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Top 5 World Pianists You Should Know

Updated: Jun 26, 2022

#1. Johannes Brahms

Johannes Brahms
Johannes Brahms

Johannes Brahms is widely regarded as one of the supreme composers in the history of Western classical music, and he is acknowledged as one of the leading musicians whose thought shaped 19th-century musical discourse.

He was born into a Lutheran family. A musical prodigy who had studied with some of the best teachers in Europe. He settled in Vienna where his career as pianist and composer was successfully launched.

His lifelong friendship with Joseph Joachim, who he had first met in Hamburg where Brahms began his professional career, proved to be one of the most important relationships in Brahms' life. In fact, it was Joachim who introduced Brahms to Schumann and later instigated the publication of some of his chamber works. For a time towards the end of Schumann's life, Brahms was his favorite pupil.

He wrote a number of major works for orchestra, including two serenades, four symphonies (including the celebrated Tragic Overture), several concertos (including two for violin), and a number of orchestral overtures.

Other important original works include his sets of Hungarian Dances, the "Liebeslieder Waltzes" and the "Folk Song Waltzes," along with his choral masterpiece Ein Deutsches Requiem. He also wrote a number of significant chamber works, including three string quartets, two string quintets, and two piano trios.

#2. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Mozart's astonishing ability to compose music at an early age was not just the product of his family environment but also due to his genetics. His father was Leopold Mozart, an extremely popular musician and composer in his day. For this reason, Wolfgang's exposure to music was extremely thorough and he had access to virtually any musical pieces he wanted before he even started his formal education.

Mozart quickly began refining his performance technique with lessons from some of the best musicians in Europe but also developed a reputation for being an arrogant, somewhat difficult child.

As a young adult Mozart began to establish himself as one of the most important composers in Vienna at the time and was quickly taken under the wing of some of Europe's leading musicians and patrons including Joseph Haydn and Baron Gottfried van Swieten.

During his later life, Mozart would struggle with financial difficulties and physical ailments. He died at the age of 35 leaving a tremendous musical heritage that has inspired generations of composers, musicians, and music lovers since.

#3. Sergei Rachmaninoff

Sergei Vasilievich Rachmaninoff
Sergei Vasilievich Rachmaninoff

Sergei Vasilievich Rachmaninoff was born into a wealthy middle-class family in Russian in 1873. He was a promising musician from a young age, largely because of his mother. She was a talented pianist and began teaching Sergei the piano at the age of four, which she had to do privately since musical instruction wasn't available for children at that time.

As a teenager, he gave his first public performance but when he graduated from the Moscow Conservatory in 1892, Rachmaninoff failed to win any awards and no one was willing to give him a job. This pushed him into a depression and he moved back home with his parents.

His talent wouldn't remain unappreciated for long though. By 1897 he had performed Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto in Berlin and had settled into a steady performance schedule in Russia. In addition, his first two piano concertos were well received by the public.

Rachmaninoff would continue to perform throughout Europe through 1910 when he returned to Russia. He never found much success there however and later left for the U.S., where he spent the last twenty years of his life.

#4. Gustav Mahler

Gustav Mahler
Gustav Mahler

Born in 1860, Mahler was the son of a Jewish tavern owner who eventually turned his bar into an inn that provided musical entertainment for its guests. For this reason, Gustav grew up surrounded by music which helped shape him as a musician.

As a young adult, Gustav studied music in Prague where he met some of his closest friends and eventually became the assistant conductor at the Royal Provincial Opera. He was also reportedly infatuated with one of the performers there during this time which ended up causing him to lose his job when she married another man.

Mahler was then offered a position conducting in Budapest which started to bring him some attention as a musician. His opera "Das klagende Lied" (The Song of the Earth) was well received and he went on to conduct other operas across Europe.

Mahler eventually became the director of the Vienna Court Opera but also had a reputation for being difficult to work with. In 1907 he accepted the position of director of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, but struggled with health problems and was unable to complete his contract there. In 1911 he moved back to New York City where he worked as a conductor until his death in 1911 from a streptococcal infection.

#5. Gioachino Rossini

Gioachino Rossini
Gioachino Rossini

Born in 1792, Rossini was a musical child prodigy and began performing publicly by the age of 12. He studied under various musicians including his father who taught him to play stringed instruments and became pretty well-known for playing these types of instruments. According to legend, he once even played in front of Napoleon who pulled out a 50 louis d'or coin and threw it to him across the stage.

- When he was 18 Rossini entered an opera composition contest in Rome, Italy where he won first prize for his composition "Armida." This led to commissions for operas from other cities that brought him fame almost overnight.

- He went on to compose operas that became wildly popular as well as other instrumental and vocal pieces. His music was praised for its beauty and simplicity, but his later years were riddled with depression. He retired from public performances at the age of 39.

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