The greatest pianists of all time are classical pianists. Names such as:
Always make today’s greatest pianists dream!
Anyone who has a real love for this instrument, has one day dreamt of performing perfectly a nocturne by Frederic Chopin or a prelude by Bach! Even if a recital, a quartet or a concerto isn’t in their chords.
Nowadays, the great contemporary pianist performers seek to be inspired, to a certain extent, by the jewels left by their prodigious predecessors.
For someone who plays the piano at a high level or for pleasure, it is important to be able to identify with models according to their musical sensitivity, to reproduce certain known or unknown works and to grasp the music in order to be able to build a personal creation.
In fields that are sometimes very different, each pianist we are going to present here has his own share of genius.
From Aretha Franklin to Hans Zimmer or Elton John, they all expresses a sensitivity and carry emotions to the public through this magnificent instrument, the piano.
Establishing a strict and rigorous classification would not be relevant, as they all evolve in quite different universes and their talent doesn’t touch the same circles.
From the general public for some to an audience of connoisseurs for others, once again you can establish your own ranking in light of your musical sensitivity.
We can nevertheless classify them between: movie music pianists, those who use the piano in their musical compositions and finally the virtuosos and purists of the piano who try to revive sounds sometimes forgotten.
Ready to discover the world’s greatest piano virtuosos?
Many great composers of cult music of the seventh art are pianists.
Their music travels around the world, and remains in the history of piano lessons at least as much as the films in which the songs appear.
What would the Lion King be without its amazing songs?
He’s probably the most famous composer of this early 21st century with more legendary music than any others, marking his era.
Hans Zimmer started his career as a composer of electro music (hey yes, don’t judge too much by the looks!). He was then spotted by a Hollywood producer. It’s the beginning of glory for him.
He made his studio “Media Ventures” and composed his first movie score in 1989 for the movie Black Rain by Ridley Scott.
He continued to work in different projects until 1994, which was his consecration year, when he won an Oscar, a Golden Globe and a Grammy Award for his Lion King soundtrack. No more! Despite all his successes in the future, that year remains his climax, since he will not once again taste the joys of an Oscar.
Since then, the name Zimmer marked history.
Inception and its plethora of actors, USS Alabama, the legendary music of Pirates of the Caribbean, Sherlock Holmes, Interstellar and the great Matthew McConaughey, but especially Gladiator which remains the biggest success of the American composer with more than 50 million soundtrack albums sold.
Today, Hans Zimmer has more than 55 movies to his credit, making him one of the most prolific composers in history.
His fame and his aura allow him to surround himself with the best musicians for his projects, to travel the world and change horizons, for example by offering performances with the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra.
Hans Zimmer is on a world tour with a more than two hours and a half concert during which you can discover or rediscover his greatest hits. He will be in Paris on June 11, 2017 and in Nimes on June 24 for the fans!
If Hans Zimmer has established himself as one of the greatest composers of original soundtracks for the cinema since the late 90s, the master of the subject remains John Williams.
His resume is massive, including four Oscars of the best soundtrack with over fifty nominations (the highest score in the history of music behind Walt Disney) and a career spread out over six decades.
Note that John Williams is also a virtuoso when it comes to the violin and the cello! A true multidisciplinary artist!
Williams is known for being the favorite composer of Steven Spielberg: he composed the original soundtracks of E.T, episodes of Indiana Jones, the series of films Jurassic Park, Superman and the troubling remake of the Jaws.
He will remain in the youngest memories for composing the mesmerizing and bewitching music of the first three Harry Potters, but especially the entire soundtrack of the Star Wars saga (including the latest episodes) with notes and tunes that are and will remain mythical.
Probably the greatest composer of film music of all time!
John Williams’ aura is beyond the scope of the cinema as he also composed the anthem of three Olympic games and the play that was played before Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2008.
To put in simple terms, the legend of film music, it’s him. And that’s often forgotten in the classical piano lessons.
It was impossible for us to write this article without a touch of chauvinism and not to mention Yann Tiersen. But let’s say it clearly, there is talent and he also deserves his place in this ranking!
Yann Tiersen is a French composer who has revealed himself in the eyes of the world with the film Amélie.
Today, how many budding pianists dream of a no fault on Comptine d’un autre été: l’après-midi or on the not less famous Valse d’Amélie?
For the record, it is he who plays all the instruments on the album of the film. In addition to being a fabulous pianist, Yann Tiersen is also a violinist and accordionist, which makes him a very accomplished musician.
He has composed all the music of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s movies (A very long Engagment) but also the soundtracks for Good-Bye Lenin and Tabarly.
Although he can’t account for the impressive record that John Williams or Hans Zimmer have, let’s bet that the passing time brings him further success!
Yann Tiersen also has the particularity of being left-handed, which makes his piano pieces even more difficult.
How to remove the inhibitions of some left-handed people to learn the piano? In any case, we hope so!
A little bit more Amélie to take away?
To speak of cinema and music without evoking an Italian composer would have been a crime against these two arts.
Ludovico Einaudi was born on 23 November 1955 in the beautiful city of Torino.
Einaudi will undoubtedly evoke magnificent compositions for connoisseurs, but for others, here is in a few lines a quick summary of the collaborations that led the Italian pianist to inscribe his name in the pantheon of the 7th Art:
Intouchables, by Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano (2011)
J. Edgar, by Clint Eastwood (2011),
Samba, by Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano (2014),
Just the find u world, by Xavier Dolan (2016),
Mommy, by Xavier Dolan (2014)…
Recent movies and strong feature films, in which Ludovico Einaudi has succeeded in impressing his unique artistic touch, imprinted with minimalism and simplicity.
But after all, Leonardo da Vinci did he not say himself:
“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”
It should be noted that we mainly find the notes of Ludovico in the Italian, French and American cinema…
They are the masters of the game. It is often to them that one wants to resemble when one decides to learn the piano.
Their fingers wander around the keyboard at an impressive speed and with a crazy accuracy. Their dexterity on the piano is without measure. They play the most difficult pieces with a purity and ease inaccessible to most pianists.
They are the worthy heirs of the most famous composers of classical music such as Bach, Tchaikovsky, Rossini, Brahms or Mozart, to whom they pay tribute in the best way.
For them, the piano is an instrument of prestige. Featuring an irreproachable technique, they are able to create mind-blowing compositions or breathtaking improvisations! A short tour of the horizon.
He played Mozart’s solo repertoire for a invaluable moment in the Hall of Mirrors of Versailles. Barely 35 years old, the chinese pianist is already at the top of his art!
Renown for his “theatrical” play (critics will say that he sometimes makes it a little too much), Lang Lang is decorated in most of the world’s major music institutions.
For his thirtieth birthday, the virtuoso played in Germany in the O2 World of Berlin before 10,000 spectators.
He also appeared at the Grammy Awards with the band Metallica for an incredible solo of 6 minutes. For lovers of mixing musical genres, it is a classic that we advise you to listen to with closed eyes! And for those who would be afraid of the “violence” of the sound of Metallica, One is one of the calmest songs of the band, go listen!
True phenomenon, it is also one of the emblems of the brand Adidas that grafted a model of shoes in his name.
Lang Lang is the new little piano prince who started at the age of 3 and a half at the conservatory in Beijing. Truly gifted.
Russia is a country where the piano is a noble instrument, reserved for the elites. Russian pianists are, in general, very well known and rightly so. Ievgeni Kissine is one of the best of these pianists, next to Alexander Scriabin. Vladimir Putin described him as “representative of the Russian musical heritage”.
He is able to play everything with an exceptional virtuosity and having a preference for Bach’s work, which he studied in the prestigious Russian Academy of Moscow during his piano lessons.
After performing regularly at the Bolshoi, he now performs in the world’s most beautiful halls. He even attended the Grammy Awards ceremony in 1992.
The discreet Radu Lupu in full performance!
Also trained at the Russian Academy, the Romanian Radu Lupu is probably the most discreet of the great contemporary pianists. Despite his concerts around the world with the best symphony orchestras, he regularly refuses to give interviews, which reinforces his mysterious side.
Lupu is an atypical pianist. For example, he does not use a stool but a desk chair to play. In the same way, he never records. His music is only live.
Lupu has received numerous awards such as the Grammy for Best Solo Instrumental Performance in 1996. He considers himself a “piano painter”. Rightly, no doubt, given his talent!
At just 38 years old, Yiruma is part of the new wave of virtuoso pianists. Pianist from the age of 5 and then graduated from two prestigious musical schools in London, the Korean artist shows a real talent in composition very early in his youth.
Today, he is known and recognized worldwide for interpreting these two most famous tracks: River flows in you and Kiss the Rain.
He is regularly playing all around the world, sign of a genuine public interest for his talent.
The soft, technical, sometimes romantic melodies of his compositions transport you. Yiruma draws much of his inspiration from the romantic music of Paris.
Often forgotten in the rankings, women are not stingy with talent! Sonya Belousova is a very good example! She is also a headliner of the “new wave”.
Born in St. Petersburg, she is the winner of several international competitions and has been decorated by the Ministry of Russian Culture since the age of 13 for her talent at once precocious and exceptional.
Composer but above all unpredictable in improvisations, she is able to create a composition on a piece of music that she has heard only once!
She performs regularly in theaters all over the world, especially at home in Russia and the United States. Her reinterpretations of the great cinematographic standards or video games, with a rare melodic richness, are a huge success with the younger audience.
She is also in charge of the musical compositions of several ballets in the United States and is known for her collaboration with Jorge Calandrelli, famous Argentine composer, 6-time winner of the Grammy Awards.
You will find his compositions on her website: sonyabelousova.com but here is a cover of the famous song of Queen, Bohemian Raposdy, to make your mouth water:
Barely thirty and Yeol Eum Son is already a star of classical music in his country.
With her first piano lesson at the age of three and a half, she entered the Korean National Arts University at the age of 16. At 18, she recorded the complete Studies of Frédéric Chopin (Op. 10 and Op.25).
She has collaborated with the greatest soloists in the Philharmonic Orchestra of New York under the baton of conductor Lorin Maazel to the Russian Symphony Orchestra, Prague and Rotterdam more recently.
Throughout her young but already rich career, she has received many awards – notably at the second place in the highly prestigious Tchaikovsky International Competition in 2011.
Describing herself as an emotional, sensitive but nevertheless powerful and vigorous pianist, Yeol Eum Son is an unconditional admirer of Chopin and Mozart’s work. She devotes much of her time to the study of the two maestros.
In 2015, the jazz piano world commemorated the 90th anniversary of the birth of the legendary Oscar Peterson. On this occasion, an album of jazz compositions (“Oscar, with love”) never heard before, as a gift from heaven for his fans.
Fans who had after all only dozens of albums and vinyls to satisfy their thirst for jazz pianists, among which Art Tatum is also one of the greatest…
But before this creative bulimia, there is a whole story. It begins in the black neighborhoods of Montreal. Very young, at the age of 5, Oscar Peterson dived into music – the trumpet first. But quickly, it is the stringed instrument that snatches everything. At not even 10 years old, he has already behind him hours and hours spent over the black and white notes, even to the point of already having a nickname: The brown bomber of the Boogie-Woogie. Enough said…
His virtuosity is also total, since he becomes a professional musician at the age of 14 years only. A genius that he will maintain throughout his life, cultivating his musicality, his inventiveness and his sense of melody, by hard work: 6 hours of practice (piano lessons) a day.
The fans, they can still immortalize next to the statue of Oscar Peterson in Ottawa, Canada’s capital.
We speak more of their voice, and even of their extra-musical news, but these pianist-singers also marked their epoch with their haunting melodies, their charisma, and their impact on the content of our musical environment.
They are real virtuosos and they have an impact on the history of the piano, an instrument associated with their success.
Millions of albums sold, a voice recognizable among thousands, and melodies that made the whole world dance, we no longer introduce the leader of Coldplay who is the soul of the group!
He can account for dozens of hits: The Scientist, Paradise, Fix you, Lovers in Japan and more recently, A Sky Full of Stars, Adventure for a Lifetime and Hymn for the Weekend featuring the famous singer Beyoncé. And his stage performances have already entered the legend.
Chris Martin trained as an autodidact, and formed his first group at 14 in England. Today, Coldplay is a reference group, which participated in the Superbowl half-time show in February 2016 in front of more than 700 million viewers.
And it’s far from finished for Chris Martin, who also invested in a multitude of charity works.
Like Chris Martin, Matthew Bellamy virtually embodies the image of his band, Muse.
Author, composer, and singer of the group’s biggest hits: Psycho, Hysteria, Supermassive Black Hole or Starlight, he stands out for its versatility.
Apart from the piano that he started at the age of 5, he is also a guitarist and plays the mandolin.
His singing talent is recognized and covers 3 octaves. The magazine Bilboard nominated him in 2014 9th best musical group leader in history.
Muse, in full world tour since the end of 2015, owes an enormous amount to his exceptional singer-pianist, Matthew Bellamy.
Another British! Talent is very present on the island! The fifth Beatles (he was part of the band in 1962-1963) is a pop legend.
With more than 200 million albums sold worldwide and more than 3,000 concerts, Elton John is part of our musical heritage.
Actor of the Royal Academy of Music in London and an officer of the arts and letters in France, Elton John is indissociable from his instrument of choice: the piano.
With 41 awards including 6 Grammy Awards and an Oscar for the song Can You Feel The Love Tonight, original soundtrack of Walt Disney’s masterpiece, The Lion King, Elton John is a noted inspiration for artists Kanye West, Joe Cocker and Queen.
Elton John released his 33rd album in 2016, entitled Wonderful Crazy Night and with obviously 80% piano. So it never stops!
How to make a top music celebrities who are also pianist without mentioning the name Aretha Franklin?
The American singer of jazz, gospel or rhythm and blues is a worldwide icon. She is also named third most famous Afro-American personality in history, behind Martin Luther King and Barack Obama!
She has sold more than 75 million records worldwide and remains the most bankable female artist in history!
The renowned magazine Rolling Stones puts her first among the greatest singers (men and women combined) in history. That’s something!
In 45 years of career she has amassed no less than 18 Grammy Awards.
The curriculum vitae is as long as an arm. For those who want to listen to or discover Aretha Franklin at the piano, we advise you to listen to You Send Me or I Say A Little prayer for you.
A golden voice and fairytale fingers at the piano! Respect Aretha?
Mixing a powerful and inspired voice, a very rhythmic melody with a perfect piano-voice harmony, Alicia Keys is both an excellent singer but also a recognized pianist.
With a classical music training from the age of 7 and a more urban New York culture, you get an explosive cocktail!
Her first album, Song in A Minor, met an astonishing success, selling over 12 million copies worldwide.
We especially recommend the album The Diary of Alicia Keys which mixes piano, rhythm and blues, jazz and soul. Special mention to the famous song If I Is Not Got You or others like Harlem’s Nocturne that are true masterpieces.
If you are a piano lover and like American-style shows, don’t even hesitate!
Giving a true ranking of the best or the greatest pianists is obviously difficult or impossible! Because learning the piano is not restricted to a category or a minimum age, talking about the tenth or twentieth best pianist in the world does not really make sense.
Everything depends on your musical influence, your sensitivities, the artists who transported you at specific times in your life.
All of them are real musical geniuses, each in their field, from cinematographic music to classical or piano-voice.
Even if some of these artists will not touch you by their universe, it is impossible not to recognize in them a certain talent for this beautiful instrument that is the piano.
One can only look, and admire. For even anonymous people can be true gifted pianists. Why not you ?