"Mozart is the greatest composer of all. Beethoven created his music, but the music of Mozart is of such purity and beauty that one feels he merely found it-that it has always existed as part of the inner beauty of the universe waiting to be revealed." - Albert Einstein
A lot of people play the piano.
But do they belong amongst the greats?
Most of the greats are classical musicians. From Ludwig van Beethoven’s magnificent sonatas to Rachmaninov’s concertos, there’s so much talent.
Talented virtuosos such as Franz Liszt, Robert Schumann, Mendelssohn, Schubert, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, and Prokofiev have also left their marks on the history of music.
How could we not mention Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart amongst these virtuosos?
Did you know we owe the invention of this wonderful instrument to just one man?
Bartolomeo Cristofori invented the piano-forte!
In this article, we’re going to show you the 10 best virtuosos to have tickled the ivories.
Check the best teacher and online piano lessons here.
Best Pianists: Frédéric Chopin
Of all the wonderful pieces Chopin left us, we can find nocturnes, concertos, waltzes, and preludes. When we talk about classical piano, this is one of the first names that will come to mind.
One listener said that “if you hear the same piece from Chopin twice, you’ll hear two different pieces”.
Chopin set himself apart from the others with a different musicality and an almost scientific knowledge of the piano.
His knowledge flowed through the tips of fingers and helped him create sounds that would make him one of the greatest pianists to have ever lived. He was also incredible at improvising.
It’s worth listening to “Les Quatre Ballades pour Piano”.
Ludwig van Beethoven
Beethoven went deaf at the age of 27 but still remained one of the greatest composers of all time.
The works Beethoven left us are amazing. We have to mention, for example, his 35 sonatas for piano and 9 symphonies, of which the 5th is arguably one of the most famous of all time.
Beethoven is classified as Viennese Classicism alongside other famous composers such as Haydn, Gluck, and Mozart.
This style is characterised by a simplified theme (melody) in contrast to Baroque music which would use a complex melody to attract the listener. There is a general harmony that is adhered to more strictly.
Beethoven’s style can be recognised by musical contrasts that play with our emotions by being re-transcribed for different instruments.
You should listen to Fur Elise.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
How could we not talk about one of the world’s most famous classical musicians?
He was definitely one of the most talented. He was a prodigy on both the violin and the piano.
Just like Beethoven, he was at the forefront of Viennese Classicism. He has one of the densest classical repertoires. In fact, the Köchel Catalogue counts 626 different pieces!
During young Mozart’s life, he was able to rub shoulders with other instrumentalists and composers who would all play a role in his musical development. He would initially emulate their works by copying and replaying what he’d hear.
It’s worthwhile giving Symphony No. 41 (Jupiter) a listen.
Great Pianists: Claude Debussy
While some people may prefer great composers such as Bach and Rachmaninov over Claude Debussy, we feel he definitely deserves a mention when it comes to the piano.
I have to admit, he might be my favourite classical pianist. Of course, this is definitely subjective.
André Boucourechliev said that he was a veritable musical revolution of the 20th century. Debussy is still difficult to classify because of how non-conformist he was.
While his piano technique was incredible, Debussy spent his entire life with complete musical freedom. He sort of set his own rules for the works he created.
Prélude à l’après midi d’un faune is definitely worth checking out.
While I could have happily filled this list with classical musicians, it’s also important to mention some of the amazing contemporary artists who’ve graced us with their musical presence.
Martha Argerich is definitely worth a mention.
Martha started playing the piano at the age of two. Her mother said that she was able to play octaves like they were simple notes.
By the age of 8, she could already perfectly play Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Major.
At the age of 14, she emigrated to Europe where she’d hang out with some of the greatest pianists around, which furthered her playing.
At the age of 16, she won two prestigious awards in the space of two weeks: The Geneva International Music Competition and the Ferruccio Busoni International Piano Competition.
Listen to her performance of Maurice Ravel's Piano Concerto in G major.
As we said, when talking about piano virtuosos, it’s very easy to just mention classical pianists. However, we can also talk about jazz pianists, who are incredibly talented pianists in their own right.
Art Tatum is arguably one of the greatest jazz pianists of all time and also one of the greatest pianists outright.
While partly blind, Art Tatum used braille to learn how to play the piano and was gifted with an absolutely fantastic musical ear. One even when he was playing, the pianists Thomas Waller (aka Fats Waller) said, “I only play the piano, but tonight God is in the house”.
Art Tatum had an out-of-the-ordinary technique and speed and an unquantifiable energy when he played the piano which his contemporaries away.
Lester William Pollfuss, who was more commonly known as Les Paul, wanted to become a jazz pianist. After he heard Art Tatum on the piano, he decided to turn his focus to the guitar as he was convinced he would never be able to match him.
I Got Rhythm is certainly something you should be listening to.
Top Pianists: Sonya Belousova
The Russian-born American pianist Sonya was quickly classified as a prodigy.
She started learning to play the piano aged 5 and started composing her first pieces by the age of 10. By the time she was 13, she was given the Russian Ministry of Culture Award for her composition.
While she’s known for her compositions, she’s also a fantastic pianist in terms of improvisation.
Her talent has led her to work with some of the most famous artists from around the world. In addition to her own pieces, she also composes music for some of the most prestigious ballets in the United States.
She’s also known for her covers of popular theme tunes from video games, such as Tetris, and music from films like Star Wars and the TV series like Game of Thrones.
The direction of her video clips also enhances the artistry of this young artist’s piano playing.
Video game fans will enjoy her version of the theme from Street Fighter.
This South Korean composer and pianist is a contemporary talent known for their songs Kiss the Rain and River Flows in You.
The whole process started at a very young age. In fact, the young Yiruma played the piano from the age of five and graduated from two British music schools: Purcell School in 1997 and King’s College in 2000.
His musical style is a mix of contemporary and classical music.
River Flows in You is the first piece you should listen to.
Yann Tiersen is a French composer and performer who’s most famous for their work on the soundtrack to the film Amélie. The soundtrack to Jean Pierre Jeunet’s film sold over a million copies. When most people praise the film, they mention its incredible soundtrack.
Yann Tiersen is an accomplished musician who is also a virtuoso on the violin and the guitar whose compositions are emotionally moving. His music is touching, vibrant, intensely human, and timeless.
His first album, La Valse des Monstres, better known as the Amélie soundtrack, is a collection of 11 songs that were written for two different plays. Two songs, in particular, became famous after the artist exploded onto the international scene: le banquet and la valse des monstres.
Comptine d’un autre été, l’après-midi and le banquet are both good places to start.
While is musical style is hard to define (he specialises in covers of famous songs), his talent isn’t.
So who is this famous pianist?
Peter Bence is a Hungarian composer and music producer. He’s famous for being the fastest pianist in the world, having held the Guinness World Record between 2012 and 2017. He played 765 keys in a minute!
We recommend that you check out his Facebook page or YouTube channel to listen to his covers of pop and rock classics.
His cover of Michael Jackson’s Bad is incredible.
The damper is the part of the piano that stops the strings from vibrating.
The keyboard is the part of the piano where you can find all the keys.
See some of the best UK pianists here.