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Q&A

Why is Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3 considered one of the most technically challenging piano concertos?

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I recently watched the film Shine (1996, by Scott Hicks). It depicts the life of the pianist David Helfgott.

As Wikipedia explains in Shine (film):

In London, David studies under Dr. Cecil Parkes (John Gielgud) and enters a Concerto competition, choosing to play Sergei Rachmaninoff's enormously demanding 3rd Concerto, a piece he had attempted to learn as a young child to make his father proud.

The difficulty of the piece, together with other issues, lead to the pianist having a breakdown.

Over the film there are several references to the difficulty of the Piano Concerto No. 3. And so Wikipedia's Piano Concerto No. 3 (Rachmaninoff) explains:

The work often has the reputation of being one of the most technically challenging piano concertos in the standard classical piano repertoire.

It is indeed impressive to see how it is played, and also listening to it in different plays (over Spotify) shows very difficult movements of hands and changes on rhythm.

Still, I don't have enough knowledge of piano to distinguish its difficulty in comparison to other pieces. For example, to the extremely fast performance in Asturias, by Isaac Albénic. For this: what are the main reasons of the Piano Concerto No. 3 by Rachmaninoff to be considered one of the most difficult pieces?

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I'm not an expert on classical music, but I have tried playing this piece and, yeah, it was an epic fail.

Rachmaninoff is known for making big jumps in the hand. It isn't that prevalent in this piece, but there are some spaces bigger than an octave, which is generally what most pianists can stretch their hand too.

In the piece you listed:

  • It's played mostly on guitar, but on piano it doesn't involve much stretching of the hand.

  • It's a pattern that's repeated; in the 3rd concerto there is a very discreet pattern as the alberti notes quickly change.

  • The concerto involves fast contrary movement in both hands, something Asturias doesn't.

Both pieces are hard, but the concerto is harder.

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