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The Top 5 Pianists of All Time

by | May 8, 2018 | 1 comment

The piano is one of the most loved instruments of all time, which is why so many people enjoy taking piano lessons in Austin at Lone Star School of Music. In fact, an estimated 20 million Americans play the piano! And you can become one of them with Lone Star School of Music. Who knows? Maybe you’ll be the next great pianist.

The piano has been around for over 200 years!

The piano evolved from various instruments like the hammered dulcimer and clavichord, and was first invented in Italy in 1709. That means this beloved instrument has been around for over 200 years! Since it graced the ears of people all over Italy in the 1700s, it has made waves in countries all over the world.

piano lessons in Austin, piano lessons Austin
Source: New York Times

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Glenn Gould

  • Heritage: Canadian
  • Lived: 1932-1982

This Canadian pianists became one of the most well-known and beloved musicians of the 20th century. He was most famous as an interpreter of Johann Sebastian Bach’s musical works.

His unique playing style left audiences intrigued and begging for more performances. Many say he actually changed the way the world listened to Bach.

Gould was seen as very eccentric. He would often hum or sing while playing piano – his recording engineers tried to remove his voice from the recordings, but had mixed results. One critic even commented on the singing, saying that listeners would “find the groans and croons intolerable.”

 Gould would only play sitting at a height of 14 inches above the floor, in his father’s chair.

In addition to the singing, Gould was well known for his strange body movements during performances and his controlling nature. Even the temperature of the room had to be exact to his specifications.

The piano was required to be at a certain height, placed on wooden blocks if needed. A small rug was placed beneath the piano for his feet.

He would only play if sitting at a height of 14 inches above the floor, only if sitting in the chair his father made. He continued to use this chair even when the seat was worn all the way through.

He started performing in 1938 – at the age of six! He appeared with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra when he was 13 years old, performing Beethoven’s 4th Piano Concerto. He first performed as a soloist soon after in 1947, and subsequently was featured on the radio with CBC in 1950. This sparked his passion for radio and recording. He often said he “developed a love affair with the microphone.”

This love of recording led him to leave live performances behind, in favor of spending more time recording.

piano lessons in Austin, piano lessons AustinClara Haskil

  • Heritage: Romanian
  • Lived: 1895-1960

Clara Haskil was a Romanian pianist who was most well-known for her renditions of Mozart pieces as well as classical and early romantic repertoire. She studied under a variety of musicians, including Ansermet, Barbiolli, Szell, Rosbaud, Monteux, Paray, and more.

As a skilled violinist and chamber musician, she was renowned for her transparency, purity of tone and phrasing, which also translated into her piano music.

Charlie Chaplin was a close friend of Clara, and had this to say about her:

“In my lifetime I have met three geniuses; Professor Einstein, Winston Churchill, and Clara Haskil. I am not a trained musician, but I can only say that her touch was exquisite, her expression wonderful, and her technique extraordinary.”

Haskil suffered from scoliosis and was fitted with a plaster cast in 1913. She had grown up in severe poverty, and the frequent illnesses she suffered paired with her stage fright kept her from earning much success in the public eye. It wasn’t until post-WWII that Haskil began to come out of her shell. After a series of concerts in The Netherlands in 1949, she finally began to win critics’ acclaim.

In November of 1960 she performed Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 in D Minor, K 466 and No. 24 in C Minor, K. 491 with the Orchestre de Concerts Lamoureuz. Her slow, pensive performance of K 466 paired with her subtle, highly lyrical performance of K. 491 are regarded as arguably her most famous solo performances ever.

In 1963, the Clara Haskil International Piano Competition was founded in her memory. It is now held every 2 years in Vevey, Switzerland, where Haskil lived from 1942 until her death in 1960. In fact, there’s a street in the city of Vevey with her name, seen below.

piano lessons Austin, piano lessons in Austin

piano lessons in Austin, piano lessons AustinFranz Liszt

  • Heritage: Hungarian
  • Lived: 1811-1886

Franz Liszt’s talent wasn’t solely playing piano – he was also a composer, conductor, music teacher, arranger, organist, philanthropist, author, and nationalist. In other words, Liszt was a very busy, talented, well-rounded man.

Often referred to as the “first rock star of all time,” Liszt began touring Europe in the 1840s. At the time, many thought no solo pianist had the power to hold anyone’s attention. Liszt proved them wrong, and ended up giving over 1,000 performances during his eight-year tour.

He was so well-liked that his performances often got a bit out of hand. Much like crazy fans at a Beatles concert, Liszt’s audiences would often throw themselves at him, tearing off bits of his clothes, fighting over pieces of his broken piano wire or locks of his hair. German poet Heinrich Heine dubbed this phenomenon “Lisztomania.”

Contemporary pianist Stephen Hough explained:

Liszt was a very dynamic personality. He was someone who seduced people. He was someone who, like a guest speaker, was able to capture an audience.

He retired fairly early, at the age of 35, to focus on composing.

piano lessons in Austin, piano lessons AustinArthur Rubinstein

  • Heritage: Polish, Jewish
  • Lived: 1887-1982

Often regarded as the greatest Chopin interpreter of his time, Rubinstein was a Polish-American classical pianist. His ability to combine romanticism and more modern elements in his music left audiences in awe. He was not afraid of taking risks in his music, and was very adamant that he did, saying:

“On stage, I will take a chance. There has to be an element of daring in great music-making. These younger ones, they are too cautious. They take the music out of their pockets instead of their hearts.”

His piano career began when he started learning the piano at age three. By the time he was 8 years old, he had already given his first public piano performance. He was so talented that his mother took him to audition for the famous violinist Joseph Joachim. Joachim was so impressed by Rubinstein’s talent that he took him under his wing. From that point on, Joachim provided Rubinstein’s general and musical education.

Joachim then introduced him to Heinrich Barth, who continued his musical education. After only 3 years of study with Barth, Rubinstein performed with the Berlin Philharmonic at the Beethoven Saal. Critics were enthralled:

“He played everything, not as a child prodigy, but as a mature, adult musician.”

His greatest talent, though, was playing Chopin pieces. This was definitely his forte. As a Polish man, Rubinstein quickly fell in love with Chopin, who wrote the tragic history of Poland through his music. His passion for the music of Chopin was so evident in how he played.

He considered music to be his greatest gift, saying:

“I have always thought of myself as a musical instrument – neither violin nor piano – but ‘essence’ of music. I never walk or dream or go to sleep without having music in my head. Music is my form.”

piano lessons in Austin, piano lessons AustinSergei Rachmaninoff

  • Heritage: Russian
  • Lived: 1873-1943

Rachmaninoff is often said to be the greatest pianist of all time, hands down. Rachmaninoff considered himself a romantic, and had a strong desire to continue the romanticism of the 19th century into the 20th century, unlike his Russian counterparts, who were mostly composing modern pieces at the time. Rachmaninoff is actually one of the last well-known romantic composers.

He graduated from the Moscow Conservatorium alongside fellow Russian composer Alexander Scriabin.

He wrote several beautiful pieces of music, including “All Night Vigil” and “Liturgy of St. John Crysostom” for the Russian Orthodox Church. His Piano Concerto No. 2 is often considered to be the most popular classical piece of all time.

Even the greatest pianist of all time dealt with fear of failure; after Rachmaninoff’s first symphony was not well received, he was unable to compose anything for three years!

He became a touring pianist in 1917, leaving Russia to start his touring career and support his family.

Rachmaninoff is famous for his large hands – able to span 12 inches, or a 13th (C1 to A2) on a piano. His extreme talent was evident in his finger technique while playing; even during the most challenging pieces, his technique kept such great clarity it was almost superhuman.

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The Top 5 Pianists of All Time | Lone Star School of Music – Austin, TX