View Poll Results: Who was the greatest pianist?

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  • Vladimir Horowitz

    9 9.09%
  • Sviatoslav Richter

    29 29.29%
  • Emil Gilels

    7 7.07%
  • Artur Rubinstein

    5 5.05%
  • Artur Schnabel

    1 1.01%
  • Sergei Rachmaninoff

    8 8.08%
  • Claudio Arrau

    6 6.06%
  • Glenn Gould

    6 6.06%
  • Alfred Brendel

    3 3.03%
  • Edwin Fischer

    0 0%
  • Josef Hofmann

    0 0%
  • Alfred Cortot

    2 2.02%
  • Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli

    4 4.04%
  • Martha Argerich

    7 7.07%
  • Other

    12 12.12%
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Thread: Greatest pianist?

  1. #1
    Senior Member Caryatid's Avatar
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    Default Greatest pianist?

    Let's keep this simple. Pick one option from the poll above, then (if you like) provide an explanation for your choice. Links to YouTube videos welcome.

    (Of course many great pianists are not in the poll. There is an upper limit of 15 options. Nothing I can do about that. Select "Other" if you want to choose someone else.)
    Last edited by Caryatid; Jun-12-2020 at 15:13.

  2. #2
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    I went for "other" because the one I hope to hear playing as I walk through the Pearly Gates (if I get there at all) is Dinu Lipatti. His very special combination of skill and power and his extraordinary way of giving individual moments their full due while maintaining the overall integrity of a piece have given me more consistent enjoyment than the work of any other pianist, past or present.
    Last edited by Animal the Drummer; Jun-12-2020 at 15:35.

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  4. #3
    Senior Member Rogerx's Avatar
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    Every decade or so a new one comes along, so the list is not long enough and Abbey Simon is hardly mention on this forum as a great one from the older generation.
    “Never argue with an idiot. They will drag you down to their level and beat you with experience.” ― Mark Twain

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    Senior Member EmperorOfIceCream's Avatar
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    I voted for Alfred Brendel. He was not a prodigy, he could not memorize piano concerti just be looking at them once, nor could he flawlessly sightread everything. But I think he is the best pianist in terms of attention to detail and musicality. Just listen to his recordings of late Schubert to hear what I mean. While other pianists merely interpret what is written, Brendel is always concerned with connecting each measure in the context of the whole form through subtle graduations of dynamic, tone, etc.
    Also, I honestly have no idea why Glenn Gould is on this list. It is a personality cult more than anything. His only recordings which are wholly respectable are those of Schoenberg and some other modernist composers. I also understand why people are attracted to his Bach, but they are full of wild idiosyncrasies and his need for his own personal eccentricities to dominate the recording process, such as his deranged vocalizations and penchant for making singers work with him in a studio that was over 90°F. Some of his voice-leading is just objectively wrong. But the real reason he does not deserve to be on this list are his recordings of Mozart and Beethoven, which are just insane and sound, in my opinion, horrible. He is somebody who wants his own personality to dominate over the composers. He is a bit like the opera producers who have an inferiority complex with the composers who supposedly know nothing about staging the drama, and so they overwhelm the music with all sorts of gaudy effects. I don’t mean to say you shouldn’t listen to him, but I just don’t know why he keeps coming up as one of the greats.

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  7. #5
    Senior Member Allegro Con Brio's Avatar
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    A very tough poll. My personal favorite (and IMO the most consistent) of those listed is probably Gilels, but I voted Cortot because I find the white-hot poetry and intensity of his playing to be absolutely magnetic, and we are very fortunate to have his brand of pianism captured on record - a performance practice that seems totally alien to modern standards. Personally I think Brendel is the odd man out on this poll, as he is the only one who does not have an immediately distinctive style. Also inclined to agree with Emperor on Gould, though I don’t mind performers’ personalities taking precedence over the composer (whatever that even means) Gould’s personality is not one I prefer. If I were to describe all the pianists on this poll with a single word, it would be thus:

    Horowitz - Raw
    Richter - Focused/Honest
    Gilels - Intrepid
    Rubinstein - Eloquent
    Schnabel - Spontaneous
    Rachmaninoff - Incandescent
    Arrau - Opulent
    Gould - Razor-sharp
    Brendel - Unforced/Nuanced
    Fischer - Silky
    Hoffmann - Free
    Cortot - Poetic
    Michelangeli - Probing
    Argerich - Dazzling
    Last edited by Allegro Con Brio; Jun-12-2020 at 22:56.
    "If we understood the world, we would realize that there is a logic of harmony underlying its manifold apparent dissonances." - Jean Sibelius

    "Art is an attempt to transport into a limited quantity of matter, modeled by man, an image of the infinite beauty of the entire universe." - Simone Weil

    "Ceaseless work, analysis, reflection, writing much, endless self-correction, that is my secret." - Johann Sebastian Bach

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  9. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by EmperorOfIceCream View Post
    I voted for Alfred Brendel. He was not a prodigy, he could not memorize piano concerti just be looking at them once, nor could he flawlessly sightread everything. But I think he is the best pianist in terms of attention to detail and musicality. Just listen to his recordings of late Schubert to hear what I mean. While other pianists merely interpret what is written, Brendel is always concerned with connecting each measure in the context of the whole form through subtle graduations of dynamic, tone, etc.
    Also, I honestly have no idea why Glenn Gould is on this list. It is a personality cult more than anything. His only recordings which are wholly respectable are those of Schoenberg and some other modernist composers. I also understand why people are attracted to his Bach, but they are full of wild idiosyncrasies and his need for his own personal eccentricities to dominate the recording process, such as his deranged vocalizations and penchant for making singers work with him in a studio that was over 90°F. Some of his voice-leading is just objectively wrong. But the real reason he does not deserve to be on this list are his recordings of Mozart and Beethoven, which are just insane and sound, in my opinion, horrible. He is somebody who wants his own personality to dominate over the composers. He is a bit like the opera producers who have an inferiority complex with the composers who supposedly know nothing about staging the drama, and so they overwhelm the music with all sorts of gaudy effects. I don’t mean to say you shouldn’t listen to him, but I just don’t know why he keeps coming up as one of the greats.
    I like Brendel piano sonatas/piano concertos of Mozart. Brendel's Beethoven Concertos are good, and his sonatas as well. No time to nitpick but I have yet to read anyone in music who goes this far in reviewing him. Nuff said.

    Edit: I read post too fast and I thought you were referring to Brendel but now I see it was Gould. My bad. My opinions still stand in regards to Brendel.
    Last edited by Bigbang; Jun-12-2020 at 22:36. Reason: misread original post

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rogerx View Post
    Every decade or so a new one comes along, so the list is not long enough and Abbey Simon is hardly mention on this forum as a great one from the older generation.
    Yes, got a few VOX and one is Debussy.

  11. #8
    Senior Member DaddyGeorge's Avatar
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    Phillips released the edition Great Pianists of the 20th Century and still didn't avoid compromises and a lot of great pianists are missing in the edition (not to mention the current generation) and should I choose one? You don't say so!

  12. #9
    Senior Member Bulldog's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by EmperorOfIceCream View Post
    Also, I honestly have no idea why Glenn Gould is on this list.
    I do. The basic reason is that Caryatid put him on the list, and you would have to ask him for the specific reason. Personally, I don't have a problem with his inclusion. He's famous for his Bach interpretations, deservedly so. Gould also is exceptional with his Handel performances. Yes, he can be quite wayward, but he makes it all work. Gould is one of a kind.

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  14. #10
    Senior Member EmperorOfIceCream's Avatar
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    I think it would be better to poll which pianists do what best. For me, nobody beats Rubinstein’s Chopin Nocturnes; nobody beats
    Arrau’s Debussy (except maybe Michelangeli in certain spots). I think each pianist has their own specialties. Few pianists do the entire repertoire.

  15. #11
    Senior Member DavidA's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by EmperorOfIceCream View Post
    I think it would be better to poll which pianists do what best. For me, nobody beats Rubinstein’s Chopin Nocturnes; nobody beats
    Arrau’s Debussy (except maybe Michelangeli in certain spots). I think each pianist has their own specialties. Few pianists do the entire repertoire.
    If we are talking about an 'all round' pianist with superhuman qualities then it is probably Richter, who covered the repertoire perhaps like no other pianist. I would add that it is Richter at his zenith as his playing declined in later years due to a hearing problem. But for sheer breadth of repertoire (he had 80 recitals memorised apparently) and the ability to make his playing count he perhaps goes to the top. Of course he was never a 'completist' - when Shostakovich asked him why he didn't play all his preludes and fugues he said, "Why should I play those I don't like?" He was the same with concerti.
    Horowitz and Michelangeli could amaze you like no-one else. Argerich is perhaps the greatest living pianist. Gould could hold you in amazing concentration with unorthodox playing. A pity RCA never recorded Rachmaninoff in more serious repertoire more often. He wanted to do some Beethoven sonatas but they felt it was not commercial enough, thus depriving posterity.

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  17. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bulldog View Post
    I do. The basic reason is that Caryatid put him on the list, and you would have to ask him for the specific reason. Personally, I don't have a problem with his inclusion. He's famous for his Bach interpretations, deservedly so. Gould also is exceptional with his Handel performances. Yes, he can be quite wayward, but he makes it all work. Gould is one of a kind.
    Might help also to watch the Glenn Gould documentary for insights. As they say, you had to be there........

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    Quote Originally Posted by DavidA View Post
    If we are talking about an 'all round' pianist with superhuman qualities then it is probably Richter, who covered the repertoire perhaps like no other pianist. I would add that it is Richter at his zenith as his playing declined in later years due to a hearing problem. But for sheer breadth of repertoire (he had 80 recitals memorised apparently) and the ability to make his playing count he perhaps goes to the top. Of course he was never a 'completist' - when Shostakovich asked him why he didn't play all his preludes and fugues he said, "Why should I play those I don't like?" He was the same with concerti.
    Horowitz and Michelangeli could amaze you like no-one else. Argerich is perhaps the greatest living pianist. Gould could hold you in amazing concentration with unorthodox playing. A pity RCA never recorded Rachmaninoff in more serious repertoire more often. He wanted to do some Beethoven sonatas but they felt it was not commercial enough, thus depriving posterity.
    I watched a youtube video of old man Richter playing Mozart no. 5 piano concerto, glasses and score in front of him. I got the impression he could have done without it but wanted to sight read so he could also focus on inner details (that is, do two or more things at once in his head whereas if he was remembering while playing it would hinder his efforts...it is quite a performance.

  19. #14
    Senior Member Allegro Con Brio's Avatar
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    ^There was a famous incident where he forgot a huge chunk of music in the Hammerklavier sonata and from then on never played without a score. Richter was an intensely perfectionist musician who valued laser-sharp focus above all else (this is at least what I hear in his performances) and it would make sense why he did this - supreme sightreader that he was, he could focus entirely on his interpretations without worrying about getting any notes wrong. I read too that he realized he had been playing a single note wrong in Bach's Italian Concerto his whole life, and issued an apology with the CD booklet on the recording!
    "If we understood the world, we would realize that there is a logic of harmony underlying its manifold apparent dissonances." - Jean Sibelius

    "Art is an attempt to transport into a limited quantity of matter, modeled by man, an image of the infinite beauty of the entire universe." - Simone Weil

    "Ceaseless work, analysis, reflection, writing much, endless self-correction, that is my secret." - Johann Sebastian Bach

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  21. #15
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    I don't have a "greatest." I like different people in different repertoires. There are some that I listen to more than others, but they aren't on the list: Wilhelm Kempff for Beethoven and Schubert, Marc-Andre Hamelin for the really virtuosic stuff, like Alkan, but also really enjoy his Haydn.

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