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35 Best Pianists of All Time (Famous Piano Players)

May 9, 2023
best pianist of all time

Have you just started learning how to play piano and want to expand your musical knowledge?

You’ve come to the right place – this article will introduce you to the best pianists of all time.

All of these piano players made a huge impact on their era, and their music will be known for many generations to come.

So without further ado, let’s take a look at the greatest piano players in history.

1. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart 

If you asked people on the street who is the best pianist in the world, most of them would probably say Mozart

And that’s because Mozart is arguably one of the most famous piano players in history.

He changed the world of classical music, and wrote some of the most iconic classical pieces for piano.

Mozart was a child prodigy, and although he died at the age of 35, he managed to leave behind over 800 symphonies, concertos, operas, and so on.

If you want to know more about the life of this incredible creative mind, we suggest watching (or re-watching) the movie Amadeus

2. Frédéric Chopin

Frédéric Chopin was one of the most important figures of the Romantic era.

In fact, the Polish virtuoso pianist is also one the greatest pianists that ever lived.

His solo compositions are sentimental, delicate, and simply mesmerizing.

Chopin’s most recognizable compositions include “Fantaisie-Impromptu”, “Nocturne in C sharp minor”, and “Piano concerto No. 1.” 

His music keeps inspiring pianists around the world, and he will always be remembered as one of the most prolific pianists of the recorded era.

3. Ludwig van Beethoven

Ludwig van Beethoven is also among the most famous pianists of all time.

His compositions are an integral part of every piano school curriculum.

Beethoven was taught how to play piano by his father, and he performed his first concert as a child.

Although he started to lose his hearing quite early in his life, he managed to continue playing and composing.

During his lifetime, he crafted some of the most prominent pieces of the classical music repertoire.

4. Franz Schubert 

Although he wasn’t well-known during his lifetime, Franz Schubert is now regarded as one of the greatest pianists of all time.

And many famous pianists cited him as an inspiration or praised him, including Brahms, Schumann, and Mendelssohn.

The Austrian composer created more than 800 musical pieces over the course of his career – from symphonies and operas to chamber music. 

Some of Schubert’s most famous pieces include “Symphony No. 9 in C Major” and “Erlkönig” based on Ave Maria.

5. Sergei Rachmaninoff

Sergei Rachmaninoff was a Russian composer, conductor, and virtuoso pianist, and one of the most prominent names in the romantic period.

Like many of the composers on this list, Rachmaninoff started playing piano as a child.

He is best known for his piano concerti and the piece for piano and orchestra “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini” from 1934.

6. Artur Schnabel

Artur Schnabel was an Austrian-American classical pianist, composer and pedagogue. 

He studied in Vienna, under the acclaimed teacher Theodor Leschetizky. 

Eventually, he became one of the top piano players of the 20th century.

He made his mark with many compositions and performances, including the first recording of the complete Beethoven piano sonatas. 

7. Wilhelm Kempff

Born in 1895, Kempff remains one of the most important pianists of the 20th century.

He died in 1991, and he will always be celebrated for his technical abilities and refined playing style.

Kempff was mostly devoted to 19th century composers – his repertoire included Bach, Mozart, Chopin, Schumann, Liszt and Brahms.

But he was also known for his interpretations of the music of Ludwig van Beethoven and Franz Schubert.

8. Glenn Gould

Glenn Gould was a Canadian classical pianist known for his technical proficiency.

His interpretations of Bach were astounding, and he inspired many aspiring pianists to play Bach and classical music in general.

Gould was also a writer, broadcaster, composer and conductor, but he is primarily celebrated as one of the best pianists of the 20th century. 

9. Alfred Cortot 

Another pianist known for his interpretations of other famous pianists is Alfred Cortot.

Cortot was a popular figure in the French music scene in his time, and he also formed a renowned trio with violinist Jacques Thibault and cellist Pablo Casals. 

So even though he wasn’t as technically brilliant as some of the other pianists on this list, Cortot will always be remembered for his massive body of work.

10. Claude Debussy 

Although he didn’t receive acclaim for his work until his 40s, Debussy is considered to be one of the greatest piano players of all time.

And that only proves that acclaim sometimes doesn’t mean anything – with his creativity and emotion, he definitely stands out from the crowd.

He is also regarded as one of the first musical impressionists.

Debussy had a music career of over 30 years, and he created multiple orchestral works and many compositions including the remarkable “Claire de Lune” and “La Mer.”

11. Franz Liszt

Franz Liszt is one of the most famous composers of the Romantic era.

He was a Hungarian composer, and he was a representative of the German New School.

Liszt left the world a substantial musical legacy, including piano music, symphonic poems, and organ music.

He was recognizable by his powerful performances and innovative harmonies, and there was a large fan base formed during his time.

There’s even a term for that ‘fan frenzy’ for Liszt – Lisztomania.

12. Robert Schumann

Robert Schumann is considered to be one of the leading figures of the Romantic era. 

He was a German composer and music critic, but most of all, he was a virtuoso pianist.

Over the course of his career, he created Lieder and piano works, as well as orchestral pieces and symphonies.

Schumann suffered from a mental disorder that ultimately affected his work.

Nevertheless, he will always be remembered as one of the most influential pianists of the 19th century.

13. Clara Schumann 

Another distinguished pianist of the Romantic era is Clara Schumann.

Her influence on classical music is undeniable, and her long career and influence will never be forgotten.

She was also an educator, and at one point she worked at Dr. Hoch’s Konservatorium in Frankfurt.

Also, Clara Schumann was married to Robert Schumann, and together they had eight children.

14. Arthur Rubinstein 

Arthur Rubinstein is recognized for his interpretations of famous composers, most notably Chopin.

He was a Polish-American pianist, and he played in public for eight decades.

Rubinstein really had an impressive long-lasting career, and he is widely regarded as one of the best piano performers.

15. Martha Argerich 

And when it comes to best living pianists, Martha Argerich is definitely high on the list.

She is an Argentine classical pianist who made her debut concert at age 8 and won two major piano competitions when she was only 16.

And she rose to fame when she won the VII International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw in 1965.

So it’s no wonder she is also regarded as one of the best pianists in history.

16. Elton John

Elton John is a living legend, and one of the best-selling music artists of all time.

But he is also a talented piano player, and he is known for writing piano-driven songs.

All of his timeless classics are characterized by his piano performances, including “Your Song”, “Rocket Man”, and “Tiny Dancer.”

And that’s why he has a well-deserved place on this list.

17. Vladimir Horowitz

Vladimir Horowitz was a Kiev-born American classical pianist.

He was an incredible pianist known for his impeccable technique and tone color, as well as the masterful performances.

He received many awards and recognitions during his lifetime, and he is now regarded as one of the best professional pianists that ever lived.

18. Sviatoslav Richter 

Another great pianist we want to mention is Sviatoslav Richter.

Richter was born in the Russian Empire (today’s Ukraine), and at the age 15, he started to work at the Odessa Opera.

He eventually became a prominent pianist, and he was known for his impressive piano skills and vast repertoire.

19. Claudio Arrau 

Claudio Arrau was a renowned piano player and a keyboard master.

He was a 20th century Chilean pianist known for his interpretations of famous pianists such as Beethoven, Bach, Schubert, Chopin, and Brahms.

Arrau was a frequent recital performer, and he edited and completed several important works, including.

He is also famous for his recordings of Schubert, Brahms and Debussy. 

20. Jerry Lee Lewis 

Although you might not remember him as a pianist, Jerry Lee Lewis was a great piano player.

But most of all, he was a pioneer of rockabilly and rock and roll music – nicknamed ‘The Killer’, he was described as “rock & roll’s first great wild man.”

Lewis rose to fame with his 1957 hit, “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On”, and continued to top the charts in the 60s and the 70s. 

All things considered, he was undeniably one of the most influential musicians and piano players of the century. 

He passed away in October 2022. 

21. Billy Joel 

Well, this list wouldn’t be complete without the Piano Man.

Billy Joel got his nickname after his signature song “Piano Man” released in 1973.

With over 160 million records sold worldwide, Billy Joel is also one of the best-selling musicians of all time.

But more importantly, he has influenced and inspired so many people throughout his career, and he will always be celebrated for his music and piano playing.

22. Bill Evans 

Bill Evans was a famous jazz pianist and composer.

He moved to New York City from New Jersey to pursue his career, and in 1958, he joined Miles Davis’s sextet,

Apart from that, he was known for his impressionist harmonies and interpretations of jazz standards.

But many of Evans’ compositions also became standards, including “Waltz for Debby.”

23. Lang Lang 

Lang Lang is considered by many to be one the best pianists of our time.

He is a classical musician of modern time, who has performed with leading orchestras across the globe. 

Lang Lang has also been credited with inspiring millions of children to take up the piano in China.

That being said, it’s fair to say that he is one of the most influential pianists of the 21st century. 

24. Myra Hess 

Myra Hess is also an all-time best pianist.

She was known for her performances of the works of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Schumann.

She began playing the piano at the age of five, and continued her education at the Guildhall School of Music and at the Royal Academy of Music.

So she was well-educated, but it was her dedication and passion for music that helped her stand out from the crowd. 

25. Jelly Roll Morton

Jelly Roll Morton was an American ragtime and jazz pianist, bandleader, and composer known for his innovative playing style. 

In fact, he was a pioneering figure in jazz music. 

Published in 1915, Morton’s composition “Jelly Roll Blues” was one of the first published jazz compositions.

He also famously claimed that he invented the whole genre. 

26. Ray Charles 

Morton may have invented the genre, but Ray Charles is widely regarded as one of the most iconic jazz musicians.

He also made an impact on gospel, soul, and R&B music.

Besides being a talented singer and songwriter, Ray Charles was also a fantastic piano player.

And he was often referred to by contemporaries as “The Genius.”

27. Thelonious Monk

Another iconic figure in jazz music is Thelonious Monk.

He was an American jazz pianist and composer, best known for his jazz standards such as  “‘Round Midnight” and “Blue Monk.”

His performances were full of impressive improvisations, dissonances, and angular musical twists, and his innovative style helped shape the sound of jazz. 

Monk is also the second-most-recorded jazz composer after Duke Ellington.

28. James Booker 

James Booker is also known for his contribution to jazz music.

In fact, Booker combined jazz and R&B, and that’s how he created his unique style.

He was also highly skilled at playing classical music, and considering his incredible technical facility, he was without a doubt one of the best pianists of his generation.

Recognizable by his black eye patch and flamboyant personality, he is also regarded as one of the most iconic pianists of his time.

29. Fats Domino 

And Fats Domino was a singer, songwriter and pianist, and one of the pioneers of rock n roll music.

His first single “The Fat Man” is regarded as the first rock and roll single.

Fats Domino’s piano playing often included simple rhythmic figures, but his approach was forceful and energetic.

Besides inspiring jazz pianists around the world, Fats Domino also influenced famous artists such as Elvis Presley and the Beatles.

30. Leonard Bernstein 

We also want to mention one of the most versatile and successful artists in history.

Leonard Bernstein was a conductor, pianist, educator, composer, and author, and generally one of the most prominent American musicians.

Throughout his rich career, he contributed to many fields and genres, including film, theater, symphony, ballet, choral music, and opera.

But he was also known for his works for piano, and thanks to his virtuoso skills, he often conducted piano concertos from the keyboard.

31. Little Richard

Little Richard is one of the most iconic artists in popular music.

He was a musician, singer, and songwriter, but he is also remembered for his piano playing.

He is considered to be a pioneer in the genres of rock and roll, soul, and R&B, and his unique style influenced many other artists.

Little Richard’s famous songs include “Tutti Frutti” and “Lucille.” 

32. Dr. John

Malcolm John Rebennack Jr, better known by his stage name Dr. John was a talented piano player, singer, and songwriter.

He took inspiration from his native New Orleans and combined  New Orleans blues, jazz, funk, and R&B.

During his lifetime, Dr. John recorded 30 studio albums and nine live albums. 

But he was best known for his theatrical stage shows and unique style.

33. Josef Hofmann 

Josef Hofmann was a Polish composer and generally one of the most famous pianists in history.

Hofmann was a child prodigy, and he gave a debut recital in Warsaw at the age of 5.

Eventually, he settled in the US and became a director of the Curtis Institute of Music.

As a composer, Hofmann published over one hundred works throughout his career, creating a large repertoire and musical legacy.

34. Dinu Lipatti 

Dinu Lipatti was a popular Romanian classical pianist.

In the 1930s, Lipatti entered the 1933 Vienna International Piano Competition, and later studied in Paris under Alfred Cortot.

He achieved peak success in the 1940s, but he was unfortunately diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease and his career was cut short.

However, Lipatti’s contribution to music will never be forgotten. 

35. Emil Gilels 

Let’s conclude this list with one of the greatest Russian pianists of all time.

Emil Gilels was born in Odessa, and since he had a perfect pitch, he started his piano lessons at the age of five.

He eventually became one of the most prolific pianists in the world, known for his incredible playing skills, technical control, and fullness of tone.

Best Pianists of All Time – Final Thoughts 

We hope you enjoyed going through our list of the best pianists of all time!

And perhaps this article also inspired you to continue or start with your piano lessons.

After all, piano is one of the most beautiful instruments to learn – and with so many online piano lessons out there, gaining piano skills has actually never been easier. 

Similar Articles:

Best Piano Songs

Famous Classical Music

Will Fenton

Will, the founder of MIDDER, is a multifaceted individual with a deep passion for music and personal finance. As a self-proclaimed music and personal finance geek, he has a keen eye for futuristic technologies, especially those that empower creators and the public.

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