As Arthur Koestler said, “True creativity often starts where language ends.”.
The piano is one of the most popular instruments to learn how to play.
When people think of composing music for the piano, they invariably think of classical or romantic music.
With names such as Haydn, Mendelssohn, Franz Liszt, and Hector Berlioz, there are literally tonnes of talented classical and romantic composers who didn’t just influence their contemporaries but generations of later musicians.
Of course, this list is by no means extensive and you're always welcome to suggest your favourite piano composers in the comments below. They don't necessarily need to be classically trained or classical musicians, either!
What’s better than a piano when it comes to expressing creativity?
Top Pianists: Johannes Brahms
Brahms was a composer, pianist, and conductor who spearheaded the Romantic period.
Throughout his musical career, he left an indelible mark on classical music: 122 original works, 17 for the piano, which might seem to pale in comparison to composers like Schumann and Chopin.
Brahms is known for his heterogeneous approach to music and in addition to his piano music, he created fugues on the organ and plenty of chamber music which is often associated with small orchestras.
Brahms was never much a fan of being compared to Beethoven. However, Brahms first symphony is often considered to be Beethoven’s Tenth.
Ludwig van Beethoven
By the age of 12, he’d already written 3 sonatas. By the age of 26, he lost the most important sense for composers, his hearing.
Did you know Moonlight Sonata (Sonata No. 14) evokes his negative feelings towards going deaf?
Beethoven’s compositions are extremely interesting because the artists straddled the line between the Classical and Romantic periods. His first works were inspired by the Viennese School (of which Mozart and Haydn were top of the class) and would later influence other artists such as Brahms. His work continued to change as quickly as music did.
His repertoire was absolutely huge: Chamber music, sacred music, and symphonic pieces, too. His fifth symphony is still known as one of his most famous pieces.
Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is known today as the anthem of the European Union and is an incredible piece. Wagner would later refer to the Beethoven’s 9th as “the greatest western symphony of all time”.
The ninth symphony is also thought to cursed as each composer died after writing their ninth symphony.
For example, Antonin Dvorak, Franz Schubert, and Gustav Mahler.
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Piano Composers: Joseph Haydn
As a member of the “Classical Viennese Trinity” alongside Beethoven and Mozart, Haydn’s compositions would have a huge impact on Mozart himself.
Just like Beethoven, he can be considered to transition Baroque and Romanticism. The composer is generally known as a symphony conductor and a master of string quartets, to such an extent that he is often considered to be the father of both.
The debate rages on! One thing for sure, by listening to his symphonies, we can better understand Haydn.
His 106 symphonies were spread over 40 years and are considered to be his trademark.
Unlike his frugal approach to the string quartet (which he probably invented), he never seemed to stop writing symphonies.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
The child prodigy. Mozart’s influence is immeasurable! Both in terms of classical music and everything he represented. The very mention of his name conjures up the idea of genius.
When he died aged 35, he left behind a repertoire of over 600 pieces.
While 24 years his senior, Haydn always considered Mozart to be one of the greatest composers the world had ever seen. Coming from a master in his own right, this is quite the compliment.
It’s mainly in his concertos, symphonies (Mozart inherited them from Haydn), and sonatas that we can see the greatest pieces written by Mozart, which are all pretty much perfect in terms of each classical art form.
The Pianist Robert Schumann
Schumann fully deserves to be placed alongside the greatest composers of all time. His works are considered to be the peak of the Romantic period which was unlike the Classical period which evoked universalism.
Along with Brahms and Schubert, he’s one of the spearheads of the Romantic Lied branch which recreated poems musically. This style was particularly popular with the Germans.
The German composer brought together various styles throughout his career, from symphonic music to chamber music and concertos (violin concertos, piano concertos, etc.).
In terms of the number of works he created, you could say he was inspired by Beethoven, especially when talking about symphonic music.
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Best Pianists: Frédéric Chopin
While we often talk about Chopin as a piano virtuoso, which he is, we often forget to talk about him as the amazing composer that he was.
He and Liszt were the fathers of modern piano technique and their influence on other composers is undeniable: Maurice Ravel, Claude Debussy, and Sergei Rachmaninoff, to name a few.
Those who rubbed shoulders with Chopin would say that he was spontaneously creative, that the spark could appear at any moment (especially in summer) and that would be the start of several weeks of work.
His wife, George Sand (Aurore Dupin Dudevant), said that he was capable of locking himself in his room with only feeling like sadness, anger, madness, or joy to keep him company as he continued to compose. George Sand also mentioned “meticulous and desperate perseverance”.
The Piano According to Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
You can’t mention artistic composition without talking about the Russian School. We could have equally mentioned Igor Stravinsky, Dmitri Chostakovitch, and both Sergeis, Prokofiev and Rachmaninoff, to show just what immense talent there is in Russian composers.
Tchaikovski paved the way for Russian composers. He’s the foundation of Russian Romanticism.
His works are impressive both in quantity and in eclecticism. He was the composer of eight symphonies, four orchestral suites, five concertos, three ballets, eleven operas, as well as 100 melodies and hundreds of piano pieces.
His talent is often associated with the symphony and the orchestra first and foremost. In terms of style, the composer was known for mixing Russian folkloric styles with European musical sensibilities which made his music easily recognisable.
Best Pianists: Giuseppe Verdi
In the same way that the Russian School gave us so many great composers, we also have to mention the Italian School with composers like Puccini and Rossini.
Like many other Italian composers, Giuseppe Verdi made his mark composing operas. As a contemporary of Wagner, the Italian composer would be massively influenced by his work throughout his career.
His most successful operas include Othello, Rigoletto, Nabucco, and Traviata, which are all 3-act or 4-act operas.
Verdi was also famous for other styles, too, with compositions including sacred music and instrumental music. Over a century after his death, Verdi’s operas remain classics of the genre.
Famous Composers: Ludovico Einaudi
Since we certainly need to also mention contemporary composers, let’s talk about Ludovico Einaudi, one of the greatest composers of our time.
Einaudi’s compositions are famous for being melodic and at the crossroads between two worlds: a mix of classical music and contemporary pop, which explains the vast diversity of people who enjoy his music and travel to see him perform it live.
For those specialising in the piano, he’s considered a minimalist composer as his musical themes are often simply modified by a harmonic transformation.
His talents as a composer can be seen in a number of films as well for brands like Sony and Lancôme.
His compositions for films including Olivier Nakache’s Intouchables and Xavier Dolan’s Mommy have helped boost his career.
While this list was dominated by classical musicians, as you dive deeper into learning about the piano, don't forget to check out modern pianists as well as pianists who play contemporary music. There's such a wealth of great music for the piano out there that it would be a huge shame to limit your search to just one or two genres!
One of the trickiest things about learning music is just how many terms there are. In a number of our articles on music, we've included a little glossary at the end. If you want to become fluent in music, you'll just have to read all our articles!
A fundamental is the main note in a chord. For example, the C in a C major chord is the fundamental.
A grupetto is a group of notes played in quick succession around the main note.
Find out who are/were the best pianists in the UK!
Take a look at these famous piano players.