2014 05:27,   


“The toughest piano music to play in the world is said to be Sergei Rachmaninov’s concerto No. 3, right?” This reporter has often heard this question since becoming a music correspondent. The reason for this is “Shine,” the music movie featuring David Helfgott, a real pianist, as the main character. The main character in the movie successfully plays this music, which his father imprinted in him as the "best song in the world" and is the "work technically most sophisticated to play," but suffered nervous breakdown.

Is the song the "toughest piano music to play " as described in the movie? All different musical works entail difficulties of their own. When it comes to technique, some pianists may have difficulties touching the keys widely, while other performers may find it hard to play successive keys swiftly. Likewise, it is difficult to single out the "most difficult song."

However, it is true that Rachmaninov’s concerto No. 3 sent countless pianists to a state of depression. Rachmaninov dedicated the song to Josef Hoffmann, the most famous pianist of his time, but Hoffmann said, “This is not appropriate for me either,” and has never played the song before audience members. Gary Graffman, who often performed the song, confessed, “If I had not learned about this concerto when young, I would not have played it. When learning this song, I was fearless because I was too young.”

Why Rachmaninov would have composed the music in a way that is so tough to play. The year 1909, when Rachmaninov composed the song, was an era when admiration for performers following romanticism was in its zenith. Rachmaninov himself was a grandmaster of piano, who "took the world by storm at that time." Some rumors say that he even touched the 12 keys from "do" to "fa" on the next octave with one hand.

However, the charm of this music does not lie in the fact it is "difficult" to play. The entire song is filled with beautiful rhythms, and the climax in the final movement that features all different challenging playing techniques presents the fantasy of forte played with brass wind instrument to the listener, rendering him or her to feel as if flying in the sky. This also nicely matches the image of the poster of the movie "Shine," in which the main character is seen spreading out both arms against the backdrop of blue skies.

The song, which makes the listener to feel cool and fresh in the heart, seems to better harmonize with the season this time of the year, when skies are high, crystal clear and blue. Tuesday marks the “birthday of the song,” when the great composer completed score of the music in 1909.