For most of its history, classical piano has been a male-centric field. In the days of Clara Schumann, it wasn’t seen as proper for a woman to pursue the art as a profession, and it was believed that women did not have the necessary strength to get the full sound from a piano. Even today, female pianists are sometimes regarded with less respect than their male counterparts. But it’s a fact that some of the best pianists have been, and are, women. The following five are modern virtuosos who have conjured out of their Steinway pianos some of the most powerful versions of the classics ever heard.
Born in 1941, the Argentine pianist Martha Argerich gave her first concert at age 8. Whether she was on a Steinway Model M, a Steinway Model O, or on the full grand piano model, her sound was always rich and electrifying. At 24, Argerich won the International Chopin Piano Competition, which gave her international renown. Pianist Eugene List described her as “one of nature’s happenings.” She became known for her impeccable technique and her fiery performances. Today, Argerich is acknowledged as not only one of the best female pianists, but one of the best pianists in the history of the art, period. Watch her muscular rendition of Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 6 here.
Few pianists have played Chopin as beautifully as Jeanne-Marie Darré. Born in 1905 in Givet, France, Darré attended the Paris Conservatory where she studied with some of the best French pianists of her time. She made her stage debut at age 14, and became known for her flowing, lyrical interpretations of Chopin’s solo works. Darré passed away in 1999. You can listen to her performance of Chopin’s Etude in C major here.
The Brazilian pianist Guiomar Novaes was born in 1894. When she was still a girl, the Brazilian government, recognizing her talent, gave her a grant to study in Europe where she impressed Debussy so much that he awarded her first place out of the more than 400 applicants who applied to the Paris Conservatory in 1917. Today Novaes, who passed away in 1979, is acknowledged by her peers as one of the greatest pianists of the 20th century. You can listen to her play Sgambati’s Melody from “Orfeo ed Euridice” here.
Elena Kuschnerova was born into a family of musicians in Moscow, Russia. She played her first concert with an orchestra when she was only nine years old. She is known for her Bach interpretations and for the fact that the famous Russian composer Alexander Lokshin wrote an entire variation cycle especially for her. The prestigious classical music publication Penguin Guide gave her the Rosette award for her 2001 all-Bach recording. Only two dozen artists have been given the Rosette in the publication’s 70-year history. You can watch Kuschnerova playing Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in G Minor here.
Anna Vinnitskaya was born in 1983, and is regarded as one the best pianists of her young generation. The Russian Vinnitskaya reached international fame in 2007 when, at the age of 23, she won first prize at the prestigious Queen Elizabeth Competition, which has launched the careers of many renowned pianists, including Vladimir Ashkenazy and Leon Fleisher. You can watch Vinnitskaya performing Beethoven’s Sonata No. 13 here.