Talk:The Virtuoso's Challenge, WoO 1 (Cheng, C. H. Michael)

How can anyone play this piece?


I've just come across this piece. It's interesting-looking (although I can't really "hear" it in my head); but I am wondering how anyone could possibly play this piece. If the notation means what notation normally means, it is simply unplayable - so I don't quite get the point of it, but am curious enough to ask.

Lots of those chords cover several octaves and require far more than 10 fingers. (Although some are clusters of adjacent notes, they can't be played with forearms, because both black and white notes are involved - but not all chromatic semitones within the range.)

Other passages contain only a few notes - but in three or more voices so widely spread that the two hands couldn't possibly cover them all at once.

Yet other passages contain notes at least a major third above the top note of the vast majority of pianos. 99 percent of pianists, if not 99.999 percent, are not going to be able to play those. Maybe some Bosendorfer pianos go that high - but most pianos in the world don't.

There are other difficulties - maybe not completely unplayable, but surely too difficult for any human player to cope with. I would have severe doubts whether any performer other than a computer could possibly play bars of 57/16 accurately, especially Presto at crotchet = 241.758. (And why are three decimal places of accuracy in the metronome marking necessary?)

Some of the key signatures are weird, too. For instance, if I read it correctly, an early signature includes B double-flat. I suppose it would be an F-flat major scale, but with the F itself natural, not flat. That would take a bit of getting used to. And so would the use of C-clefs on various lines of the staff (some unorthodox, I think). These clefs really don't seem necessary.

Anyway, just wondering about these things, if you (the composer) get to read this, and take the time to reply. I'm just curious, and wondering how you intend this piece to be performed in practice.

Thanks. M.J.E. 21:14, 15 November 2009 (UTC)

Hi, M.J.E.! I am the composer of this piece. I am terribly sorry for the late reply, but the truth is that I did not see this page until today. This piece wasn't meant to be played by a human, hence the instrumentation "Finale 2010."
This is one of the modern pieces that are simply "unplayable." For another example, see Jujimufu's "Out of the Question(s)." His piece contains slurs that are twisted out of shape, and consecutive 128th notes with only one of them inside the piano! Pretty fast movement, I'd say.
I'll be happy to send you the audio file if I can, but I'm working on having the file uploaded to IMSLP.
Regards, ClassicalComposers 22:31, 9 January 2010 (UTC)

Playable on pianola/player piano like some pieces by Nancarrow, I suppose. And those pieces have been "arranged" for multiple pianos, but as they are, they're impossible to play on 1 piano with just 2 hands. Not a very fair challenge to virtuosos, but they can cope! It reminds me of the cartoon of an almost octopoidal Franz Liszt pictured at the keyboard, his arms moving so fast he appears to have more than two... :-) Cheers Philip Legge @ © talk 23:45, 9 January 2010 (UTC)

Okay - thanks for your replies, ClassicalComposers and Philip Legge. I didn't think of the piece being *intended* only for computer performance. I guess I'm old-fashioned and automatically think of *humans* as performing music. I have to say that I think on the whole I find it a more satisfactory arrangement, and, although I have tried composing at various times (but not got all that far with it for a variety of reasons), I suspect that I would not be able to sustain my interest in a computer-only score long enough to get anywhere near completing it.

Even the seemingly impossible, dense scores of Sorabji are in fact playable by a human with only 10 fingers (just barely - but people have done it somehow). If you look at the score of "Opus Clavicembalisticum" (which I have), it does look utterly impossible to play, though.

I don't know if my e-mail address is available here; but I am full up with a backlog of e-mail at the moment, so please don't try to send me a bulky sound file just now. I will be interested to try it out, though, if it gets posted to this site.

Thanks. M.J.E. 08:37, 10 January 2010 (UTC)