When we talk about piano, you will find a number of famous piano players who have made their mark in history of music and musical instruments. We have names belonging to different genres of music who have dedicated their notes to some specific kind and along with that there are many who are known for their versatility. All these musicians (pianists) had their sole focus in creating a unique and interesting style of music that proved to have a great impact on piano playing skills. Among those thousands of pianists and composers, we are presenting here a short description of some of the famous pianists and composers with details on how beautifully they have graced musical platform with their captivating work. Their contribution in music has inspired and impressed people and will continue to do so in the years ahead.
Table of Contents
- 1 Famous Piano Players and Composers:
- 1.1 1. Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750):
- 1.2 2. Domenico Scarlatti (1685 – 1757):
- 1.3 3. Joseph Haydn (1732 – 1809):
- 1.4 4. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791):
- 1.5 5. Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827):
- 1.6 6. Franz Schubert (1797 – 1828):
- 1.7 7. Frederic Chopin (1810 – 1849):
- 1.8 8. Franz Liszt (1811 – 1886):
- 1.9 9. Samuel Barber (1910 – 1981):
- 1.10 10. Duke Ellington (1899 – 1974):
- 2 Can you become a famous player/ composer?
- 3 Conclusion:
Famous Piano Players and Composers:
1. Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750):
The name of Bach is known to anyone who is associated with music in some way or the other. He is not only a phenomenal pianist but is a popular organist with experience of playing different organs. He was born on March 31, 1685 in Eisenach, Thuringia, Germany to a family with a strong background of music. His family included father, mother and eight children including himself being the youngest one. Among his family, his father, brother and uncles were musicians and that is where Johann developed his love for playing music.
In early years, Bach gained the reputation of being a great performer. He has that technical skill that was needed to play instrumental music and that is where he devoted most of his time. He composed for orchestras, dance suites and also worked on solo pieces with instruments. The series he wrote for orchestra became famous as Brandenburg Concertos. Bach travelled a lot to work as an organist. He was also appointed director of music by Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Köthen. Some of the famous pieces by Bach include Toccata and Fugue in D minor, Prelude and Fugue No. 1 in C Major and Goldberg Variations Cello concerto in A minor.
2. Domenico Scarlatti (1685 – 1757):
Born in 1685 in Naples, Domenico is another famous baroque pianist and composer with a rapidly developed musical skill. He was significantly famous as a harpsichordist and he went on composing over 555 famous harpsichord sonatas that are known for their complete originality. Most of these were written in last few years of his life. He composed more than a dozen operas for his father’s theatre.
His work mostly includes the folk element to it and throughout his work; he has used dance rhythms from Spanish, Italian and Portuguese works. He also composed around 17 separate sinfonias along with a harpsichord concerto. He is known to have expanded the spectrum of harpsichord and have explored all possibilities that still inspire musicians today. His famous work pieces include Essercizi per Gravicembalo, Salve Regina, Stabat Mater and many others.
3. Joseph Haydn (1732 – 1809):
Franz Joseph Haydn was born on March 31st 1732 in Rohrau Austria. He is a prominent name especially where classical music is in question. This Austrian pianist and composer have established new forms and styles of music and his work still remains quite influential. He began singing at the age of 8 years at St. Stephen Cathedral’s choir in Vienna. There he also learnt to play keyboard and violin. He also worked as an assistant composer to Nicola Porpora for lessons and later in 1761, he served as a court musician at the Esterházy family’s palace.
While serving the family at the palace, his popularity eventually rose and he then began to make easy piano compositions for publications as well. Some significant pieces of work by this amazing musician were Paris symphonies, London Symphonies, Surprise, Drumroll, Military and original orchestral version of The Seven Last Words of Christ. With his work in music, he soon became a popular public figure in Vienna. Since he was born in the era of Bach, his music was greatly influenced by work of Bach too. Some of his popular pieces include The Horn Signal, The Farewell, The Queens and many others.
4. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791):
Became popular as Wolfganger among youth of that time, Mozart was born in Salzburg and was introduced to music at a really early age. By the age of 6, he was already a piano prodigy and was performing at different courts too. His father was a famous music teacher of that time and he wrote a dissertation on playing violin that is still followed. His sister was also a piano genius. Her name was Maria Anna and she was popular as Nanner. It was their father who realized musical abilities of both of his children and began teaching them. Mozart had begun compositions when he was a child. He was also appointed as the musician of church by Prince Archbishop Hieronymus Colloredo.
In a few years, Mozart left Salzburg and went to Vienna where he gained popularity. His musical career elevated and he began to contribute for writing sonatas, symphonies, and especially operas. Some of his popular compositions were Flute Concerto No. 2 in D Major, the Magic Flute and Requiem D Minor Fugue in C Minor.
5. Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827):
Beethoven was born in 1770 in Bonn Germany at the Rhine River banks. He was the eldest child in the family and he showed interest in music from a very early age. His father Johann van Beethoven was a musician himself. He played both violin and piano and since Ludwig showed interest in music, his father began his musical training. Along with his father, he had many other local teachers from family and friends who contributed to early learning of Beethoven. His most significant music teacher was Christian Gottlob Neefe. He was the one who taught him composing music and also was there to guide him when he composed his first sonatas.
Beethoven travelled to Vienna to achieve musical success where he became really famous for playing piano. He hoped to meet Mozart to further excel his musical knowledge but had to return to Bonn when his mother became really sick. Around 1811, Beethoven began to face difficulties with hearing and thus was forced to leave music but he continued his musical career and gave some of the masterpieces with his mind’s ear. Some of the popular pieces by Beethoven were Sonata Moonlight Number 14, Bagatelle in A minor and Pathetique Sonata Symphony Number 9 in D minor.
6. Franz Schubert (1797 – 1828):
With the gift of music, Franz Schubert was born on January 31, 1797 in Himmelpfortgrund, Austria. This Austrian pianist and composer are known for his melody and harmony. At a very early age, Franz received education in music and soon gained popularity from his romantic and classical compositions. He was only a child when he began to play piano along with organ and violin. Not only he was a great musician but also was a fantastic singer. From his family, his father and brother were his mentors and both of them instructed him music. Another prominent instructor for this child with musical interest was Michael Holzer who was an organist at the church.
He spent most of his youth years practicing and composing music. He marked himself as the initiator of the romantic musical movement. He was a skillful musician. By 1814, Franz had already written a number of popular piano pieces. His maturity in musical compositions was during the period of 1819 and 1820. He also composed music for two opera houses named Karthnerthof Theatre and Theatre-an-der-Wein. Some of the popular compositions by Franz include Nacht und Träume D827, Gute Nacht D911, Licht und Liebe D352 and Gretchen am Spinnrade D118.
7. Frederic Chopin (1810 – 1849):
Another revolutionary pianist and famous piano composer of his time is Frederic Chopin who is known for his piano playing capabilities and skills. He was born in the Duchy of Warsaw with a musically trained genius mind. His first piano lessons were given to him by his mother who proved to be his mentor in early years. Later he began to get his musical training by an official piano teacher Wojciech Żywny. At the early age of 7, he had already begun performing for concerts. Not only that but at this age he had already composed his first two polonaises.
He travelled to varied places and met influential people to further excel his musical skills. He wrote beautiful yet difficult compositions with a natural flow. His music had the elegance, romance and nobility that made it ever so interesting and captivating. When he returned to London, he began to give music lessons to new aspiring musicians too. He performed piano in his early ages and then to some Parisian salons but his work was phenomenal. Some of his famous pieces include Black Key Etude Op. 10 No. 5 G flat major, the Heroic Polonaise Op.53 in A flat major, Mazurka in A Minor Op. 7 No. 2 and many others.
8. Franz Liszt (1811 – 1886):
One of the greatest piano players of his time, Franz Liszt was born on October 22, 1811, in Raiding, Hungary. In his family, he gained musical influence from his father who was a multi-instrumentalist and he was the one who taught him piano. When Liszt was only 9 years old, he was already performing for concert halls and in a few years he began travelling throughout Europe for his musical performances.
After the death of his father cum mentor, he turned to several books to gain knowledge where he read about art and religion. These studies later reflected in his musical compositions. He excelled his musical career later with several new compositions and public performances. Throughout his musical career, he had written more than 1000 compositions. His most prominent work is the creation of symphonic poem that is a combination of music with drama. It is somewhat related to opera but it is more of an orchestral musical piece that tells a story, illustrates a painting or some other non-musical source. He taught piano lessons throughout Paris but after 1830s he was more focused towards practicing piano himself to become a master at playing piano. He also gave piano lessons in Weimar and at the Hungarian Music Academy. His most popular pieces include La Campanella, Liebestraume No. 3, And Hungarian Rhapsody No.2.
9. Samuel Barber (1910 – 1981):
Famous 20th century pianist and composer, born in West Chester, Pennsylvania; Samuel Barber is known to be one of the most influential musician. When he was only 6 years old, he began to take piano lessons and only in a year’s time he had began to compose music. When he reached his teens, he performed the duties of a church organist. Later he continued his education in music at Curtis Institute where he learnt piano composition along with singing and conducting.
He was not only an impressive composer and pianist but was also one of the best baritone singers. He loved poetry and has given music to some of the most interesting poems written. Among them the most famous one is Dover Beach that was written by Matthew Arnold. Barber won various awards for his opera A Hand of Bridge and Vanessa. Along with that his Piano concerto Opus 38 also won him a Pulitzer Prize. He also shared his experiences and knowledge of music with students at the Curtis Institute where he taught from 1939 to 1942. Some of his most popular work includes Summer Music, Hermet Songs, Cell Concerto Opus 22 and others.
10. Duke Ellington (1899 – 1974):
Duke was a pianist, conductor and songwriter with extra-ordinary talent in music that initially he thought that he lacks at but later he explored his talent. He started taking piano lessons at the age of 7 years and he worked and practiced till he became one of the most significant names in music. He has a complete laboratory of music and he composed for movies and stage as well. As he reached his teenage, he had already begun to make compositions. His first piece of composition was Soda Fountain Rag that he worked on completely by ear. During a life span of more than 60 years, he composed more than 2000 musical pieces.
He was an innovator and he created his own jungle style technique that became quite famous. He had the talent of converting musical pieces in to some unrecognizable yet unique patterns. Recordings and live performances made him a favorite at Grammy. Some of his master pieces include East St. Louis Toodle-oo, Black and Tan Fantasy and Mood Indigo.
Can you become a famous player/ composer?
Here we have gathered some important pieces of information for people who wish to become an expert pianist. These are advices gathered from great piano players of all times and following these guidelines would help all the new aspiring musicians in gaining success.
- Learning musical theory may appear boring but in order to build a strong base for piano, you should gain certain understanding of theory as it will help you a lot in gaining skills for piano playability.
- Listen to some of the amazing piano players and watch their performances too. As you hear or watch them play, try to recognize notes that are being played and style with which they are playing.
- Learn to recognize and play certain patterns. You will find that many of the piano song themes have repetitions and there will be only small differences in sections. Learn such patterns and structures.
- Improve your fingering and dexterity; this is what will help you most in the end.
- Every time you begin to put your fingers on piano for practice or performance make sure you warm up well.
- Memorization is the basis of learning to master at playing piano. When you have memorized you don’t need to keep your eyes on the board but you can play by memory.
- Your performance would have varied sections, try playing each part slowly and carefully. When you play slowly, you will be less prone to making mistakes.
- Always believe in improvisation and try to improve yourself.
- Don’t ever become blind followers but look what actually you want to play and what kind of music you are interested in? Follow your interest and you will be able to do much better than otherwise.
Learning and playing piano is all about passion and love for music. If you have interest and want to choose piano as your basic musical instrument, you first need to gain certain understanding of theory and fundamentals of this instrument. When you have a look at the brief history and musical career of some of the famous pianists; you will be able to realize that how motivation, interest and support goes hand in hand for learning and playing piano. Prepare yourself for continued practice and learning and at the same time work with complete dedication and make efforts towards the challenge of learning piano and composing music on this beautiful instrument.