How hard is the G Minor Ballade?  A few commenters on the Guardian website took issue with the assertion that it’s “one of the hardest pieces in the repertoire.” Actually those words weren’t mine – they were Murray Perahia’s.  Most of the professional pianists I spoke to confessed they found it extremely challenging. Baremboim used the word "slippery". Emanuel Ax said he'd never played a clean performance of the notorious coda. Ronan O'Hora said “you could line up a lot of concert pianists and ask them which is the piece they would least like to play cold before an audience or on camera, and an awful lot of them would say the G minor Ballade."

It’s listed as a piece for LRSM - that’s two notches above Grade 8 in ABRSM categorisation (above diploma, below FRSM). I liked this forum on the Associated Board site where someone who’d recently passed grade 8 asked if this would be too hard.  Someone called PianoDoodler replied:

"Oh yes. Way, way, way, way, way, way, way, way, way, way, way, way, way, way, way too hard.

Ridiculously too hard.

Hard in a way you can not even begin to dream about.

At a similar stage in my development, I would merely have regarded such sentiments as those I express above as challenging me to do it anyway.

Assuming you do the same, then here are three tips:

  • Pretend 'presto' means 'andante' for now.
  • Learn it for now, then leave it when you give up the struggle to master it. Believe me, you will give up the struggle, but:
  • Return to it once a year every year and relearn it. Eventually, you will get somewhere.

Have fun. I did. Still do, and the piece rewards me afresh every time I play it."