"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
Many people have played the piano throughout the centuries... but only a few can be truly counted as belonging amongst the greats.
In this list, we'll be focussing chiefly on some of the greatest classical pianists of all time. From Rachmaninoff's concertos to Ludwig van Beethoven's magnificent piano sonatas, there is so much talent to cover!
Many gifted virtuosos such as Clara Schumann, Franz Liszt, Felix Mendelssohn, Johannes Brahms, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Franz Schubert and Sergei Prokofiev have all made their mark on musical history.
Oh, and don't let us forget Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart!
But who invented the piano?
We can trace back the invention of the modern pianoforte to one man: Bartolomeo Cristofori.
In the following article, we'll be taking you on a tour of the 10 best piano virtuosos to ever have tickled the ivories.
Check the best teacher and piano lessons online here.
1. Learn the piano with... Frédéric Chopin
Writing chiefly for solo piano, Chopin left us with so many wonderful pieces - including concertos, waltzes, preludes and his famous nocturnes. No wonder Chopin's name is one of the first that comes to mind when classical piano comes up!
There is so much room for interpretation in Chopin's gorgeous, often loosely wandering melodies.
“If you hear the same piece from Chopin twice, you’ll hear two different pieces”
Chopin made his unique imprint on the piano world by marrying poetic sensibility with virtuosic technique. His melodies often came from his improvisations, creating captivating sounds that would crown him as one of the greatest ever pianists.
Not sure where to start with Chopin? Check out "Les Quatres Ballades pour Piano".
2. Ludwig van Beethoven
Tragically, Beethoven went deaf at the tender age of 27. However, he kept composing and went down in history as one of the greatest composers of all time.
He left us with 35 piano sonatas alongside 9 symphonies. Perhaps you've heard talk of Beethoven's 5th? That's his 5th Symphony in C minor - arguably his most famous of all time.
Alongside famous composers such as Gluck, Haydn and Mozart, Beethoven falls within the school of Viennese Classicism.
In contrast to the Baroque music of earlier periods, which featured more complex melodies, Viennese Classicism accentuates an initial, simplified theme (melody). In this school, the "rules" of harmony are strictly adhered to.
Ready to dip into the moving, dramatic world of Beethoven's music? You could start with a piece you probably already know- Fur Elise - and work up to listening through to his nine symphonies.
3. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Alongside Beethoven, Mozart is one of the best-known classical composers and musicians.
A prodigy on both piano and violin, Mozart started performing in courts and salons at the age of 4.
Alongside Beethoven, he . his is one of the richest and prolific classical repertoires - the Köchel Catalogue was created to assemble all his pieces in chronological order, and it counts 626 different pieces!
Like any composer, Mozart didn't develop his unique style alone - throughout his life he rubbed shoulders with other composers and instrumentalists who influenced his musical development. He would often copy and replay pieces of theirs, adding his own flourishes.
So where to start with Mozart? Try Symphony No. 41 (Jupiter) on for size.
4. Claude Debussy
Claude Debussy definitely rates a mention when it comes to the most beautiful works ever written for the piano.
On an entirely subjective note, he may be our favourite ever composer for piano.
André Boucourechliev credits him as a one-man musical revolution of the 20th century. Defying the musical conventions of his days, his non-conformist musical palette produced works that are still difficult to classify.
Debussy used his grounding in piano technique to break all the rules and express himself with complete musical freedom.
Where to start with Debussy?
Prélude à l’après midi d’un faune is definitely worth a listen.
5. Martha Argerich
Whilst we could have happily filled out our list with only long-dead composers, we feel it's very important to include some of the incredible contemporary pianists gracing stages today.
So let us introduce you to Martha Argerich.
A young prodigy, Argerish began learning the piano at the age of 2. By age 8, she was already playing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Major perfectly.
At age 14, she moved to Europe to study with some of the world's most famous pianist. Only two years later she won two internationally renowned music awards back-to-back: the Ferruccio Busoni International Piano Competition and the Geneva International Music Competition.
Intrigued? Check out her rendition of Maurice Ravel's Piano Concerto in G major.
6. Art Tatum
When discussing piano virtuosos, it's easy to slip into the trap of only mentioning classical pianists. However, there are so many jazz pianists who light up the stage with their virtuosic improvisation and sparkling talents.
Art Tatum, it could be argued, is not only one of the greatest jazz pianists ever but also one of the most talented pianists of any genre.
Tatum is partially blind and learnt how to play the piano using braille. One evening during one of his performances, Fats Waller commented on his musicality; “I only play the piano, but tonight God is in the house”.
Blessed with a brilliant musical ear, Tatum brought an unconventional technique and undeniably mesmerising energy to his piano performances.
There's an old rumour that says Lester William Pollfuss, (commonly known as Les Paul), originally dreamed of becoming a jazz pianist. After hearing Art Tatum play, he decided to focus on the guitar as he became convinced he could never match Tatum.
Tatum's version of I Got Rhythm is unmissable for jazz and piano fans alike.
7. Sonya Belousova
Belousova is a Russian-born American pianist who started her piano journey at an early age and quickly became renowned as a piano prodigy
Belousova began learning the piano at the age of 5 and was already composing by age 10! Only three short years later, aged 13, she was awarded the Russian Ministry of Culture Award for her compositions.
She is renowned for her compositions but is also a talented improvisational pianist.
She works with some of the premier ensembles and solo artists from around the world and composes music for ballet companies in the United States.
Online, she is known for her playful renditions of video game and movie music. You can check out her version of Tetris, music from films such as Star Wars or TV series such as Game of Thrones. Fans of the video game Street Fighter will enjoy her virtuosic reimagining of its theme tune.
This contemporary pianist and composer from South Korea is perhaps best known for his works for solo piano; River Flows In You and Kiss the Rain.
His piano journey began at a very young age - he began playing the piano aged 5 and attended two music schools in England, going on to graduate from the Purcell School in 1997 and King's College in 2000.
His musical style perfectly balances classical and contemporary sensibilities in ways that are often soothing, uplifting and melancholic.
For listeners new to Yiruma's work, River Flows in You is a great first piece.
9. Yann Tiersen
Yann Tiersen is a French performer and composer who is perhaps most well-known for writing the soundtrack for the film Amélie. Whilst the film became an instant classic, Tiersen's whimsical and melancholic soundtrack, evocative of the streets of Paris, sold more than a million copies. Whenever the film is mentioned, talk of the incredible soundtrack is sure to follow.
Tiersen is also an accomplished musician in his own right. A multi-instrumentalist, he also plays guitar, violin and accordion. His music is at once vibrant, touching, timeless and intensely human.
His first album, La Valse des Monstres, brings together 11 of his songs written for two different plays. After the success of Amélie, Tiersen became an internationally renowned composer and two of the songs from this album exploded in popularity; La valse des monstres and Le banquet.
You may already know one of his more famous pieces from the Amélie soundtrack: Comptine d’un autre été: l’après-midi.
10. Peter Bence
A Hungarian producer, composer and pianist, Bence is best known for his covers of famous songs.
He also held the record for the fastest pianist in the world in the Guinness World Records from 2012-2017. To achieve this record, he played 765 keys in a single minute!
Contemporary in all sense of the word, Bence is popular online and you can find his work through his YouTube channel or on his Facebook profile.
Pianists drawn to the piano from the world of pop or rock will appreciate his modern sensibilities - a great place to start might be with his cover of Michael Jackson's Bad.
Hungry for more great pianists? Check out some of the best pianists from the United Kingdom here.