How can I play Chopin's Nocturnes nicely

The degrees of difficulty of piano music in G. Henle Verlag


1lightBach, sheet music for Anna Magdalena Bach, No. 4 and 5
2Bach, Well-Tempered Clavier I, No. 1 Prelude in C major
3Beethoven, Piano Sonatas op.49,1 and 2
4mediumGrieg, Lyric Pieces op.12, No. 4
5Schumann, Fantasiestücke Op. 12, No. 1
6Chopin, Nocturnes op.27, No. 1 and 2
7heavyBeethoven, Piano Sonata op.10, No. 3
8Beethoven, Piano Sonata op.81a
9Schumann, Toccata op.7


Difficulty levels as a guide
“What does 'difficult' mean? Either you can play or you can't play ”- so the succinct remark of the great violinist Nathan Milstein when asked about the unbelievable difficulties of the Caprices op. 1 by Niccolo Paganini.

The relativity of “difficulty ratings” in music becomes immediately clear. Nonetheless, I am happy to face this great challenge that G. Henle Verlag has presented to me. Because I know from many colleagues and from my own experience how helpful such a guide can be. Above all, to find “suitable” pieces. For example, for instrumental teachers who teach on a wide variety of levels, from beginners to university preparation, but also for all interested laypeople whom such a guide would like to help.

After careful consideration, I decided onnine levels of difficultywhich I have divided into three groups: 1–3 (easy), 4–6 (medium), 7–9 (difficult). As many parameters as possible are included in the difficulty rating. I am not judging just the number of notes to be played quickly or slowly, or of chord progressions; In addition, the complexity of the structure of a piece, the complexity of its rhythm, the difficulty of legibility when reading the musical text for the first time and, last but not least, how easy or how difficult it is to grasp the musical structure of the piece are definitely important. As a "piece" I define the musical unit of a sonata or a single piece in the cycle, which is why, for example, Bach's "Well-Tempered Clavier" Volume 1 contains a total of 48 levels of difficulty (each prelude and each fugue separately), Schumann's F sharp minor sonata op. 11 but only a single digit. The yardstick for my assessment is the performance of a piece that is ready for audition.

Any evaluation of art and music always remains subjective, even if the greatest objectivity is given. With all the care I have taken, I am deeply aware of the fact that the result of my work can be challenged, so that I am always grateful for any suggestions.

Prof. Rolf Koenen © 2010