The term “classical music” is broad in meaning and may refer to any number of musical works spanning hundreds of years. In the contemporary sense, the “classical music period” is considered the roughly 100-year span from 1720 to 1820 and includes the likes of famous composer and pianist Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Our sources elaborate on the topic and lead us to uncover our list of the top five best classical pianists.
Mozart is an example of piano virtuoso, and the innerworkings of the thought process of musicians in different genres varies. The brain activity of classical and jazz musicians is wildly different, even when they play the same piece of music. It all depends on how the musicians were trained, and how their brains were “wired” to absorb, translate, and create music.
The term “musical genius” is usually thrown around in reference to well-known and groundbreaking musicians and song writers like Mozart or Chopin. However, according to the results of a new study, high intellect may be far more common among musicians than many assume. After analyzing how a group of beginning pianists honed their craft, researchers say that intelligence may play a role in how quickly an individual can learn how to play music.
Learning how to play a new instrument, or specific song, takes different people varying amounts of time to master. While this has always been filed under each person’s own unique musical aptitude, this study is among the first ever to look closely at the relationship between one’s overall intelligence, musical aptitude, and growth mindset.
Great piano performances are captivating, and our list of the top five best classical pianists might compel you to listen to the work of these masters. Let us know your favorite classical pianists in the comments below!
The List: Best Classical Pianists, According to Experts
1. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Competition on this list is fierce as it starts off with one of the greatest and most significant composers and pianists of all time. “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,” details Music Grotto.
“The most famous composer of them all, Mozart is regarded as one of the best pianists that ever lived. His work was hugely versatile and clearly reflects the way piano music changed during the classical era, he also inspired many of the other greats in this list,” writes London Piano Institute.
“If you asked people on the street who is the best pianist in the world, most of them would probably say Mozart. And that’s because Mozart is arguably one of the most famous piano players in history. He changed the world of classical music, and wrote some of the most iconic classical pieces for piano,” claims Midder Music.
2. Ludwig von Beethoven
Beethoven is often overshadowed by Mozart but should not be overlooked. “Though better known as composer, Beethoven was also an incredible player. His work was heavily influenced by Mozart himself, with sources claiming the pair met in Vienna around 1787. One of Beethoven’s contemporaries, Carl Ludwig Junker, described his style of playing as ‘so greatly different from the usual method of treating the piano, that it seems as if he had struck out an entirely new path for himself’. Across his lifetime he composed over 9 symphonies, 5 concertos, 32 piano sonatas, and 16 string quartets,” according to London Piano Institute.
“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,” claims Music Grotto.
“Despite his immense talent, Beethoven faced many personal and professional challenges throughout his life, including hearing loss and financial struggles. Nevertheless, he persevered and continued to create some of the greatest music ever written, even as he struggled with illness and adversity,” adds Ledgernote.
3. Sergei Rachmaninov
Sergei Rachmaninov was an early 20th century pianist that mastered classical works and made many now-famous recordings that showcase his tremendous talent. “What would we know about Rachmaninov’s performance if it weren’t for his recordings? Much could be derived from the music he wrote. There is a wide range of virtuous technical resources with a corresponding implicit power and resistance. The melancholic lyrical talent would be evident. Similarly, the succinct rhythmic instinct and, at least judging by later works, the unbridled clarity with which the pianist Rachmaninov unerringly fashioned one musical paragraph after another,” writes Bollyinside.
“In an interview in 1936, Rachmaninov said: ‘Interpretation demands something of the creative instinct…’ Before he left revolutionary Russia in 1918, he seems mainly to have performed his own piano music, alongside much composing and conducting. Afterwards, life in Europe and America meant a full-time piano career, and with it the need to build a repertory,” according to Classical Music.
“Considered by many the greatest pianist of them all, Rachmaninov was first and foremost a composer, hailed in Russia as the natural successor to Tchaikovsky, who championed him. But after fleeing the Revolution of 1917, he settled in Switzerland and later the US, making his living as a touring pianist, in which capacity he was in immense demand. His recordings are peerless examples of exquisite tone, poised musicality, and deep wellsprings of feeling,” states Udiscovermusic.
4. Lang Lang
Lang Lang is a contemporary virtuoso that exhibited unusual talent at a very young age. “Chinese pianist Lang Lang, born in 1982, began taking piano lessons at the age of three and gave his first concert two years later. At the age of 13 he won the first prize at the International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition for young musicians in Japan, which attracted a lot of attention and was the beginning of a very successful career. A year later, in 1996, he performed as a soloist with the Chinese National Symphony Orchestra for then Chinese President Zemin,” writes Bollyinside.
Rehearsing Chopin Minute Waltz Op. 64 No. 1 in Boston Symphony Hall 10 years ago 😊 pic.twitter.com/bOVFedMJBS
— Lang Lang (@lang_lang) July 1, 2023
“The Olympic Games in 2008, the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony and Queen Elizabeth II’s diamond jubilee in 2012 were just a few of the high-profile events he has performed. He has also enjoyed commercial success with numerous albums and collaborations with music superstars like Metallica and Pharell Williams at the 2014 and 2015 Grammy awards, respectively,” states Hello Music theory.
“Lang Lang changed the classical music world forever with his inimitable panache both on and off stage. Thousands of children in China took up the piano in what has become know[sic] as ‘the Lang-Lang effect.’ So, like his style or not, there’s no denying the impact Lang Lang has had on the classical scene,” offers Classic FM.
5. Leif Ove Andsnes
Leif Ove Andsnes of Norway performs the music of the classical period with precision and aplomb. “Known for his riveting performances of Edvard Grieg’s works, Leif Ove Andsnes has won acclaim for his performances at some of the world’s most prestigious concert halls. Andsnes has certainly made his mark in Norway, as he is the founding director of Norway’s Rosendal Chamber Music Festival,” offers Ledgernote.
All 3 of Andsnes’releases this year have been chosen by @GramophoneMag's Critics' Choice for favourite classical albums of 2022!
Dvořák Poetic Tone Pictures & Mozart Momentum w/@Mahler_Chamber on @sony_classical &Grieg Songs w/Lise Davidsen@deccaclassics https://t.co/wQGqKHhAWf pic.twitter.com/DppxQE8dBU
— Leif Ove Andsnes (@LeifOveAndsnes) December 20, 2022
“The brilliant Norwegian pianist has made a name for himself as one of the greatest musicians working today, not least with his recordings of Beethoven’s Piano Concertos with The Mahler Chamber Orchestra,” writes Classic FM.
“The Norwegian pianist came to prominence following his debut in Oslo in 1987 and his first recordings for Virgin Classics (now Erato). As well as a committed champion of his fellow countryman Edvard Grieg, Andsnes is a fine interpreter of the core works of the Austro-German repertoire, witness his outstanding ‘Beethoven Journey’ series and ‘Mozart Momentum’ for Sony Classical,” writes Gramophone.
You might also be interested in:
- London Piano Institute
- Hello Music Theory
- Classic FM
- Music Grotto
- Classical Music
- Midder Music
Note: This article was not paid for nor sponsored. StudyFinds is not connected to nor partnered with any of the brands mentioned and receives no compensation for its recommendations.