I’m wondering if there is a piano composition that uses notes from subcontra octave (C0) and five-lined octave (C8) at the same time?

In other words, is there any song there is no way to play without a keyboard that has 88 keys?

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    Perhaps some modernistic compositions, like 12 tone music or something? Feb 12, 2011 at 16:24
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    I'm going to make one. It's going to be called "Audio StackExchange Symphony". It goes like this: "C, C#, C++, D"... err sorry, wrong one, that's the StackOverflow Symphony. Feb 13, 2011 at 4:13
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    This site is more about recording technology than music history, so I'm going to move it to music.SE where I think it'll get better answers.
    – Warrior Bob
    May 17, 2011 at 17:33
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    Your title is different in spirit from the content of the question. When you say: "at the same time", do you mean "in the same piece" or literally "one hand playing in the lowest octave with the other playing in the highest" ?
    – ogerard
    May 17, 2011 at 18:26
  • Should "piece" be replaced with "song" here? I think so. It does not seem like the poster is referring to a piano piece with vocal accompanyment.
    – Noldorin
    May 17, 2011 at 21:56

7 Answers 7


Very few before 1890. Some pianos like the Steinway A still had only 85 notes at that time, and most composers stayed within that range. After that time, many composers pushed the limits.

Olivier Messiaen's piano compositions use the full range. For instance the two-piano piece "Visions de l'Amen" opens with a triad on the lowest A of the piano. Another piece has the left hand playing in the lowest octave and the right in the highest octave.

Ravel, in "Une Barque sur l'Ocean", writes for G below the lowest A on the keyboard. He had a 90-key Erard piano that had that low note. There is a similar 90-key Erard at the Frederick Collection in Ashburnham, Massachusetts.

I have heard that there is a piece by Scriabin that calls for the D above the highest C on the piano, but I don't think any piano was ever made that had that note.

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    For the record, the Scriabin work in question is the Sixth Sonata.
    – user48353
    Apr 4, 2018 at 5:34

Ligeti's thirteenth piano étude "L'escalier du diable" or devil's staircase, uses the full range of the keyboard. You can see it clearly in this video. The pianist is Francesco Libetta.

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    Gotta love Ligeti :)
    – Allan K.
    May 18, 2011 at 15:06

Shostakovich 1st Piano Concerto?

Ok, ok, not technically a 'song', but still...


Not on top of my head. Some songs will require loads of octaves. The Piano theme by Michael Nyman takes 3 octaves around C3, then jumps down 2 octaves.

But imo the main reason of having so many key (specially since you tagged this question under midi and midi controller) would be for performance reasons.

Most samplers allow you to choose ranges for different presets. So you can actually have 2 blown octaves from a nice sawtooth wave with a huge portamento for your theremin like solo, then 5 octaves of your main rhodes sound :) (I'm speculating, not saying you use those or you want to do this, just putting it into a RL perspective!).

Logic in itself allows you to do this somewhat in environment, etc.

Some compositions will have some information on really really low end (ie. think big, big pipe organs) but again - C1 has it's fundamental at around 32Hz, E1 at 41Hz. C0 it's around 15Hz (see an issue here?)

Uh, I stomped on this the other day - it does play C0 but it's not a keyboard! :P

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    This lead me to ask: What is the actual range of a full 88 keys piano? It can't possibly range all the way down to C0 as the Octobass is able to (which is actually just below the range of human hearing)! I found this article that states that the 88 key piano ranges from A0 (27.5 Hz) to C8 (4186 Hz).
    – awe
    May 18, 2011 at 9:34

Late last year I was playing the piano reduction for Bruch's violin concerto and I'm not sure it uses the first and last C's of the piano, but it sure does use those octaves. I know a piano reduction is not a proper piece, but hey, two cents is two cents.

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    The lowest C on a piano is C1 - not C0. The lowest key on a piano is A0. At the top range, the highest C is C8, but it doesn't have anything above that in that scale.
    – awe
    May 18, 2011 at 10:26
  • Oh. I guess I read "impossible to play without a full-range keyboard" and thought he meant the extreme notes on a normal full range keyboard. My bad. Should I edit my answer?
    – Allan K.
    May 18, 2011 at 13:16
  • It wouldn't hurt, just to make it a bit clearer. If you remember the exact notes that are highest and lowest in the play you refer to, that would be excellent.
    – awe
    May 19, 2011 at 6:20

There's another consideration to take into account with this question:

while a piece may be strictly possible to play without the full 88 keys by moving it up or down an octave, it may not actually sound any good at that point. The lowest and highest octaves have very distinctive sounds about them, and notes written in those ranges are generally written there specifically for this reason.

I would suggest that going beyond just one of these boundaries makes playing the piece 'properly' on a piano impossible, even if not technically so.


John Corigliano, Etude-Fantasy and Concerto for Piano and Orchestra both use a huge range of the instrument.

Also Fredric Rzewski piano piece #4 (from Four Piano Pieces) starts on the B one note from the top of a full-scale piano and uses the lowest A on the piano. (I have had to "recompose" the piece on the fly when presented at the last moment with a Bechstein whose highest note is the A below the intended starting B)

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