10 Best Piano Players in History (# 9’s Still Performing)

Music is powerful. Music is pure soul. Music can touch the heart of even the most stoic of people.

Whether you’re a beginning piano student, an amateur piano player or a world-class pianist, you can always benefit from studying those who came before you. The best piano student is a life long learner.

Let’s look at ten of the most influential pianists throughout history.

The 10 Best Piano Composers of All Time

#1 Beethoven (1770-1827)

Ludwig van Beethoven of Germany was the eldest of seven children, only three of which survived.

Young Ludwig showed interest in music at only a few years of age. His father, also a musician, worked with him nearly every waking hour, reportedly striving to create the next “Mozart.”

Beethoven made his first public appearance at 7-years-old at Cologne. Because his father told the audience that he was 6, Beethoven believed he was a year younger than he was for years.

Beethoven was greatly revered for his application of legato and the singing resonance he was able to create through his pieces. Beethoven was instrumental in the musical progression from the Classical to Western periods in Western Art Music.

#2 Chopin (1810-1849)

Frederic Chopin, the renowned Polish composer and pianist, is known to be one of the most influential composers for those who came after him. Publishing his first composition at age 7, Chopin was a child prodigy of esteemed talent and grace.

It has been said of Chopin that he “…is the creator of a school of piano and a school of composition. In truth, nothing equals the lightness, the sweetness with which the composer preludes on the piano; moreover, nothing may be compared to his works full of originality, distinction, and grace.”

#3 Gould (1932-1982)

The Canadian Glenn Gould is best known for his rendition of compositions by Johann Sebastian Bach. He also holds a bit of a renegade reputation for his ability to divide classical music devotees through his independent spirit and fearlessness in straying from the norm.

Gould added a particular element of uniqueness to his performance by humming along to his exquisite piano playing.

He believed that concerts did a disservice to the art of music because they promoted an ephemeral moment of ecstasy when music is meant to evolve in the soul of man over a lifetime.

Gould wrote: “The purpose of art is not the release of a momentary ejection of adrenalin but is, rather, the gradual, lifelong construction of a state of wonder and serenity.”

#4 Liszt (1811-1886)

Franz Liszt, the Hungarian pianist, composer, and teacher, was in the same league with Chopin, sharing the throne of piano grandeur. Liszt was known for creating beautiful pieces that were extremely challenging.

Liszt’s renowned popularity inspired a term for the incredible energy he stirred in his audience: Lisztomania.

Today, he is still considered the best piano player of all time.

#5 Hess (1890-1965)

Beginning piano lessons at the age of five, Myra Hess attained a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music at 12 years old. She went on to perform her first public rendition at 17 with the New Symphony Orchestra at the Queen’s Hall, one of London’s most prestigious classical music halls at the time.

Myra Hess is most notably known for the string of concerts she delivered at the National Gallery during World War II.  At this time in London, all live music locations were shut down. The goal was to decrease the chance of numerous deaths if any were struck by bombs. She organized afternoon performances at the gallery that ran for nearly seven years.

She lead over 100 performances.

#6 Mozart (1756-1791)

The Austrian composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is today considered the most esteemed composer in the history of Western Music. He pushed the boundaries of musical ability.  And he never put a limit on what he could potentially accomplish.

He simply continued to surpass his prior musical abilities.

Mozart is a great example of the up-and-coming musical artist. He is best known for his ability to compose in all of the musical genres of his time. He possessed superior composition and performance in every one.

#7 Rubenstein (1887-1982)

At a mere age of 2, it was discovered that Arthur Rubenstein had perfect pitch. The Polish American pianist made his first public appearance with the Berlin Philharmonic at the tender age of 13.

Rubenstein is best known for his understanding of the composition of Chopin and his ability to elicit a powerful sound and variation when conveying Chopin’s pieces.

For those who heard him play, Rubenstein has been regarded as one of the best piano players of his or any other age.

#8 Horowitz (1903-1989)

Vladamir Horowitz, originally from Russia, came to the West at age 21 and only returned to his place of birth during the last few years of his life. Known for his stage presence, Horowitz was able to create in his audience an unbridled enthusiasm at his live performances.

Horowitz’s greatness is mostly attributed to his expert use of tone color, his mastery of the piano and his captivating energy in front of a crowd.

#9 Brendel (1931-)

Alfred Brendel, an Austrian pianist working in London today, is also a renowned teacher known for his recordings of four complete sets of Beethoven’s sonatas.

Brendel is considered one of the best piano players in history because of his ability to flawlessly deliver every chord without it sounding trite or overly formal. He is also one of the most talented performers at being able to extract humor from the most unexpected places, such as Classical compositions.

#10 Rachmaninov (1873-1943)

Sergei Rachmaninov, a Russian-born pianist, and composer was quite well known for his large hands. They allowed him to perform extremely complicated pieces with precision timing and astounding clarity. His hands could span a full twelve inches on the piano or C1 to A2.

Rachmaninov’s ability to elicit a remarkable singing tone from his instrument and create an immeasurable sweetness ranked him among the greatest pianists ever to live.

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