Fast piano music is a genre characterized by lively, energetic, and often virtuosic compositions that showcase the technical prowess of the pianist.
Fast Piano Music
1. “2 -3 Faster” by Goetz Oestlind
At around one and a half minutes, this is certainly one of the shortest pieces for piano. What you have here is a rollicking ragtime-style piece that offers a technical challenge for any pianist.
In this capture of the piece David & Götz, commonly known as The Show Pianists give a blisteringly quick rendition of the music.
As you’ll see in the linked video, the same musical idea is repeated several times with the audience egging the pianist to play ever faster. It is great fun to watch and I’m sure equally thrilling to learn to play.
2. Flight Of The Bumble Bee by Rimsky Korsakov
Yuja Wang takes this Russian classic piece at such a break-neck speed it’s hard to imagine how she sustains the pace even for the short duration of this piece. Her unfaltering dexterity allows each note to sound clear despite the display of virtuosity.
The piece is really an orchestral interlude that comes from Rimsky Korsakov’s opera titled The Tale of Tsar Saltan. It was composed between 1899 and 1900 and has been incredibly popular ever since.
The frenetic beating of the bees wings, with the erratic flightpath of the creature, is captured in this remarkable performance in a way I have never heard it played before.
3. Key Engine by Luca Sestak
Five and a half minutes of furiously fascinating boogie-woogie piano playing. Rapid single-note figures contrast with lightening quick blues flurries as the left hand of the pianist keeps a variety of boogie-woogie patterns running.
The performance is erudite and delivered with the appropriate sense of humour.
4. Fingerbuster by Jelly Roll Morton
Jelly Roll Morton was one of the pioneering jazz pianists of his day. His approach to piano playing and composition were both undeniably unique. Once you hear a Jelly Roll Morton recording of one of his numerous compositions, you’ll know his sound.
Many of his piano works are written with a tongue-in-cheek quality to them and although this piece written in the late 1930s sounds funny, performing it is not so laughable.
Morton indicates a starting tempo of crotchet (or quarter-note) equals 277 rising to an eye-watering 305 beats per minute. Creeping chromatic harmonies, syncopated chordal melodic patterns, and stride-style left hand characterise his music.
The structure of this piece feels improvised as Morton keeps introducing new ideas and varying accompanimental patterns. Each theme is subtly developed. Following a brief transition passage the ‘C’ material is in four variations.
It’s a delightful, amusing and cleverly crafted piece that will certainly offer your fingers a workout.
5. Fifteen Études de Virtuosité (Op. 72: No.6 in F major) by Moritz Moszkowski
This collection of studies (études), was first published around 1903 in Paris. Moszkowski has been compared by some as an equal to the brilliance of Chopin both in his compositions and as a performer.
There is an unmistakable flavour of the Polish master in these pieces with their romantic, lyrical virtuosity and their consummate writing for the piano. Moszkovski composed over two-hundred smaller-scale pieces for piano as well as two piano concertos.
The Op.72 set is a technically challenging work to play cleanly where each note is audible and meticulously placed. To perform them at the speed indicated requires great control as well as the ability not to make them sound just like a warm-up.
Number six features balletic arabesques in the right hand with light left-hand accompaniment that also contains gentle melodic ideas. The form is simple with an equal exchange of material passing between the hands. A rising chromatic flourish concludes this brief work.
6. La campanella (From Six Grandes études de Paganini) by Franz Liszt
Liszt unashamedly borrowed the melody of this delightful piano piece from Paganini’s Second Violin Concerto in B minor. The little bell holds centre stage in this work and presents the pianist with some considerable technical challenges.
Large jumps are one of the features of the music that require flexibility and fluency. Some awkward trills crop later in the piece and some very rapid chromatic passages.
Whilst this might not be the fastest of the piece listed here, at some of the tempi some pianists approach the piece it is. In the performance above, we hear all the notes sensitively coloured and closer to the allegretto tempo Liszt marks.
7. Étude Op. 10; No. 4 by F Chopin
The piano works of Chopin are amongst some of the most beautiful music ever written. It also ranks amongst some of the most difficult music to play.
The opus ten and opus twenty-five represent some of the most technically challenging pieces written for the piano. The opus ten sets of Études were composed between 1829 and 1832.
Amazingly, Chopin was still a teenager when he composed this collection of Études which only demonstrates what a phenomenon he was.
Number four of this set has a nickname of torrent. When you hear the piece it’s easy to understand why. The tempo marking is Presto con fuoco, and for around one and a half minutes this piece is relentless.
The opening semi-quavers you hear do not give way making this étude extremely tricky to control the texture of the music without it sounding like someone practising a C# minor scale.
Structurally very similar to the other works in the set with an ABA form. Here, the ‘B’ section provides little contrast. It is a restless, elemental composition full of hidden treasures for the brave.
8. Yours Is My Heart Alone (From 1963)
In the link above you’ll hear the legendary Oscar Peterson and his trio performing this popular jazz tune.
The difference here perhaps is how these outstanding musicians deliver this music. It’s one thing to be able to play the melody and chords but quite another to improvise at this speed with this degree of effortless fluency.
Peterson’s dexterity combined with his astonishing gift for melodic lines makes this one of the fastest piano pieces I’ve come across. The trio work so seamlessly as a single creative whole, it’s humbling to watch.
9. I Would Do Anything For You
And to illustrate where Peterson received his inspiration, I’ve included the master of all jazz pianists; Art Tatum performing here in 1935. Tatum was renowned for his unparalleled skill as a jazz musician.
When you hear him playing, as Oscar Peterson noted himself, you can easily be convinced there are two pianists at the piano. Tatum’s facility for immense speed and incredible interpretations of almost any music he wished to play even gave Rachmaninov pause for thought.
What stands out in Tatum’s performances, even though the recording quality is not what we aspire to today, is absolute balance and clarity.
Even playing at the velocity he does here the technical challenges gently go unnoticed and the sheer musicality with which Tatum delivers this music is simply breathtaking.