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The Most Famous Pianists Of All Time

Photograph of the blog post author, Georgia Carter

Georgia Carter

6.12.2022

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The sound of classical music and especially, someone playing a piano is so awe inspiring and out of this world when you are listening to a person who is blessed with this talent. To see them building on chords, and playing so efficiently is a pure joy. We want to share with you our list of the most famous pianists of all time, from all over the world including; The United States, China, Japan and France. Are you a pianist yourself and want to hear more about the people who made the waves in the industry before you? 

Once you have finished reading this article, I would implore you to carry on your research and seek out more of the famous pianists in the music scene as there are so many that will not have made it onto this list today. Grammy awards and piano competitions have been won, along with concerts having been played at The Albert Hall and at music festivals by these artists, so why not carry on reading to find out more. 

What Makes A Pianist Great?

I believe that what makes someone a great pianist is someone who truly blows the audience away with their music. They have an intrinsic, intuitive talent for playing those ivory keys and they have the charisma or a certain vibe that marks them out to be something special. Their music transcends reality and you feel like you are just living in the moment watching them perform. Many of the pianists you will read about today started playing piano at a very young age. So let’s dive in. 

Lang Lang

Lang, Lang, a Chinese pianist, educator and philanthropist is so devoted to the music world. He began playing piano when he was only 3 and gave his first public recital before the age of five. 

He entered Beijing’s Central Music Conservatory aged nine, and won First Prize at the International Tchaikovsky Competition for Young Musicians at 13. He subsequently went to Philadelphia to study with legendary pianist Gary Graffman at the Curtis Institute of Music. He was seventeen when his big break came, substituting for André Watts at the Gala of the Century, playing Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Christoph Eschenbach: he became an overnight sensation and the invitations started to pour in.

He played at the 2008 Olympic Opening Ceremony in Beijing, but he also plays for smaller, more local groups of school children. He is an inspiration to the younger generation. 

The most unforgettable songs from Disney’s iconic films, reimagined by the greatest living pianist, Lang Lang’s The Disney Book tells the story of a century of magical, joyous entertainment for all.

He played at Latitude music festival in 2012. I was lucky enough to see him live at this festival and even though I have always been a fan of classical music and grew up with it being a prominent part of my life, his performance changed me forever. I would say that he is one of the greatest pianists of all time. 

He has been quoted to say ‘Just love what you are doing, and try to play more.’ I wholeheartedly agree with him. 

He will be touring around the US and Europe in 2023, so if you can still buy a ticket to see him, I can’t recommend this enough. You will not be disappointed. 

Emily Bear

At the age of 21, Emily Bear has made her mark in the music industry and she has been playing piano since the age of 2. Her grandmother who was a piano teacher saw that she had talent at that young age and when she was three, she had composed her first song, called ‘Crystal Ice’.  Hal Leonard Music has been publishing Bear’s original compositions since she was 4 years old and she made her professional piano debut at the Ravinia Festival at the age of five. She was the youngest performer to have ever played there. She won her first ASCAP Foundation Morton Gould Young Composer Award for her piece “Northern Lights” at the age of 6. How incredible is that? 

Emily Bear, aged 16 performed with John Miles performed All By Myself (Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto 2) at Night of the Proms, for a Belgium TV Special in 2017 with the Antwerp Philharmonic orchestra, conducted by Alexandra Arrieche. It was a sure fit success! 

Along with another talented friend of hers, Abigail Barlow, she co-wrote a 15 track concept album based on the Netflix series Bridgerton in 2021. It was called The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical. This all took place over TikTok and other social media and caused a sensation. By September 2021, Bear and Barlow had received more than 200 million views and 48 million likes on TikTok. Emily and Abigail even won a Grammy this year for Best Musical Theater Album. There was some controversy however as Netflix sued them for copyright infringement, claiming that they had objected to any for-profit live concerts of the songs in July this year. It was all settled this September. 

She was also listed on Forbes’ 2022 30 Under 30, so onwards and upwards Emily, there is so much more we will see from her and we are very excited about it. 

Ray Charles 

Ray Charles was one of the most famous black pianists of the 20th century, in the history of the instrument. He had an enormously influential role in the development of Gospel, R&B, and Rock music. He set the jazz standards in terms of piano and he inspired a generation of pianists to follow in his footsteps. He is one famous jazz pianist that will always be given our praise. 

He truly loved playing the piano and this holds so much more significance since he was blind. He began playing piano at five years old and started losing his sight just a year later, most probably from glaucoma. By seven, he was completely blind, but against all odds, he was playing piano professionally at 15. 

He is one of history’s most prolific black male artists. He was, and is, considered a legend on the jazz scene. He was called Genius by his contemporaries but it is rumored that he preferred the nickname Brother Ray. His first career number-one hit came in 1960 with ‘Georgia On My Mind’. He was considered a powerful gospel artist. 

Hélène Grimaud

She’s one of the most acclaimed French pianists. She learned to play the piano at the age of nine. In 1982, Grimaud entered the Paris Conservatoire, one of the oldest prestigious academic institutions in France.

Her playing style is considered risky and innovative. She is one of the pianists who favors the “tempo rubato,” that is, expressive freedom in which the tempo of a piece is increased and decreased. Because of this, her performance sounds different from any other performance. She has achieved his own musical identity.

Her performance of the Beethoven – Piano Concerto No. 4, Op. 58  was recorded live at London’s Royal Albert Hall as part of the famous Proms Season 2001. Christoph Eschenbach conducted the Orchestre de Paris with Hélène Grimaud as solo pianist

Yuja Wang

Would you describe her and one of the most famous female pianists? Yes I would go that far.  She played Liszt’s First Piano Concerto in E flat with the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra at the  Proms this year. Seeing her perform was just electric and she commanded the room. Vibrancy, passion, talent pulsed through her and you just couldn’t take your eyes off her. As one of the most famous pianists today, she certainly has a long and fruitful career ahead of her.

She is considered one of the best Chinese pianists of her time. At fifteen, Wang became a student at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. Wang has performed in various cities around the world, from Zurich to New York. Wang has performed pieces by Mendelsohn, Rimsky-Korsakov, Prokofiev, and Mozart.

She has also had the opportunity to collaborate with many of the world’s greatest orchestras, such as the Hong Kong Philharmonic, the London Philharmonic, and the NHK Symphony in Tokyo. She captivates audiences and is truly illuminating. 

Martha Argerich

Another pianist that started their career very young, at the age of 8, she was proving to be a musical genius. Born in 1941, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Martha – and still playing now at the age of 81 and after some various cancer treatments – she gained worldwide recognition after winning the Ferruccio Busoni International Piano Competition at age 16 in 1957. In 1964 when she won the International Chopin Piano Competition at the age of 24 and the world became transfixed. She has won several awards including two Grammys for best instrumental soloist and one for the best chamber performance. 

Her concerts are sold out and in terms of pianists in the history of classical music, she is a true virtuoso and undoubtedly, one of the most famous female pianists of all time. There are so many videos on YouTube that you can watch, but please give this one a watch. 

Mitsuko Uchida

Mitsuko is a Japanese born pianist, who was born in Atami, Japan and then moved to Vienna at the age of 12. At the age of 14, she found her passion for the piano and the rest is history. After having music lessons at the Vienna Academy of Music, she performed for the first time at 14. 

She spent 10 years in Vienna after which she moved to London. She garnered critical acclaim with her Mozart’s sonatas and Debussy’s etudes and received awards including the Royal Philharmonic Society’s Gold Medal.

She also won Grammy awards for ‘Best Instrumental Soloist(s) Performance With Orchestra’ in 2011 and ‘Best Classical Solo Vocal Album in 2017. There is nothing that this famous female pianist can’t do.

Piano Quotes By Famous Composers

“Sometimes I can only groan, and suffer, and pour out my despair at the piano.” – Frederic Chopin

“You write to become immortal, or because the piano happens to be open, or you’ve looked into a pair of beautiful eyes.” – Robert Schumann

“The piano is a monster that screams when you touch its teeth.” – Andre Segovia

“There’s nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.” – Johann Sebastian Bach

“I tell my piano the things I used to tell you.” – Chopin

“Color is the keyboard, the eyes are the harmonies, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand that plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations in the soul.” – Wassily Kandinsky

“When you play, never mind who listens to you.” – Robert Schumann

“What has keys but can’t listen to the beauty it unlocks? A piano. – Jarod Kintz

“The piano keys are black and white but they sound like a million colors in your mind.” – Maria Cristina Mena

Closing Thoughts

I feel very inspired and I really hope you do too after all of that. What wonder, what creative talent and authenticity in all of these performers! Music is so enriching for the soul and they are examples of that in spades. I know what I will be listening to for the rest of the day. And if you are a pianist yourself, I salute you and all the future work you are going to be a part of. 


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