“The piano ain’t got no wrong notes.” - Thelonious Monk
You may adore the sound of classical piano or dream of one day playing jazz piano, and may even be in the market for a piano of your very own! There's just one problem - the price of a Yamaha or Steinway grand piano tend to be eye-watering.
But you don't need to shell out for a top-of-the-range grand piano to deepen your understanding of modern or classical piano music.
If you're just starting to get serious about the piano, you'll want to look into a cheaper upright piano, and remember that you don't need to buy new! If you're in the market for a piano, you'll need to factor professional tuning and moving fees as well.
If you're short on space or have a more limited budget, there's no need to go acoustic either! Why not choose a keyboard or digital piano, which tend to be on the more affordable side of things.
Before you commit to buying a piano, it's a good idea to learn more about the instrument itself. The piano has a rich musical culture behind it, and in this article, we'll be exploring some of the most beautiful piano music through the centuries, as well as the virtuosos who composed and played it.
The Best Piano Players Of All Time?
This list is certain to be contentious and leans heavily on the side of classical musicians. You may ask yourself: "Where are Liszt and Rachmaninoff? Where is Scarlatti?". Whether they graced us with piano concertos, sonatas, nocturnes or waltzes, here are some of the most popular pianists over the years who have charmed us with their bewitching works.
As with any ranked list, this one is quite subjective and we could easily write a list of our 100 top favourite pianists!
That said, here for your perusal are 8 of the greatest pianists of all time:
- Frédéric Chopin: lacing his gorgeously lush compositions with wistful, improvisational melodies, Chopin is still beloved by students and teachers all over the world
- Ludwig Van Beethoven: Did you know this Viennese master of classicism went deaf in the latter part of his life, yet still kept composing?
- Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Mozart was an unmatched prodigy and huge celebrity in his day, and his perfectly-balanced pieces still grace the world's stages and piano grade books for all levels
- Peter Bence: holds the title of "Fastest Pianist in the World"! According to the Guinness Book of World Records, he can play at 765 strokes per minute.
- Martha Argerich: began her piano ascendency at two and a half. She quickly mastered the instrument and went on to win many piano competitions.
- Art Tatum: considered one of the best jazz pianists of all time.
- Sonya Belousova: wowed the world as a young prodigy became a master of improvisation and composition.
- Yiruma: started young as well - at the tender age of 5! He is well-known for his soothing, appealing, playable melodies.
Of course, we couldn't write this list without mentioning Fats Waller, Thelonius Monk, Joseph Haydn or Sergei Prokofiev, just to name a few.
Learn The Piano With These Famous Pieces
Once you have a good foundation in basic piano techniques you can move on to playing songs that entrance and inspire you. So, searching through all the famous piano works available, how to find your next favourite piece?
If you're fairly new to the piano, you may wish to check out our list of famous pieces suitable for beginners. Here are a few of our favourite pieces for intermediate levels to advanced pianists...
- Rondo Alla Turca - Mozart: A classic of classics - not for beginners!
- Fur Elise - Beethoven: A great first "goal piece" for beginners who have been playing a few months
- Nuvole Bianche - Ludovico Einaudi: the original version of this piece is for advanced intermediate players, but it's so popular that many beginner sheet music versions have been released!
- Comptine d’un autre été: l’après-midi - Yann Tiersen: You may remember this one from the French film Amélie, and it's a great piece that intermediate players can aspire to
- Adele, Someone Like You - Adele: If pop music is more your speed, try either the chords or a complete version of this gorgeous slow piano ballad.
Whether your tastes turn towards contemporary pop, classical music, film scores or jazz, there are so many great piano pieces out there to inspire you.
Famous Piano Composers
When talking about the piano, you can't forget the famous composers, many of whom are accomplished pianists in their own right.
So don't be surprised if you see some of the greatest pianists of all time popping up again on our list of favourite composers!
See our list below...
- Johannes Brahms: a brilliant composer and conductor in his own right, Brahms was often compared to Beethoven during his lifetime - much to his dismay!
- Ludwig van Beethoven: began composing at the tender age of 12 and had a long and storied career even after going deaf later in life.
- Joseph Haydn: Also known as the father of the symphony, he kicked off the classical period.
- Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Mozart died young, but left behind over 600 individual musical works
- Robert and Clara Schumann: the famous husband/wife duo of Romantic music - Robert was famous for his tone poems and symphonies, whilst Clara was a virtuosic pianist, writing mostly piano and choral works
- Frédéric Chopin: a pianist and composer of unparalleled skill and importance. Chopin created his music spontaneously, and famously spent hours locked in a room creating works for his wife, George Sand (aka Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin)
- Piotr Ilyich Tchaïkovski: best known for his ballet scores - Swan Lake and The Nutcracker, Tchaïkovski was an important Romantic composer.
- Giuseppe Verdi: the Italian school product its fair share of talented composers. Verdi is most famous for his operas - perhaps you've heard of La Traviata?
- Ludovico Einaudi: Einaudi is undoubtedly the rockstar of contemporary classical, performing regularly around the world. His pieces represent a new voice in musical minimalism, which makes them accessible to beginners and accomplished pianists alike. His pieces are also featured in films such as Mommy.
We could easily have added Dmitri Shostakovich, Sergei Prokofiev or Sergei Rachmaninoff to this list!
Learn The Piano: The Best French Pianists
Interested in playing music that is moving, romantic, and feels like spending a rainy afternoon in the streets of Paris or a week bathed in the sunshine of Provence? Check out our list some of the greatest composers and pianists from France! Or, if London calls you, why not take a peek at our article listing the best British pianists.
There are too many wonderful, talented French pianists to include in one short list, but to give you a taste, here is our pick of the bunch:
- Yann Tiersen: we mentioned him previously alongside his famous piece Comptine d’un autre été: l’après-midi. Tiersen is a multi-instrumentalist, playing the piano, violin and even accordion! He has many musical tricks up his sleeve!
- Khatia Buniatishvili: ok we'll admit it: Buniatishvili is actually Georgian by birth. However, she received her French citizenship in 2017, which qualifies her for this list!
- Christian Ivaldi: born in Paris, he went on to study at the Conservatoire de Paris. An octogenarian - he's one of the oldest pianists on this list! Impressively, he's still passing on his love of music as a professor of piano.
- Marielle and Katie Labèque: The Labèques are two sisters who play duets for four hands.
- David Kadouch: Kadouch was a young prodigy and gave a recital aged just 13 at Carnegie Hall in New York.
- Dominique Merlet: A talented pianist in his own right, he also serves as an educator and consultant to young pianists all over the world.
- Marguerite Long: A friend and contemporary of Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy, she created an international music competition alongside Jacques Thibaud; the Concours International Long-Thibaud.
- Bertrand Chamayou: At only 15, Chamayou gave his first performances and recitals, winning four prizes at the Victoires de la musique classique classical music awards.
- Erik Satie: judged to be talentless by his professors and kicked out of the Conservatoire where he was studying, his jazz-inspired music has stood the test of time and is played by pianist enthusiasts of all levels all over the world.
So now we've worded you up on some of the best composers and pianists out of France and around the world, go forth and check out some of their music, on YouTube or Spotify. Who knows - maybe you'll find your next favourite piece!
Of course, we couldn't fit every incredible composer in only one article. Did we miss your favourite composer? Comment below to tell us about a hidden gem we may have overlooked!
Inspired to start lessons and learn your favourite pieces? Find piano lessons online.