The list of legendary pianists of all times is very long as the instrument has been embraced by pioneers across ages. The list of the greatest pianist is long and starts with legendary pianists like Sergei Rachmaninov, and Arthur Rubenstein and also includes young stars like Yuja Wang, Lang Lang, Benjamin Grosvenor, etc. The greatest pianist of all time has an undeniable talent and has created the best masterpieces of all time. we have compiled the list of the top best pianists of all time times who have proved themselves to be exceptional performers and composers.
Table of Contents
- Top 19 Greatest Pianists of all time
- 1. Sergei Rachmaninoff: (1873 to 1943)
- 2. Arthur Rubinstein (1887 to 1982)
- 3. Vladimir Horowitz (1903 to 1989)
- 4. Sviatoslav Richter (1915 -97)
- 5. Claude Debussy (1862 to 1918)
- 6. Dinu Lipatti (1917 – 1950)
- 7. Alfred Cortot (1877 – 1962)
- 8. Artur Schnabel (1882 – 1951)
- 9. Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770-1827)
- 10. Martha Argerich (Born in 1941)
- 11. Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli (1920 – 1995)
- 12. Maurice Ravel (1875 – 1937)
- 13. Felix Mendelssohn (1809 – 1847)
- 14. Josef Hofmann (1876 – 1957)
- 15. Frederic Chopin (1810 – 1849)
- 16. Glenn Gould (1932 – 1983)
- 17. Murray Perahia (1947)
- 18. Wilhelm Kempff (1895- 1991)
- 19. Edwin Fischer (1886-1960)
Top 19 Greatest Pianists of all time
1. Sergei Rachmaninoff: (1873 to 1943)
He is one of the best pianists of all time and without his recordings, the field of piano music would not have attained any heights. A lot of things could be learned from the music he wrote. There is a range of technical resources with a lot of stamina and power to match. He has a gifted lot of melancholic music and has offered the best recordings of all time.
The rhythmic gift offered by Sergei Rachmaninoff was exceptionally precise and propulsive and is great in unleashing the musical momentum, similar to a tidal surge. It was from his piano recordings; that it was known that so much variety of musical options is available. The tonal quality of his compositions is also spectacular and was considered to be exceptionally precise and largely propulsive.
The best feature of his music is his tonal quality, with special mention on the opening tones of G flat major Prelude. Though these tones were exceptionally extraordinary, they also seem simple. He was one of the few pianists who phrased the right-handed repeated chord pattern with the same kind of suppleness, bringing up so much focus and fullness to the left-hand melody. He focuses on making music with life and with great variations, with tremendous attention to minute detailing.
His recordings are proof of how the Young Sergei Rachmaninoff played piano and we can see that he predominantly performed his music when he was in Russia. After he went to Europe and America, he took up piano music as his full-time career. He was known to practice piano for at least 15 hours a day to excel in it.
2. Arthur Rubinstein (1887 to 1982)
Arthur Rubinstein is one of the finest pianists who created piano music close to the artistic ideal in the widest repertoire. He was loved by the people for his golden piano tones, exceptional sense of timings, and sensitivity to the structure and phrase of music. His musical intuitiveness and eloquence are reflected in his musical concerts, ballades, and shows.
It was eventually seen that there could be practically nothing that Rubinstein could not play, and everything that he played was at the highest level of distinction. From solo recitals to concertos to creating about million-dollar piano trios, he was one of the finest pianists of his times, who created outstanding recordings of Brahms, and Schubert.
Rubinstein was one of the widely recorded pianists of his time and he was also a spontaneous musician who could create masterpieces in piano music with his fingertips. There has always been an element of daring in his music composition and his photographic memory served as a special boon for him in creating scintillating music pieces.
3. Vladimir Horowitz (1903 to 1989)
Horowitz began his international music journey in the year 1920 and was known for his free approach to piano dynamics, rhythm, and piano phrasing. For the next three decades, and until 1965 when he retired from his live concerts, he defined every single pianistic virtuosity. His octaves were considered superior to the pianist of all times and he has also made valuable improvisations in his repertoire. He has always impressed his audience with his intellectual piano music simulations.
The most recognizable aspect of his piano tone was the incorporation of a range of piano music colors and their physicality. His softest piano tunes have a body and his loudest tines were at times crystal clear. In every single musical phrase, he offered a wealth of rhythmic and dynamic shadings and was constantly in search of true piano interpretations.
4. Sviatoslav Richter (1915 -97)
He was regarded as one of the greatest pianists of the 20th century and has a prodigious reputation. Sviatoslav Richter is a sensitive artist and is a much-preferred musician, known for his piano playing expertise in a barn in France. He has composed numerous repertoires and has given astounding performances, to the best of his ability. He loved the works of Shostakovich and Prokofiev and his personal favorite is Britten, with whom he has played numerous duets.
The audience of his time finds it hard to characterize his piano-playing endeavors and he at times immerses himself deeply in the music, that it sometimes seems that we are hearing a composer directly. He has recorded numerous concerts and there are many music CDs of him recorded than any other pianist of his time, most of which were his performances.
5. Claude Debussy (1862 to 1918)
Claude Debussy is a renowned music composer and pianist from France he began playing piano at the age of 7 years. He showed great interest in piano compositions and by the time he was ten years old, he started to study piano at the Paris Conservatoire. He did a lot of piano composings in his time and this eventually escalated him to win the Prix De Rome award with his cantata in the year 1884.
Claude Debussy is considered one of the critical influencers of Impressionist music and his influencers were Russian Composers Richard Wagner, Borodin, and Mussorgsky. He was passionate about creating original masterpieces in piano music and it took him nearly 15 years to write his masterpiece Suite Bergamasque. He completed it in the year 1905 and the world-famous Claire De Lune was the third among his four major movements in the piano suite.
6. Dinu Lipatti (1917 – 1950)
Dinu Lipatti has secured himself a very special place among the pianist of all times. He is known for crafting some of the finest and the exquisite subtleties that leave his spectators speechless and jaws dropped down, with his superhuman reflexes. The standard that sets his piano playing experience different from others is that every single tone inflection seems to arise naturally from his soul and he is also extremely talented in achieving a tantalizing fusion of technical sophistication.
The naturalness in his music is the magic behind his captivating artistry and we should say that he was a pianist who breathed and lived music like oxygen. Every single composer that he chose to play with, felt an intuitive sense of contact and was astonished by the emotional complexities that he brought in, with his piano tones.
7. Alfred Cortot (1877 – 1962)
He is known for playing note-perfect piano tones. His passion for music is revealed in the notes that he came up with. It is generally known that no player has ever in the past, present, and future play like Alfred Cortot. He was one of the most sensitive, profound, and genuine musicians of his times and beyond, and his musical concepts were based on a transcendent scale, that only a few pianists were able to match. He was born in Switzerland in the year 1877 and he studied at the Paris conservatoire, where he soon became a professional and taught artists like Dinu Lipatti, Clara Haskil, Samson Francois, and Vlado Perlemuter.
Besides writing several essays and books on music and pianos, he is known for his prodigious piano techniques. His music is also known for fine and beautiful tone production and when we listen to his music compositions, they don’t just feel like a piece of music, but more like a private opera that indulges deep into the soul.
8. Artur Schnabel (1882 – 1951)
Artur Schnabel was born in Austria and is revered as one of the exponents of Beethoven’s piano sonatas. He was one of the first pianists to record all of them and set benchmarks with his interpretations. His piano playing is accorded to be unvarnished and honest and at times careless, as they at times have missed or wrong notes. Arnold Schoenberg once said that the concerts of Artur Schnabel were many times mere communions, but when the audience dispersed, they had a strong feeling of getting cleansed internally.
His repertoires were limited to only a few composers; with whom he was able to connect personally. Schnabel’s music interpretations were not just extraordinary but were also very simple, which puts music first and ego last.
9. Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Ludwig Van Beethoven was one of the finest pianists of all times and is one of the names reflected in every nook and corner of the world, for his remarkable work in the field of music. Apart from being the finest virtuoso pianist of his time, he was also a great composer. He started and mastered his piano lessons at a very young age and by the time he attained eleven years of age, he was known to be a very skillful pianist and he was also working as a court organist.
He became very famous for his compositions and some of his amazing pieces such as Symphony No 9, no 4, and Piano Sonata no 14 are true masterpieces. As he became older he became deaf for no obvious reason, but he still managed to compose music using the lower register on the piano.
10. Martha Argerich (Born in 1941)
This famous female pianist was born in 1941 and started playing piano when she was only three years old. When she was eight, she played her first concerto, Mozart’s piano concerto in the note D minor. She won the international Chopin piano competition in Poland in the year 1965, which achieved her great name and fame.
Apart from playing in concerts, she was also fond of playing in public, when she attracted media attention. People also appreciated her for his exceptional musical abilities and talents. She always preferred being on stage in groups, rather than appearing for solo performances. And the pianist has been playing in the concerto format since the year the 1980s. She held a long-standing partnership with violinist Gidon Kremer and Mischa Maisky, which broadened her musical outlook.
11. Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli (1920 – 1995)
The piano-playing talent of Arturo is considered a perfect amalgamation of well-controlled, practically iridescent, and warmly resilient means that could defy all acoustical laws. There is also a paradoxical quality attached to his extraordinary music artistry as well. His musical sensibility is not just considered to be punctilious but is also concerned with presenting a technical surface of the music. His piano playing talents are excessively tangible and spiky and are not evocative. Its music repertory is rather restricted but is honed carefully over many years.
12. Maurice Ravel (1875 – 1937)
Maurice Ravel is a renowned French composer and pianist, who revealed his musical talent apparently at a very early age. He was encouraged to pursue piano lessons at a very young age and he was enrolled in the Paris Conservatoire in the year 1889, at the early age of 14 by his father, who was an engineer by profession. It was in the year 1928, that he composed his famous work Bolero, in the form of ballet with Ida Rubinstein in a principal role.
He was affected by aphasia in the last five years of his life, and this condition affected his speed and sight and left him unable to compose music, but his musical creativity was all the time active than ever before. He died in Paris in the year 1937, when an operation to remove a block in the blood vessel of the brain failed.
13. Felix Mendelssohn (1809 – 1847)
He is a great German composer, pianist, and teacher and is considered one of the greatest and most celebrated musicians of the Roman period. He learned his early piano lessons from his parents and when his family moved to Berlin in the year 1811, he learned music compositions and piano lessons with Ludwig Berger and Carl Zelter. He made his first music concert in the year 1818 when he was only nine years of age. At the age of 12, he started playing the works of poet J.W. Van Goethe.
Music composer Zalter has a great influence on the work and development of Mendelssohn. His piano quartet no 3 in B minor, that is composed in the year 1825, was dedicated to his master Goethe. He founded the Leipzig Conservatory of music in the year 1843 and learned composition along with Robert Schumann. He is one of the greatest music composers of the Romanian period.
14. Josef Hofmann (1876 – 1957)
Josef Hofmann is an astonishing child prodigy from Poland and is considered one of the most revered and supreme pianists of his times. His effortless piano playing technique is based on a range of expressive guises and tonal colorings. The quality of his melodic tones was round, commanding, and full, thus enhancing the overall texture and prominence of his music compositions. His music compositions possess great spontaneity, which led him to highlight the inner voices of music and also add a lot of surprising dynamics and timings to his music tunes. His studio recordings reveal clinical craftsmanship, while his live performances were temperamental.
15. Frederic Chopin (1810 – 1849)
Chopin is one of the finest music composers from Poland and he published his first composition when he was only seven years of age. When he was 8 years old, he was writing a lot of original compositions, one of them being Polonaise in G minor. He enrolled with the Warsaw Conservatory of Music in the year 1826 and he started broadening his musical horizons when his parents sent him to Vienna to pursue his music journey.
He met the French novelist Amantine Dupin when he spent quality time creating some of the best and the most renowned piano masterpieces. Some of his finest works were his Sonata composition in B Minor, Opus 56 Mazurkas, Opus 55 Nocturnes, etc.
16. Glenn Gould (1932 – 1983)
He was referred to as one of the most incredible things that have happened to music in the years by Bernstein. At 23 years, he started recording Bach’s Goldberg variations and his music compositions are known to possess dazzling clarity, great analysis, and exhilarating playfulness. He was one of the most celebrated and famous pianists of the 20th century and he was also renowned as the great interpreter of the keyboard works of Johann Sebastian Bach. Though his music records were dominated by Beethoven and Bach, his repertoire was diverse and included the works of many renowned pianists. Apart from being a composer, he was also a great writer, conductor, and broadcaster.
17. Murray Perahia (1947)
Murray Perahia was born in April 1947 and is a renowned pianist and conductor from America. He is considered one of the greatest living pianists of his time and is also known as a leading interpreter of Beethoven, Schumann, Handel, and other music composers. He has won several awards, including three Grammy awards from a total of 18 nominations. He began his piano lessons at the age of four and his musical interests blossomed when he was 15 when he started to practice seriously. He won the Yong concerts Artists International Auditions award in the year 1965. He was also one of the first North American pianists to win the first prize at the Leeds Piano Competition.
18. Wilhelm Kempff (1895- 1991)
Wilhelm Kempff is one of the most renowned composers and pianists from Germany and his repertoire includes the works of Brahms, Chopin, Mozart, Bach, etc. he was well known for his musical interpretations of Beethoven and Franz Schubert and has recorded the complete sonatas of both composers. He is considered to be one of the chief components of the German tradition and he is considered the greatest pianist of all time.
Kempff studied music when he was only nine years of age at Berlin Hochschule though he started getting his early music lessons from his father at a very younger age. He gave up his first major recital in the year 1917, comprising of major works predominantly.
19. Edwin Fischer (1886-1960)
Edwin Fisher is also one of the most renowned musicians of the 20th century and he is also a gifted pianist and a pedagogue. He was someone who are greatly responsible for reviving the music interest of Bach and Mozart when repertory featured relatively infrequently in the music concerts. He was also a pioneer of scholarly performance practice and he emphasized the necessity of interpreters to respect the integrity of the music. He is blessed to play miraculously flawless music tones and retain the warmth in his music at both explosive climactic points in his music and at the point that calls for a beautiful pianissimo tone.
This is only a comprehensive list of well-known classical pianists in history. They were amazing pianists of their times and were the forerunners of modern piano tones. The future will also see remarkable musicians who will follow their footprints and escalate piano music to great heights.