How Do You Compose A Cadenza?

Piano Lessons / music performance / How Do You Compose A Cadenza?

Welcome to, I’m Robert Estrin with a question from a viewer. Evan asks, “How Do You Compose A Cadenza?” Cadenzas in concertos, solo pieces with orchestra typically, often have sections where the orchestra dramatically stops, and the soloist plays their cadenza. In many concertos, the cadenzas are written. Cadenzas are not just in concertos, they’re also in solo pieces sometimes. For example, in Liszt’s 2nd Hungarian Rhapsody, there’s a part near the end that says ad libitum cadenza. And indeed, many pianists play cadenzas. In concertos, the composers often write cadenzas, but just as often there aren’t cadenzas written by the composers. Sometimes, there are cadenzas that people typically play, for example Beethoven wrote some cadenzas to Mozart concertos! So, there are often choices of cadenzas to choose from. But suppose you want to compose your own cadenza.

You can hear the hands independently from one another when you play scales two octaves apart.

For example, Evan asked specifically about the Liszt 2nd Hungarian Rhapsody. I haven’t played that piece in years, but when I did, I would actually make up cadenzas on the spot! I didn’t write one, I would improvise. I don’t necessarily recommend that. But I like to improvise. So, I would challenge myself. Here’s the key with a piece like that: You want to find techniques that are impressive sounding, but not necessarily something that is hard to play. It’s best to play something that sounds difficult because a cadenza is meant to show off your unique skills. However, I’ve heard cadenzas in concertos that were so far away from the style f the composer of the concerto, that it seemed ridiculous. For example, a Mozart concerto with a cadenza that’s in a 20th century style can be disorienting. Having stylistic integrity is important with cadenzas.

Showcase what you can do.

You don’t have to do the hardest thing in the world. You can do something that sounds hard, that lays into your hands. How would you compose such a thing? Start improvising! Just make something up that is based upon the themes and play around with it. Over time, you’ll find certain riffs that you like. Start building upon those and before you know it, you’ll have a framework. From there you can flesh out a cadenza for something like the Liszt 2nd Hungarian Rhapsody. For a full fledged concerto cadenza, it’s a bit more of a task. If you’re writing a cadenza to a Haydn or a Mozart Concerto, you probably want to play something that sounds like the composer. This is no easy task. Even Beethoven couldn’t do it!

Try to have some stylistic integrity, but do something stylistically that you like.

That is always a good key not just for composing cadenzas, but for all composing. Use what comes naturally to you and you’ll be richly rewarded! I hope this is helpful for you Evan, and everybody else! Keep your questions coming in. There are over one thousand videos at You can search for them with keywords. We’ve got everything covered for you here at LivingPianos, Your Online Piano Store. Subscribe to our videos and join everybody else having a good time here with piano. See you next time.