Ooh, Interesting! Ė The Piano Tune That Pianists Canít Play

September 25, 2015

In this week’s edition of Ooh, Interesting!, we intend to keep it short and sweet by inviting you to learn about the piano tune that pianists can’t play. And what’s more, there’s a video to show you a) what the piece sounds like and b) what it would look like if they could!

It seems quite pointless to write a tune for the piano that no pianist can play. Mozart, Beethoven, Bach... No matter which pianist you name, none of them will be able to play Circus Galop by Marc-André Hamelin (and not only because they’re dead).

Composed between 1991 and 1994 – presumably it takes a long time to write something that sounds good and is also impossible to play – Circus Galop is approximately 4-5 minutes long and is used to stress test Player Pianos.

For the uninitiated, a Player Piano is not just a fairly average book by cult author Kurt Vonnegut but is also a piano that plays automatically when wound and dates back to the 19th century. The user (well, watcher) pre-programmes the instrument with a perforated paper roll, or in more modern instruments, with a CD that works with the MIDI – a Musical Instrument Digital Interface. Start the piano up and off you go, perfectly played music for your delectation!

The reason that no human can play Circus Galop is that... Well, just take a look for yourself!

At one point 21 notes are played at the same time. A stretch even for fans of Rachmaninoff. Thankfully it’s a little requested tune at venues and events so pianists can sleep soundly for the foreseeable future.

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By Henry Fosdike