Playing the piano requires commitment, practice, and self-improvement. Remember that you can always look to the greats for inspiration if the practice routine is tiring. Besides, even seasoned artists require inspiration from time to time. So, when it comes to who should be included in our list of the best piano player in the world, (not in any order), we believe you will agree with our choices, both recent and a little less recent. We also believe that you will get inspiration to start or keep playing piano, whether as a hobby or a professional artist.
- 1. Claudio Arrau, Chilean (1903-1991)
- 2. Sergey Rachmaninov, Russian (1873-1943)
- 3. Artur Rubinstein, Polish (1887-1982)
- 4. Glenn Gould, Canadian (1932-1982)
- 5. Vladimir Horowitz, Russian (1903-1989)
- 6. Sviatoslav Richter, Russian (1915-1997)
- 7. Martha Argerich, Argentinian (1941-Present)
- 8. Murray Perahia, American (1947-Present)
- 9. Alfred Brendel, Australian (1931-Present)
- 10. Krystian Zimerman, Polish ( 1956-Present)
- Honorable Mentions for the Best Piano Player in the World
1. Claudio Arrau, Chilean (1903-1991)
If you know famous pianists, you are familiar with Claudio Arrau. It's said that this great Chilean pianist could read music before he could read words. His special tone has been described as thick, symphonic, disembodied, and captivating. Besides, most notable musicians have acknowledged Claudio as having a unique tone that's hard for other pianists to reproduce. Claudio Arrau's talent was so advanced at the age of eight that the Chilean government decided to pay for him to travel to Berlin in search of the best teacher. Arrau met Martin Krause, a Liszt pupil, who introduced him to a wide range of cultures and helped him develop a unique technique in playing the piano.
Martin Krause, unfortunately, died in 1918, leaving Arrau devastated and turning to psychoanalysis. He, however, was able to gradually establish an enormous international reputation, especially after World War II. Although Arrau could play brilliant virtuosic and inventive music with the best of his contemporaries, his main concern was ever more searching, exploring the greatest pianist works, above all Beethoven. And -at the end of his life, because he regarded Schubert as "the superior challenge" – Schubert in his final masterpieces for piano.
Claudio Arrau was a fine arts genius who was completely devoted to his musical profession. He frequently deviated from the script and added his unique touches to his compositions, which were well received at the several concertos he performed during his career. Arrau was the Faustian of pianists, ever dissatisfied and disturbed yet creating warmth and a distinct depth of tone. His playing seemed overlaid by self-consciousness at times, yet he has few peers in the deepest music.
Claudio Arrau is remembered for his series of recordings worth a lifetime of listening to. However, he found far more in Liszt than others; therefore, his performance of the Transcendental Studies is an excellent way to come to know both composer and pianist.
Favorite slogan: "Great piano playing requires you to have incredible emotional tension without getting physically tense. That seems simple, but it isn't." (Claudio Arrau)
2. Sergey Rachmaninov, Russian (1873-1943)
Sergey Rachmaninov was born in Russia in the year 1873. We would know nothing about his playing if there were no recordings. Nevertheless, much can be deduced from the music he composed. Piano virtuoso technical resources are abundant, with suggested strength and stamina to match. The melancholy poetic gift would be self-evident. So, too, would Rachmaninov's keen rhythmic sensibility – and, judging by his later works, the tight-reined precision with which he would unerringly compose one musical paragraph after another.
The recordings of his work confirm all this. They also inform us about both more and less. Without them, we'd have no idea how incredible Sergey Rachmaninov's rhythmic gift was – springily propulsive and ultra-precise, like Prokofiev's, but releasing a less motor-driven momentum like a tidal rush. The way a phrase spontaneously tugs against or submits to the underlying rhythm so that every musical option seemed possible was undoubtedly the trait that allowed everything else to be exceptional.
Furthermore, the singing tone is very captivating. The first bars of Rachmaninov's G flat major Prelude is among the easiest he composed, yet you realize right away that you're in the midst of something exceptional. How many could fellow pianists phrase the right-repetitive hand's chord pattern with such suppleness or give the left-hand melody richness and focus? In a 1936 interview, Sergey Rachmaninov stated, 'Interpretation requires something of the creative instinct.' You have an affinity with other composers for a composer since you understand their issues and ideas.
Favorite slogan: "I have never been quite able to make up my mind about which was my true calling – that of a composer, pianist, or conductor. These doubts assail me to this day." (Sergey Rachmaninov).
3. Artur Rubinstein, Polish (1887-1982)
Rubinstein was born in 1887 in Poland. He would probably win an award for a pianist closest to the aesthetic ideal in the widest repertoire. The results were always magnificent, whether performing Brahms or Fauré, Albéniz or Beethoven, Schubert or Ravel. Yet, he is famous for his Chopin, whose aristocratic calm and elegance found an ideal complement in Rubinstein's interpretive brilliance. Besides, his golden tone, impeccable timing, and sensitivity to phrase and structure were ideal for nocturnes, mazurkas and waltzes. Despite this, he maintained the same degree of musical intuition and deep eloquence in all his concerts, scherzos, preludes, ballades, polonaises, and sonatas.
Arthur Rubinstein seemed to be able to play everything at the highest level, from piano concertos and performing solo recitals to forming two million dollars' piano trios. First, with Emanuel Feuermann and Jascha Heifetz, then with Pierre Fournier and Henryk Szeryng, with whom he made exceptional recordings of Brahms, Schumann, and Schubert. Most of us now connect Arthur Rubinstein with his stereo-era recordings' accumulated wisdom and autumnal glow. Yet, he originally appeared on the scene at the start of the twentieth century as a dazzling virtuoso and élan.
Additionally, Arthur Rubinstein was one of the most widely recorded piano players. However, his love affair with the gramophone had a rocky start when he refused to record for the early acoustic process because he thought it made the piano "sound like a banjo." Nevertheless, if contemporary trends have shifted toward complete solutions to technical and interpretive issues, he was a natural musician at his fingertips.
Favorite slogan: "We must transmit what these great compositions express. It is our gift to be able to transmit to an innocent and ignorant public." (Arthur Rubinstein).
4. Glenn Gould, Canadian (1932-1982)
Gould was born in 1932 in Canada. Although Bernstein referred to him as "the greatest thing to happen to music in years," the defining moment in that "happening" happened at an abandoned New York Presbyterian Church in June 1955. Glenn Gould was related to Grieg on his mother's side. He recorded Bach's Goldberg Variations (a rebel with a cause) at 23, kicking against the established Bachian standard with forensic analysis, exhilarating whimsy, and brilliant clarity. And Bach would continue to dominate his varied music-making long after the concert platform's one-night affair had given way to a lifelong connection with the studio.
Chopin, Schumann and Liszt were superbly 'off' Gould's radar, as was Mozart, despite a controversial recorded collection of his piano sonatas. Beethoven, Brahms, Schoenberg, and Gibbons all had recordings on the Gouldian label, but Bach remained at the center of his world, with a second Goldbergs recording before his tragic death in 1982.
Favorite slogan: "My idea of happiness is 250 days a year in a studio." (Glenn Gould).
5. Vladimir Horowitz, Russian (1903-1989)
When Vladimir Horowitz emerged from Kyiv to begin his worldwide career in the 1920s, many saw him as a direct link to the 19th-century Russian school of Anton Rubinstein, famous for his free approach to dynamics, rhythm, and phrasing. This Russian giant was known for his thrilling performances (and adaptations) of Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsodies, among other compositions. He enjoyed modifying composers' scores to make them more "pianistic." Also, he could play extremely fast and with an incredible dynamic range.
Horowitz has a solid reason to be considered one of the mighty Russian pianists of all time. In a solo concert in Kharkiv in 1920, he made his debut. In 1925, his fame had increased significantly. Horowitz crossed into the West, claiming to want to study with Artur Schnabel in Berlin - but he had chosen to leave for good, stuffing British and American money into his shoes. He made his debut in the United States in 1928 at Carnegie Hall, and he later became an American citizen. He is one of the most famous piano players for his performances of Romantic masterpieces like Chopin, Schuman, and Rachmaninov.
Vladimir Horowitz essentially defined pianistic virtuosity for the next three decades, until his 12-year retirement from public performances (1953-65), but not in the wild-haired, swooning norm of a Paderewski; this king of the keyboard was lithe, contemporary in dress, and quiet in demeanor. His thunderous octaves in Tchaikovsky's First and Rachmaninov's Third concertos, as well as the Liszt B minor Sonata, won him huge fortunes and the attention of the musical world. However, he eventually grew tired of 'the octaves race' and began looking for a repertoire to give him and his audiences more intellectual stimulation.
Favorite slogan: "Perfection itself is imperfection." (Vladimir Horowitz)
6. Sviatoslav Richter, Russian (1915-1997)
Ritcher was born in 1915 in Russia. His ancestry was German, though he first performed in the West for the first time in 1960. He is often regarded as the best pianist of the second half of the twentieth century. He already had a huge reputation owing to his LPs, and the expectations for him were sky-high. However, after the geese were evicted from any huge concert hall, he despised the spotlight and preferred playing in a barn in France. Besides, Richter's repertoire was possibly the most extensive of any pianist. However, he despised 'completism' and never performed, for example, several of Chopin's Preludes or Beethoven's Second, Fourth, or Fifth Piano Concertos, while performing the rest brilliantly.
Richter was friends with Shostakovich and Prokofiev, who both wrote compositions for him, as well as Britten, with whom he performed duets. Richter tells us that he was inseparable from a pink plastic lobster that Richter would place in the wings where he could see it when he walked on stage for a time during his performance career. It isn't easy to describe his performance since Richter submerged himself so fully in the music that we sometimes think we hear the composer personally. That is the case with Bach, Schubert, Schumann, Handel, Liszt, and the Russian composers; Beethoven, Brahms, and Mozart are more individualistic.
Although Sviatoslav Richter refused to record in the studio after the early 1970s, many of his concerts were recorded. As a result, there are more CDs of his performance than any other pianist. Nevertheless, he despised most of his performances and said at the end of the great documentary (on DVD) Richter: The Enigma, made in 1995, 'I don't like myself.' That's it.'
Favorite slogan: " I don't like pianos – I like music more." (Sviatoslav Richter).
7. Martha Argerich, Argentinian (1941-Present)
Martha Argerich was born in Argentina and is considered by some to be the best piano player in the world. Critics frequently use volatile, quixotic, explosive, mesmerizing, and amazing to characterize Martha Argerich's work. She began piano training at three and performed her first piano concerto five years later. She cemented her place on the global stage when she won the International Chopin Piano Competition in 1965. Martha Argerich is undoubtedly one of the most charismatic interpreters of our time; she rose to worldwide prominence at a young age after moving to Europe and winning first place at the Busoni and Geneva piano championship in the late 1950s.
Argerich was a pupil of the provocatively subversive Austrian Friedrich Gulda, whom she still considers the greatest pianistic influence in her life. She subsequently wowed both jury and audience in the 1965 Chopin competition Warsaw. Argerich renounced the idea of pursuing a career as a solo pianist after completing a demanding program of performances at this time. According to her former partner, American pianist Stephen Kovacevich, she just despised the thought of performing alone on stage and has since concentrated on piano concertos and chamber music. Her repertory is incredibly diverse, ranging from Bach to Shostakovich, with a special emphasis on Schumann.
In addition to performing herself, Martha Argerich has been amazingly generous in developing fresh talent through her yearly series of concerts at the Lugano Festival, despite her notorious reclusiveness and reluctance to kowtow to the traditional press hype commonly associated with modern classical performers. Also, she is frequently chosen to judge piano contests. She advocates for great prospective pianists and even resigned from the Chopin Piano Competition jury in 1980 after her favorite competitor, Ivo Pogorelich, was eliminated.
Despite having battled cancer on many occasions, Argerich is presently in remission. Outside of performances, she avoids the spotlight and avoids the press. Despite this, she has established an international reputation as one of the most inspirational piano players.
Favorite slogan: "I love very much to play the piano, but I don't like to be a pianist. I don't like the profession." (Martha Argerich)
8. Murray Perahia, American (1947-Present)
According to Murray Perahia, he began playing the piano at the age of four, but it wasn't until he was 15 that he got truly interested in music. He was the first North American to win the Leeds Piano Competition in 1972, and the following year he performed at the Aldeburgh Festival with Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears. Then, in 1992, a bone abnormality led his hand to swell, forcing him to stop playing the piano. During this period, he found solace in J.S. Bach's music. Besides, his Bach recordings are widely recognized as among the best done.
According to rumor, when Murray Perahia entered the Leeds Piano Competition, fellow American participants made for the exit, realizing the game was up. Perahia, a pupil of Mieczyslaw Horszowski, won with a performance of Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 1 that set the tone for the characteristics that have become his hallmark. Besides, Perahia's playing transfixes and illuminates aristocrats without being aloof or devoid of ego. Perahia's Aldeburgh recording with Radu Lupu of Mozart's Sonata for Two Pianos, anointed by the sick Britten to accompany Peter Pears, is an experiment in divine communion and a blessing.
All these inspirational best pianists have in common that they were all taught at an early age. While this may put you off from beginning at a later age, keep in mind that these piano players have a talent that their parents recognized and nurtured. But if there's one thing to learn from these famous piano players, it's the love of piano music. Performing is more than just hitting the right notes; it's about interpreting the emotion behind the music and connecting with the audience.
Favorite slogan: "I'm interested in the thing that lasts forever: the thought behind the music." (Murray Perahia)
9. Alfred Brendel, Australian (1931-Present)
Alfred Brendel was born in 1931 in Australia. He is an intellectual who is well-known for his magnificent and intelligent performances. He believes that it's a pianist's role to be responsible for the piece rather than showing off or disrespecting the composer's work. Alfred Brendel is regarded as one of the greats for his magnificent interpretations of Beethoven, Schubert, Haydn, and Mozart. He is self-taught, and though his career took off slowly, he now commands enormous respect in the musical world. He performed in several concertos throughout his career and became famous for his interpretative coldness in recreating these compositions.
Alfred Brendel is considered one of the most famous pianists of the 20th century, earning his name in the classical music industry. Like many renowned pianists, Brendel discovered his passion for the piano at a young age. He is one of the best pianists of all time based on raw piano playing skills gained over time. Moreover, Brendel was a stickler for composers' work and suggested that all pianists follow their exact direction. He admired composers and how they wanted their work to sound. Brendel's famous renderings of classical music influenced many other inspiring pianists, including Paul Lewis, Till Fellner, Amandine Savary, and Kit Armstrong.
Favorite slogan: "A teacher can be too influential, being self-taught, I learned to distrust anything I hadn't figured out myself." (Alfred Brendel)
10. Krystian Zimerman, Polish ( 1956-Present)
Only a few artists seem as calm and at ease with their piano as Krystian Zimerman. He maintains great technical calmness and clarity in even the most note-splattered pages of Chopin, Liszt and Brahms, making him the best Chopin performer. Though his hands are not unusually enormous, he has long fingers and a somewhat broad span, which helps with his seemingly easy fluency.
Krystian Zimerman's watchword is "purity in all things." His playing combines aristocratic grace from the "golden era" with modern fastidiousness. Fusty interpretive accretions accumulated over decades are scraped away in his hands to expose pure musical surfaces. Structures broken apart by subjective whimsy reassemble organic composure. Besides, even the Liszt Sonata, a composition known for technical and interpretative fracturing, unfolds with a wonderful feeling of certainty.
Classic filmed recordings of the Brahms and Beethoven's contemporaries' concertos (with Leonard Bernstein), as well as a peerless solo recital of Schubert and Chopin, reveal a piano technique in ideal symbiosis. The fingers miraculously even, the hands poised at all times, and a sleight-of-hand capability to make the metaphysical appear easy.
Famous slogan: "Music is not sound. Music is using sound to organize emotions in time." (Krystian Zimerman)
Honorable Mentions for the Best Piano Player in the World
It will be unfair not to highlight all of the other players who should be on the list above or have a good chance of rising the ranks. Since the piano is a popular instrument, there are many options. Here is an additional list of the best piano players who deserve recognition.
- Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
- Clara Schumann (1819-1896)
- Franz Liszt (1811-1886)
- Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
- Frederic Chopin (1810-1849)
- Dame Myra Hess (1890-1965)
- Daniel Barenboim (1942-present)
- Mitsuko Uchida (1948-present)
- Stephen Hough (1961-present)
- Lang Lang (1982-present)