Whereas Bach, Mozart and Beethoven are household names around the world, talented female pianists have not enjoyed the same limelight as their male counterparts.
While it is true that there were not as many female pianists in the late 18th century, times have changed drastically since then. Some of the greatest pianists to ever grace the stage have been women. Sadly, the predominantly male world of pianists has prevented them from attaining the same fame as popular male pianists.
To celebrate this year’s International Women’s Day, we have compiled a list of the greatest female pianists of our time below.
Before starting, we’d love to know what you think!
Martha Argerich is perhaps the most well known female pianist of today. Born in Argentina in 1941, she proved to be a child prodigy and started performing professionally by the age of eight. By 1955, she moved to Europe to improve her skills under the mentorship of Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli and Friedrich Gulda.
Throughout her life, Martha Argerich won many prestigious honors and prizes. In 1957, she won the Ferruccio Busoni International Piano Competition, as well as the Geneva International Music Competition. In 1965, she won the Chopin Piano Competition, held in Warsaw.
During the course of her career, she won not one, but three Grammy Awards – in 1999, 2004, and 2005! Japan decided to formally honor her talent by awarding her with the Japan Art Association’s Praemium Imperiale prize for music in 2005. The Japanese government also decided to bestow her with an Order of the Rising Sun that same year.
Since 1999, an annual piano competition has been held in her name in Buenos Aires. After 2001, she began directing a music festival in her name, also in Buenos Aires.
Almost 79 years old now, Martha Argerich continues to mesmerize audiences worldwide with her renditions of classical piano pieces. People from around the world flock over to attend her sold-out concerts. Take a look at one of these for yourself below:
Read more about Martha here.
Georgian-French classical pianist Khatia Buniatishvili is another accomplished classical artist of today. Born in Georgia in 1987, she took to the keys at the tender age of three. She proved to have a natural gift at the instrument and performed her first professional concert when she was only six years old. Her dazzling performance captured the hearts of people around the world, and she was called to perform internationally at the age of 10.
However, her rapid rise to international fame did not begin until about eleven years later. In 2010, she competed in the Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition in Tel Aviv. She won third prize, and the hearts and minds of the audience. The character and force of her performance moved them so much that they awarded her the Public prize for the competition.
After the competition, people around the world began to take notice of Ms. Buniatishvili’s talents. They invited her to play the same year at Carnegie Hall in New York. A year later, they invited her to France to perform at the Festival de la Roque-d’Anthéron. Since then organizers around the world have been clamoring to get her to perform at their events. Take a look at one of her performances on Youtube:
Ms. Buniatishvili has made active efforts to introduce classical music to the audience of today. In 2015, she featured a piano piece on Coldplay’s track “Kaleidoscope” on their album “A Head Full Of Dreams”. She also performed with Olympic ice skaters on a project called “Art on Ice” in 2014. Take a look for yourself below:
Read more about Khatia here.
Hélène Grimaud was born in 1969 in Aix-en-Provence, a university town in the South of France. She was born with an incredibly rare condition called Synesthesia. This allowed her to see music as different colors. Using this to her advantage, she could memorize different music compositions much more easily than other people.
She began learning the keys at the local conservatory and soon proved to be a talented pianist. At just thirteen years of age, she joined the Conservatoire de Paris, a college of music and dance in France.
At sixteen, Ms. Grimaud won her first piano competition. In 1987, when she was 18, she gave her debut recital in Japan. The performance caught the attention of world famous conductor Daniel Barenboim and he invited her to perform with the Orchestre de Paris.
This proved to be the spark that launched her music career. Since then, she has been performing with renowned conductors and the best orchestras around the world. Her musical collaborations include Rolando Villazón, Sol Gabetta, Truls Mørk, Jan Vogler, Clemens Hagen, Gil Shaham, Gidon Kremer, and the Capuçon brothers.
The French government recognized her valuable contribution to classical music by admitting her into the Ordre National de la Légion d’Honneur. French for “Legion of Honor”, this order is France’s highest decoration. They awarded her the rank of Chevalier (Knight) in 2016.
France was not the only country to shower Ms. Grimaud with accolades. Her recordings received various different awards from around the world. These include the Cannes Classical Recording of the Year, Diapason d’or, Choc du Monde de la musique, Grand Prix du disque, Midem Classic Award, Record Academy Prize (Tokyo), and the Echo Klassik Award.
Ms. Grimaud is almost 50 years old now, but that has not stopped her from delivering spectacular performances for her countless fans. Take a look at one of her performances below:
Read more about Hélène here.
Chinese Classical pianist Yuja Wang was born in 1987 to a musical family in Beijing. She began studying the piano at age six in China, then went on to receive advanced musical training in Canada and America. She studied under Gary Graffman at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.
Ms. Wang’s international rise to fame came in 2007, when she was only 20 years old. The famed pianist Martha Argerich was to perform alongside the Boston Symphony Orchestra in America. Unfortunately, she was suffering from physical exhaustion at the time and her doctor ordered her to cancel the performance. Yuja Wang replaced Ms. Argerich and delivered an intelligent and energetic interpretation of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1. The performance was a hit and international stardom soon followed after Ms. Wang.
Two years after the performance, Ms. Wang signed an exclusive contract with Deutsche Grammophone. Since then, she has cemented her place among the leading pianists of the world with numerous critically acclaimed recordings and performances.
Perhaps the most impressive talent amongst her extensive skill set is her ability to play fast. Ms. Wang can play ridiculously complex pieces at breakneck speeds without making a single mistake. This talent has awarded Ms. Wang the nickname of “flying fingers”, which is incredibly apt in our opinion. Take a look at her playing the flight of the bumblebee. You literally cannot track her fingers as they fly over the keys:
Read more about Yuja here.
Maria João Pires
Maria João Pires is a Portuguese-Swiss pianist who has made a name for herself in the world of classical music. Born in 1944 to a family in Lisbon, Ms. Pires picked up the piano at a very young age. She gave her first recital at the age of five. Two years later, she gave a public performance playing Mozart’s piano concertos in Oporto, Portugal. At the tender age of nine, Ms. Pires received Portugal’s highest award for young musicians.
From 1953 to 1960, Ms. Pires studied under Campos Coelho at the Lisbon Conservatory. After that, she continued her music studies in Germany.
Her International breakthrough came in 1970, when Ms. Pires won the first prize at Beethoven Bicentennial Competition in Brussels. Her performance caught the eyes and ears of organizers around the world. Subsequently, they called her to perform with major orchestras in America, Canada, Europe, Israel, and Japan.
Critics around the world laud Ms. Pires for her incredible interpretations of Chopin, Mozart, and Schubert. However, her renditions of these compositions are not the only impressive trait of Ms. Pires. She also has an unbelievably profound memory and extreme resilience. In 1999, she was to perform at a lunchtime concert in Amsterdam. As soon as the conductor started the orchestra, Ms. Pires realized that she had learned the wrong concerto! However, rather than giving up all hope, she decided to go with the flow and perform the right concerto – all from memory! She delivered a superb performance and did not miss an entire note, proving her genius at the keys.
The whole event was documented in a film and released in 1999. After laying dormant on the internet for a while, it suddenly became viral in 2013 when the international press picked it up.
If you hope to catch Ms. Pires live in concert, we are afraid we have some bad news for you. She decided to retire from public performance in 2018, citing that it caused her too much stress. However, you can still look at the film showcasing her Amsterdam concert on YouTube:
Read more about Maria here.
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Author of this blog post:
Brandi Marcene is a music lover and she loves writing about pianos and guitars. She has over a decade of experience under her belt as a copywriter.
* Featured Image Credit: Adriano Heitman