Accomplishments and Records

Listen to One of the Hardest Piano Pieces Ever Written

opus clavicembalisticum

If you are looking for a piece of piano music that will test your skill and patience, you would be hard-pressed to find anything that compares to Opus Clavicembalisticum.

Written by English composer Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji, Opus Clavicembalisticum is recognized as one of the most difficult pieces of piano music ever composed. Not only is it a challenging avalanche of non-stop notes, but the piece is also unbelievably long. When it was completed in 1930, it was the longest piece of piano music yet written.

The sheet music consists of 254 pages (see it here) and takes more than four hours to play it.

One page of Opus Clavicembalisticum. Click image to expand.

To those of us on the Commonplace Fun Facts staff, the sheet music looks like something recovered from the alien crash site at Roswell. Pianists have declared it to be one of the most technically demanding solo pieces because of its length and complexity.

If trying to play Opus Clavicembalisticum is taxing, imagine what it was like writing it. Sorabji wrote to a friend, describing the experience: “With a wracking head and literally my whole body shaking as with ague I write this and tell you I have just this afternoon early finished Clavicembalisticum… The closing 4 pages are so cataclysmic and catastrophic as anything I’ve ever done—the harmony bites like nitric acid—the counterpoint grinds like the mills of God to close finally on this implacable monosyllable:” He finished by copying the work’s final G sharp minor chord in the left hand with a quasi-cluster chord (B-D-F-G-A-B) in the right hand and quotes Mephistopheles in Faust, “I am the Spirit that denies.”

Listen to the Interludium Primum from Opus Clavicembalisticum

Opus Clavicembalisticum has been performed in full only about 20 times.

The work consists of three parts, Pars Prima, Pars Altera, and Pars Tertia. On March 10, 1936, John Tobin performed Pars Prima and decided the song wasn’t nearly long enough as composed. He took nearly twice as long as Sorabji intended. This seems to have contributed to Sorabji prohibiting public performances of his compositions. He said, “No performance at all is vastly preferable to an obscene travesty.” His ban on performances was upheld until 1976.

The parts of Opus Clavicembalisticum are listed below, with links to YouTube files provided.

Pars Prima

  1. Introito
  2. Preludio-corale
  3. Fuga I. quatuor vocibus
  4. Fantasia
  5. Fuga II. [duplex]

Pars Altera

  1. Interludium primum [Thema cum XLIX variationibus]
  2. Cadenza I
  3. Fuga tertia triplex

Pars Tertia

  1. Interludium alterum (Toccata:Adagio:Passacaglia cum LXXXI variationibus)
  2. Cadenza II
  3. Fuga IV. Quadruplex
  4. CODA. Stretta

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