From classical to jazz to modern pop, the piano is a unique instrument that has stood the test of time. Along the way, talented men and women have proven themselves to be true maestros and defined their era with their uncanny talent.
Here is a look at the 27 best pianists of all time across all different genres and time periods.
1. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Mozart is one of the most famous piano players of all time and is one of the most prolific creative minds of the classical period. A child prodigy, Mozart began composing for European royalty at the age of five. Despite dying at age 35, he penned over 800 works that included symphonies, concertos, operas, and more. His most famous works include Requiem, the Magic Flute, and the Clarinet Concerto.
2. Ludwig Von Beethoven
Beethoven is a virtuoso pianist and one of the most celebrated composers of all time. His strict and overbearing father taught him to play the piano, and he performed his first concert as a child. Beethoven started to lose his hearing early in his career but still managed to craft some of his most famous works while fighting deafness. His work is considered a predecessor to Romanticism, and he was instrumental in shaping the sound of classical music during his lifetime.
3. Franz Shubert
Franz Shubert was an Austrian pianist known as one of the last great classical composers. Shubert produced more than 600 musical works during his short lifetime, including 21 sonatas, seven masses, and nine symphonies. While relatively unknown during his lifetime beyond a small circle of supporters, Shubert’s work grew in popularity in the decades after his death and is now considered one of the greatest composers of all time.
4. Frédéric Chopin
Frédéric Chopin was a Polish composer and virtuoso pianist who gained worldwide attention for his solo compositions. He is one of the most important figures of the Romantic era, and his work was notable for its technical sophistication and emotional nuance. His most celebrated works include Fantaisie-Impromptu, Nocturne in C sharp minor, and piano concerto No. 1.
5. Sergey Rachmaninov
Sergey Rachmaninov was a Russian composer, conductor, and virtuoso pianist, whose work helped define the romantic period in Russian classical music. Rachmaninov was born into an aristocratic Russian family and began playing the piano at age four. He was also known for his large hands, which gave him an advantage when playing the piano. His work is amongst the most influential of the 20th Century, and many consider him to be one of the best piano players of all time.
6. Artur Schnabel
Artur Schnabel was an Austrian-American pianist and composer. Schnabel was a piano prodigy who studied in Vienna under the acclaimed teacher Theodor Leschetizky. He was known for his intellectually brilliant works that shied away from showmanship. He also closely studied Beethoven and created the first recording of the composer’s piano sonatas.
7. Wilhelm Kempff
Wilhelm Kempff was a German pianist and composer known for his interpretations of classical works by Bach, Mozart, Chopin, Beethoven, Shubert, and others. He was famous for his refined style and lyrical spontaneity and was known to avoid extreme tempos and other acts of overt showmanship. He’s one of the most important pianists of all time and composed four operas, chamber music, orchestral works, and two symphonies throughout his career.
8. Alfred Cortot
Alfred Cortot was a French pianist and conductor known for his massive body of work and interpretations of other famous pianists from the Romantic era. He was a well-known figure in the French music scene of the time and formed a renowned trio with violinist Jacques Thibault and cellist Pablo Casals. His style was free, impulsive, daring, and intelligent, and he is amongst the greatest classical musicians of the 20th Century.
9. Franz Liszt
Franz Liszt was a Hungarian composer and pianist from the Romantic era. He was a contemporary and friend of many of the most prominent composers of the time, including Chopin, Wagner, and Shuman. He was a leading representative of the German New School and was known for his experiments in form and innovative harmonies. Liszt left behind a large body of work, including pieces like the Piano Sonata in B Minor and Totentanz.
10. Claude Debussy
Claude Debussy was a French pianist-composer who is often regarded as the first musical Impressionist, although he was not fond of the title. He started playing piano at age seven and entered the Paris Conservatorie at age 10. He did not begin to receive acclaim for his work until he was in his 40s. Despite a lack of formal schooling, he read literature and poetry voraciously, which inspired his music, and he even developed an original style of harmony and coloring.
11. Robert Schumann
Robert Schumann was a German composer, pianist, and music critic. Considered one of the defining musicians of the Romantic era, he was a virtuoso pianist who composed four symphonies, one opera, and various other chamber and orchestral works. He suffered from mental illness, likely bipolar disorder, and mercury poisoning that influenced his musical style and output. But he is considered one of the most influential pianists of the 19th Century.
12. Clara Schumann
Clara Schumann was a German pianist and composer considered to be one of the most prominent artists of the Romantic era. A child prodigy, Clara began touring at age 11 and had a 61-year concert career, performing throughout Europe. She was the wife of Robert Schumann and was instrumental in his development as an artist. Although not internationally recognized until after her death, Clara had a lasting impact on classical music’s sounds and performing style in the proceeding decades.
13. Arthur Rubinstein
Arthur Rubinstein was a Polish American pianist who gained international acclaim for his interpretations of famous composers, most notably Chopin. He was considered a prodigy with perfect pitch and a photographic memory. He was a true virtuoso with a public career spanning eight decades, performing concerts worldwide throughout his life.
14. Martha Argerich
Martha Argerich is an Argentine classical pianist who is considered by many to be amongst the greatest living pianists. She made her debut concert at age 8 and won two major piano competitions at 16. She’s also won numerous awards for her impeccable abilities, including the Kennedy Center Honors, the highest award for American culture.
15. Sir Elton John
Sir Elton John is an English singer-songwriter, composer, and pianist who is one of the best-selling artists of all time. He is known for his expressive baritone singing voice and piano playing abilities influenced by gospel and classical music. Elton John has sold over 300 million records worldwide, making him one of the greatest piano players in popular music.
16. Jerry Lee Lewis
Jerry Lee Lewis is an American singer-songwriter and a pioneer of rock ‘n-roll music. Considered one of the most influential pianists of the 20th Century, Jerry was known as rock’s first great wild man for his dramatic showmanship that included playing with his fists, elbows, feet, and even his backside. His chaotic playing style greatly impacted an entire generation of musicians and helped define the style of rock and roll.
17. Billy Joel
Nicknamed the “Piano Man”, Billy Joel is an American singer, pianist, and songwriter. He is one of the best-selling musicians of all time, having sold over 160 million copies worldwide. Billy honed his impressive piano skills by playing in bands and bars before achieving international stardom. With hits like “Vienna” and “Uptown,” Billy Joel is one of the all-time most celebrated piano players.
18. Bill Evans
Bill Evans was an American jazz composer known for his impressionist harmonies and interpretations of traditional jazz standards. Classically trained at Southeastern Louisiana University and the Mannes School of music in New York, Bill joined Miles Davis’s sextet in 1958 and contributed to his seminal album “Kind of Blue.” A prolific band leader and composer, Bill is among the most influential jazz pianists of all time.
19. Lang Lang
Lang Lang is a Chinese pianist who is considered by many to be one of the most accomplished classical musicians of modern times. Known for his dazzling and innovative technique and flair for performing, Lang Lang is one of the pre-eminent concert pianists in the world.
20. Jelly Roll Morton
Jelly Roll Morton was a bandleader, pianist, and composer who was a pioneering figure in jazz. His original composition, Jelly Roll Blues, is considered to be one of the first-ever jazz compositions. Jelly Roll claimed to have invented the genre, a statement that is controversial among historians.
Known for his innovative playing style, Jelly Roll was a pioneering player in the first American art form and influenced a generation of musicians.
21. Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk was an American Jazz Pianist and composer. Known for his improvisational abilities and the use of dissonance, he had an unorthodox style that helped shape the sound of modern jazz. He is known for works like “Round Midnight” and “Straight No Chaser,” now considered jazz standards.
22. Ray Charles
Ray Charles is an American singer-songwriter and pianist known as one of the most iconic artists of all time. He was a pioneer in the genre of soul, combining the sounds of blues, jazz, gospel, country, and pop. Throughout his career, he won 18 Grammy awards and the Kennedy Center Honors and National Medal of Arts for his contributions to popular music.
23. James Booker
James Booker was an American piano player from New Orleans, known for his unique style that combined R&B and Jazz. Booker was highly skilled in classical music and combined elements of blues, gospel, and Latin music. Known for his iconic eye patch and flamboyant personality, Booker was commonly known as the “Black Liberace”.
24. Fats Domino
Fats Domino was an American singer-songwriter and one of the early pioneers of rock and roll. Fats had a significant influence on pioneering artists of the genre like Elvis and the Beatles. However, his music transcended rock into various genres, including boogie-woogie and New Orleans R&B. Fats had more than 11 top ten US hits between 1955 and 1960 and sold more than 110 million records throughout his career.
25. Leonard Bernstein
Leonard Bernstein was an American conductor, pianist, composer, and author who is amongst the most successful musicians and intellectuals in American history. His work spans many genres, including symphonies, ballets, orchestras, film, theater, and opera music. During his career, he earned many awards, including 16 Grammys, two Tony’s, seven Emmys, and the Kennedy Center Honors.
26. Little Richard
Little Richard was an American musician, singer, and songwriter who is an iconic figure in popular music. His wild music style featured frenzied piano playing and soulful vocals and became the precursor to rock and roll. He was a pioneer in the genres of rock and roll, soul, and R&B and is known as a genius by his contemporaries. His breakout song, “Tutti Frutti,” was an instant hit when it was released and was added to the Library of Congress in 2010 for creating an entirely new sound of American music.
27. Dr. John
Dr. John was an American singer-songwriter known for his contributions to jazz, blues, funk, and R&B. A New Orleans native, Dr. John took significant inspiration from the city’s unique culture and created a unique style that drew inspiration from voodoo and Creole culture. During his career, he recorded 30 studio albums and nine live albums and the Rock’ n Roll Hall of Fame inducted him in 2011.
As the Head Editor and Writer at Music Grotto, Liam helps write and edit content produced from professional music/media journalists and other contributing writers. He works closely with journalists and other staff to format and publish music content for the Music Grotto website. Liam is also the founding member of Music Grotto and is passionate in disseminating editorial content to its readers.
Liam’s lifelong love for music makes his role at Music Grotto such a rewarding one. He loves researching, writing and editing music content for Music Grotto.