Piano Music for the Left Hand Alone

Often when I tell someone that I play piano music written for the left hand alone, at first I see a puzzled or even blank expression staring back at me. I imagine their brain whirling in an attempt to make sense of what I have said -- possibly trying to imagine that such a thing could be something anyone would want to listen to, let alone play.  Sometimes I will see a flicker of light behind the eyes as they grasp for context and say “Oh, you mean like the Ravel Concerto for the Left Hand Alone?” Well, yes; and of course, the Ravel is one of the greatest works, not only for the left hand alone, but of all piano concertos.  So when someone is familiar with this piece, it does give me an ideal starting point to tell them about the wonderful, and surprisingly rich repertoire of piano music for the the left hand alone.


There are four basic reasons composers write music for the left hand alone: 

1. Technical development.  In most two-hand piano music, the demands made on the right hand exceed those for the left.  To help equalize technical development between the hands, there is a body of left hand alone music written for this purpose. 

2. Compositional challenge.  For some composers, writing for the left hand alone is their Mt. Everest.  A composer's skill can be stretched by setting particular parameters, discovering new possibilities through self-imposed limitations. 

3. Injury.  The repetitive nature of practicing, can cause injuries such as tendonitis, carpel tunnel syndrome, and focal dystonia.  Damage to a hand or arm can also occur through accidents.  In either case, music for the left hand alone can become a necessity.


4. Showmanship. Pianists and audiences alike often find pleasure in moments of pure virtuoso display, and without a doubt, a certain portion of the repertoire for left hand alone is intended to impress and amaze! 

It is my opinion that the best music written for the left hand alone usually falls into two or more of the above categories. For example, most composers who undertake to write for the left hand alone chose to do so because they find the challenge of interest, yet they may be writing for an injured pianist.  Or, a pianist/composer may start by writing a piece for left hand technical development, and end up with an excellent concert piece of virtuoso display. 

My particular interest in piano music for the left hand alone began with the onset of focal dystonia in my right hand;  but my passion for left hand alone music grew from my need for self-expression through music.  I think it is a miracle that there is so much wonderful music for one hand; and when I am playing a truly great piece of music for the left hand alone, I find the experience completely fulfilling, and the issue of one hand vs two simply evaporates. 

Below are some useful links if you would like more information about piano music for the left hand alone. 

Profile of Keith (Luck be a Lefty Tonight, by Craig Smith) in the April 25, 2008, edition of Pasatiempo, published by the Santa Fe New Mexican.

Piano Music for One Hand.  Author Theodore Edel. 

Interview with Dr. Theodore Edel.

Leon Fleisher biography.

Pianist Antoine Rebstein.  Swiss pianist who performs left hand alone solo repertoire.

“Wilt thou have music?

Hark, Apollo plays,

and twenty cagèd nightingales do sing.”

The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare

© 2017 Keith Porter-Snell