10 women legends of the piano

10 women legends of the piano


norman lebrecht

April 12, 2018

Yesterday’s quick list of 20th century legends contained only one woman.

Time to rectify that omission. In no particular order:

Wanda Landowska

Maria Yudina

Annie Fischer

Clara Haskil

Teresa Carreno

Tatiana Nikolayeva

Alice de Larrocha

Mitsuko Uchida

Maria Joao Pires

Martha Argerich


Who have we missed?


  • Esfir Ross says:

    Rosalyn Tureck, Cecile Licad, Maria Grinberg, Briggite Engerer, Dubravka Tomcic, Ingrid Haebler, Marcel Meyer, Maria Tipo

  • JAN LARON says:

    Angela Hewitt !

  • SC says:


  • HSY says:

    Rosina Lhévinne, Maria Tipo, Eliso Virsaladze, Elisabeth Leonskaja.

  • Nigel Simeone says:

    Myra Hess, Monique Haas, Yvonne Loriod…

  • Jim says:

    So you had the”greatest pianists” list yesterday, and rewarding these great women with your afterthought token female pianists list today?

  • Herr Doktor says:

    I think there’s an argument that Viktoria Postnikova should be on that list. And I would second Leonskaja–having heard her live twice, I was REALLY impressed both times.

    • JoBe says:

      I was about to say Postnikova as well. But she may be a bit in the shadow of her husband, who should make the list of the 10 greatest conductors.

  • Rob says:

    Alma Mahler

  • David R Osborne says:

    Ingrid Haebler.

  • StuartOxford says:

    Eileen Joyce?

  • Leonardo Martinelli says:

    I swear it’s not a kind of odd patriotism, but in Brazil we have Guiomar Novaes (who also teached for Nelson Freire) as a major pianist from 20th century

  • Sandy Matheson says:

    Gina Bachauer

  • Anonymous says:

    Harriet Cohen.

  • Michael says:

    Cecile Ousset.

  • Michael says:

    Bella Davidovich. Ruth Laredo.

  • Petros Linardos says:

    Jeanne-Marie Darré

  • Eyal Braun says:

    Youra Guller!

  • Caravaggio says:

    Etelka Freund, here in Brahms’ Piano Sonata in F minor, Op 5
    Allegro maestoso https://youtu.be/qpQHl8-9BUM
    Andante espressivo https://youtu.be/KKeNHnBcDIg
    Scherzo: Allegro energico https://youtu.be/awZWeqqEcdc
    Intermezzo: Andante molto https://youtu.be/9QjPvJh59XU
    Allegro moderato ma rubato https://youtu.be/pB4JXIfsR5E

  • buxtehude says:

    I would scratch Tatiana Nikolayeva (from the list, that is). There is also some dispute over her claim to be the reference player for Shostakovich’s 24 Preludes and Fugues, some question over whether the composer liked or approved of her interpretations. Definitely a trooper though.

    • Meal says:

      Tastes are different. I personally believe that she got the Leipzig price in 1950 for good reasons. However, you question her reputation on Shostakovich’s Preludes and Fugues, especially whether Shostakovich himself liked her playing. I quote from an article of the International Piano which I found by chance: “Nikolayeva gave the public premiere in Leningrad in December 1952 and a decade later she made the first recording of the complete cycle for the Melodiya label: Shostakovich, who attended the sessions, gave her performance his blessing.” Do you have any other information or advice for further reading?

  • Alex Davies says:

    Mary Shepherd and Joyce Hatto. Perhaps not as pianists per se.

  • CYM says:

    Clara Schumann !

    • buxtehude says:

      She died in 1896, age 76. Brahms died less than 11 months later.

      On an all-time list though I’d vote her a #1. No one comes remotely close in importance.

  • Croak says:

    At her best, Lympany. And Hepzibah Menuhin!

    • Michael Cattermole says:

      Definitely Moura Lympany (b.1916 Saltash, England, d.2005 Gorbio,France) – her Rachmaninov was sublime!

  • Sam says:

    Leonskaja and Novaes

  • Caravaggio says:

    Elly Ney
    LvB “Nel cor più” Variations https://youtu.be/cp6Gnwkxptw

  • boringfileclerk says:

    So let me get this straight. The last list was for the best forgotten great pianist, and this is the list for best forgotten women pianists. Wow, just wow. Can it get any more sexist than that?

    • Anson says:

      Yes, it would have been so much less sexist to just stop with the other list, which only included one woman, than to add this list (and its comments) to lead some of us to fantastic pianists who we otherwise wouldn’t have discovered. How dare NL post a list that encourages us to research and listen to more women pianists!

      • buxtehude says:

        Jeez louise Anson, that list was intended to provoke discussion. In the replies you will find tons of women mentioned and discussed, as units and by the pound. It appears that female pianists have many partisans on this site, even among males.

        • Anson says:

          No, I agree with you (I think). I was being snarky. I rather enjoyed the comments and discussions on both of these lists, some of which have exposed me to pianists both male and female who I haven’t been familiar enough with. My point in response to the previous poster was that I don’t think it’s “sexist” for NL to make a point having a second-day bonus post to focus solely on women pianists.

    • Bruce says:

      Yes, BFC — the goal here is to ignore the existence of any and all great, or even pretty good, male pianists of the 20th century, solely on account of their gender. Thanks for noticing.

      The idea that there could be, or could have been, more than one great female pianist is sexist.


  • Victoria says:

    Bella Davidovich

  • Jeffrey Biegel says:

    She didn’t perform a great deal, but after winning the 1928 Naumburg, Adele Marcus performed and became an eminent teacher of artists. Her old recordbugs are at my website http://www.jeffreybiegel.com as an eternal tribute to her beautiful playing. Nadia Reisenberg and Ania Dorfman were also beautiful pianists and teachers.!

  • VIolinaccordion says:


  • Caravaggio says:

    More Elly Ney, here in LvB’s Mondschein Sonata
    Mvts 1 & 2 https://youtu.be/IiR1v-AvU-Y
    Mvt 3 https://youtu.be/5z-NlloM7TE

  • Pedro says:

    Marguerite Long?

  • Paula says:

    Magda Tagliaferro, Yvonne Lefebure, Marcelle Meyer, Jeanne-Marie Darre

  • David K. Nelson says:

    I have heard some lovely recordings by Margaret Fingerhut, and am starting to discover some real gems recorded by Gaby Casadesus. Her career was not huge compared to that of her husband, but truncated or stymied careers often come with the territory when you are talking pianists in general and women pianists in particular, it seems to me.

    It seems sad that nobody has mentioned Vitya Vronsky (nor for that matter mentioned Victor Babin in the list the other day). When I was young they were THE piano duo, at least as heard on classical radio.

    But let’s also mention pianists who, while 20th century, somewhat predated the electrical (much less high fidelity) recording era: Fannie Bloomfield Zeisler (known to me only by piano rolls, but exceptionally interesting ones); Germaine Schnitzer, known to me by reputation, which for a time was a considerable one — and parts of it decidedly unusual for those who like musical gossip. I know she made piano rolls, a couple of which are on YouTube, and that her career ended due to a car accident. I guess she can be called a “might have been.”

  • La Verita says:

    Interesting – not one mention of Christina Ortiz, whose repertoire and career accomplishments exceed those of most of the ladies mentioned here. There also seems to be 2 very different things going on here – some are listing great woman pianists, while others are merely naming ladies who play the piano.

    • Simon Hall says:

      Yes! Every time I heard her she was never less than wonderful.

    • Caravaggio says:

      I hope you are not dismissing Etelka Freund as one of those ladies who “could play the piano”. For not only did she study with Ferruccio Busoni, no less, but actually played for Johannes Brahms, no less, (her brother was a friend of the composer) and was also a close friend of Béla Bartók’s, no less, and early champion of his music. Talk about pedigree and then some.

  • boringfileclerk says:

    Has Ursula Oppens been mentioned? She deserves to be on this completely random list.

  • Ceasar says:

    Condoleezza Rice aka Condoleezza

  • Anson says:

    This list simply will not be complete without the addition of the late, great Joyce Hatto.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      Yes, I agree. Many of her recordings are fabulous. Just a shame she never seemed quite as good in the concert hall.

  • James says:

    DEFINITELY Guiomar Novaes.

    Constance Keene
    Janina Fialkowska

  • Esfir Ross says:

    Helen Grimeaux, Maria Grinberg was a giant, superb. She told her recognition’ll come after her death. She resurrected F.Mendelsohn “Songs without words”. Please, don’t put on the list of great women pianists: Eliso Virsaladze, Elizaveta Leonskaya, Angela Hewitt.

  • Marshall says:

    Actually the Horowitz quip was much wittier, or at least elegant. He said there are 3 kinds of pianists-pause-Jewish pianists and homosexual pianists-and Jewish homosexual ones

    • NN says:

      Actually, Horowitz is attributed with the quote: “There are three kinds of pianists: Jewish pianists, homosexual pianists, and bad pianists.”

      • Marshall says:

        Actually I think my version is correct-it is certainly more interesting-but that is the way it was told to me-not from a Wikipedia footnote. For all we know he said it both ways?

  • Bruce says:

    “The Book of Lists” (a late 70’s/early 80’s phenomenon) would have faux-outraged many of today’s commenters with its lists of things like “10 Famous Historical Figures Who Were Gay” (how dare they not include _________, who was totally gay/ I demand documentation for their inclusion of _________, who was totally not gay/ how could they leave out ________, whose book I read and who was totally open-minded…. and of course “how dare they deny the existence of all non-gay people throughout history”).

  • Julien says:

    Lili Kraus

  • El Grillo says:

    There’s a Fanny and a Nannerl, to mention their last names is a bit superfluous.

    And then there’s a Nadia B.

  • Cyril Blair says:

    Vera Gornostayeva, as mentioned on the other thread.

  • Matt says:

    Myra and Sara Davis Buechner

  • Stephen says:

    I think one should distinguish between 20th Century legends and other pianists.

  • Paul J says:

    Edith Baker, Pauline Alpert, Patricia Rossborough and Raie daCosta

  • Paul Davis says:

    The most obvious omission would be Myra Hess. I’d scratch out Landowska and Uchida. I love the idea of Teresa Carreno but the little i’ve managed to hear, (piano rolls), don’t match the legend; i’m sure she was fantastic live. Same with Yudina, the ugly sound of most of her Soviet epoch recordings that i’ve heard surely don’t do her justice. Tatiana Nikolaeva i’ve mostly disliked heartily, clumsy, heavy, blunderous, (same in concert!), but she was an influential teacher and played a wide repertoire, so…… Clara Haskil and MJ Pires both excelled in limited, mostly small-scale repertoire, fine artists.
    Annie Fischer…YES! I’m biased, having heard her tackle a range of great literature several times in concert, (Moz, Beet, Schub, Schum, Bra, Chopin, Liszt…), not always unscathed, but the musical encounter was always gripping.
    Alicia and Martha i consider great pianists, the first with great musicality with clarity and detail, the second with intuitive natural force and passion.
    Many names mentioned in these comments are worthy, many less so. I would second the mention of Eileen Joyce; altho not a great “interpreter” (in the Myra H or Annie F mould), she was truly dazzling in Romantic and early 20C rep with natural effortless champagne-like touch: her recordings of various pieces of Liszt, Granados, Dohnanyi, among others, have never been equalled.

    Try this one:


  • esfir ross says:

    Imogine Cooper, Ekaterina Novitskaya, Anne Quefellec, Brigit Engerer

  • joe s says:

    Sondra Bianca. Maryla Jonas (unless I missed her name somewhere).

    Now about Landowska – I regard her more of a harpsichordist than pianist. The woman who said “You play Bach your way and I’ll play Bach his way” played Chopin her way, on the harpsichord when she recorded Mazurkas for Victor.

  • Jonathan F says:

    Janina Fialkowska

  • jasonmkawasaki says:

    Why is Yuja wang not here?

  • Donald Morris says:

    You cannot be serious omitting Guiomar Novaes?!?! One of the peerless greats of all time! And, another High Priestess of Bach: Rosalyn Tureck?

  • Edgar Self says:

    Elly Ney, Myra Hess, Lili Kraus, Constance Keene,Ilona Kabos, Wanda Landowska, Maryla Jonas, Maria Yudina, Tatiana Nikolayeva Ania Dorfmann

  • Nick Swindale says:

    Myra Hess obviously also Ilona Eibenschutz who Brahms said was his favorite pianist. Adelina de Lara, Eileen Joyce … there are many, all wonderful in different ways. Landowska was a harpsichordist and perhaps should not be on this particular list.

  • PianoEnthusiast says:

    Susan Starr, Harriet Serr, Sondra Bianca, Ruth Slenczynska, Constance Keene, Claudette Sorel, Olga Samaroff, Nadia Reisenberg, all formidable and widely known.