The other morning, I played a Tanglewood performance by Lang Lang of Mily Balakirev's "Islamey."
It reminded me of some pianist friends saying it is the hardest piece written for the piano.
Only to be countered by a few other friends who said that wasn't right. That it's actually "Ondine" from Maurice Ravel's 'Gaspard de la Nuit.'
Well, which is it?
And, I wonder if we should we care about what is the "hardest" piece since music is about more than just technique...
I vote for Islamey. Both are very difficult, but Islamey is longer than Ondne. Thus the sheer length of necessary concentration puts it over the top.
Oh, about whether it matters ...
I've always considered the musicality required to be part of the difficulty rating. So Ondine and Islamey are almost apples and oranges. Since I've never been a good enough pianist to play either, I have no way of comparing the difficulties of turning either into music beyond the technical demands.
But does the technical difficulty matter? Sure, it's part of the experience for the listener. Both composers knew they were asking the performer to be extraordinary, so that element is important.
Well, yes, but Balakirev was an excellent pianist and Ravel could not even play some of his own easiest pieces for the piano. Yes, they were both asking the performer to achieve extraordinary technical difficulties, but I agree this is like comparing apples and oranges. Or apples and spinach. No comparison.