15 Of The Greatest And Most Famous British Piano Players

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Written by Robert Jackson
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Ever since Bartolomeo Cristofori invented the piano in 1709, it’s been one of the most popular instruments in the world. It caught on quickly, and composers such as Mozart started to write music for the piano, inspiring a new art form and a way to entertain concert guests. 

During the 18th century, piano concerts and musicians began to dominate British high society. Over the years, several pianists have made their mark on Great Britain and the global music industry. Below are some of the most famous British piano players of all time. 

1. Myra Hess

First on the list is Myra Hess who was born in London in1890 and mentored under Tobias Matthay at the Royal Academy of Music.

She made her debut as a pianist at the age of 17, playing at Queen’s Hall in London.

Hess continued to play public performances throughout the 1950s and was recognized for her talent. 

Not only did she consistently sell out concert halls, but she was also awarded the Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1941. 

2. Benjamin Britten

Born in Suffolk, England, in 1913, Benjamin Britten was well-known as an opera composer, but his skills as a pianist and conductor also brought him a lot of recognition.

Britten learned how to write music during his childhood and studied under Frank Bridge and John Ireland. 

The composer and pianist liked to experiment with different musical styles and formats.

He earned the Order of Merit award in 1965.

3. Stephen Hough

Pianist Stephen Hough was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in 2001 and became the first classical musician to receive the grant.

He’s been the recipient of several awards and prizes, including the Royal Philharmonic Society Instrumentalist Award.

Stephen Hough’s career has spanned multiple performances at global concert halls and festivals. 

He’s also known as a composer and writer, having published a novel and hundreds of articles.

The Guardian has described his work as “the most perfect piano playing conceivable.” 

4. John Ogdon

John Ogdon was not only a famous piano player; he wrote over 200 musical works for the instrument as well as pieces for the cello, violin, and flute.

As a pianist, Ogdon was able to memorize a large number of works and could play them without referring to a sheet of music.

Near the end of his life, he had recorded nearly half of the complete six CDs containing renditions of Rachmaninoff’s pieces. 

Ogdon was also working on a symphony and opera that he didn’t get a chance to complete.

A lot of Ogdon’s pieces are stored at the Royal Northern College of Music Library. 

5. Michael Nyman

Michael Nyman’s is a pianist well known for composing a number of classical piano works that have been featured in movie soundtracks such as The Piano and The Draughtsman’s Contract.

Nyman has also been at work composing pieces for a series of 19 symphonies.

In 1977, Nyman formed the Michael Nyman Band and has since worked with other artists, including Mary Kelly and Carsten Nicolai. 

His band released its first album in 1981 and the soundtrack for the movie, The Piano, became a huge sensation in 1993.

It sold more than three million copies and won an Ivor Novello Award. 

6. Hugh Laurie

You probably know Hugh Laurie as Dr. Gregory House but he’s also a fantastic pianist and a a famous British comedy actor who was born in Oxford.

He’s been playing piano for a long time and has used it in a number of comedy pieces with in sketeches in A Bit of Fry and Laurie.

Laurie followed his father’s footsteps at first into professional sports where he competed as a member of the British rowing team and won some world championships in 1977. 

After quitting the rowing team due to sickness, Laurie joined a well-known comedy group Footlights in Cambridge.

It was there that he worked with Stephen Fry and created The Cellar Tapes.

He also starred in Jeeves and Wooster, Blackadder and The Night Manager.

7. Benjamin Grosvenor

Benjamin Grosvenor is the current Artist in Residence at London’s Wigmore Hall.

As an artist, Grosvenor is recognized for his unique sound and depth of musical interpretation.

Grosvenor is also known for his performing skills and his technical skill. 

The pianist first achieved recognition in the 2004 BBC Young Musician Competition however, he started playing the piano at 6 years of age.

Under the tutelage of Christopher Elton and Daniel-Ben Pienaar, Grosvenor studied at the Royal Academy of Music.

8. Harriet Cohen

Harriet Cohen gained fame in the 1920s and 1930s as a concert pianist.

Her physical attractiveness was just as well known, and she carried on many relationships with famous members of society, including two British prime ministers.

She was also the inspiration for several of Arnold Bax’s works who was a classical composer with whom Cohen had a long affair.

Cohen was also alive during the time that the Nazis came to power in Germany and Austria.

While she was in Vienna in the early 1930s, she began to confront her identity as a member of the Jewish faith. 

9. Elton John

Elton John may be the most well-known pianist on this list because of his pop-culture prominence.

Also a Top 40 singer and songwriter, John has produced multiple chart-topping singles and albums.

He’s also won Tony Awards for his work as a musical theater composer for a number of Broadway plays. 

Elton John is also known for his flamboyant fashion sense and live performances.

He founded the Elton John Aids Foundation in 1992 in the United States. 

10. Danny Driver

Like some of his peers, Danny Driver studied at the Royal College of Music and Cambridge University.

Driver’s musical talents have seen him through multiple orchestra performances around the world.

He’s also been nominated for a Gramophone Award.

11. Mitsuko Uchida

Mitsuko Uchida was born in Japan but relocated to Vienna when she was 12 years old.

She eventually ended up living in the UK, where she now is a citizen and has been living since the 1970s.

She is one of the greatest classical pianists of all time and is a Decca recording artist and co-director of the Marlboro Music Festival.

In 2012, Uchida received the Royal Philharmonic Society’s Gold Medal. 

12. John Taylor

Born in 1942, John Taylor was one of the most renkowned modern jazz pianists from the UK.

He studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London and worked extensively in the british jazz scene and was also a teacher at Italy’s Sienna Jazz Workshop.

Taylor’s work is recognized for being thorough and well-thought-out ans is known for specific harmonies in his compositions, which made his work unique and inspiring.

13. Joanna MacGregor

Famous female pianist Joanna MacGregor is a working pianist, conductor, curator

She teaches at the Royal Academy of Music and the University of London.

Joanna’s work has also led her to perform in more than 80 countries worldwide. 

MacGregor’s work has earned her a reputation as a luring artist.

She has served as a director or other prominent positions in several music festivals and programs aimed at developing young talent.

14. Graham Johnson

British pianist Graham Johnson studied at the Royal Academy of Music after moving to London in 1967.

Outside of the academy, Johnson studied under Geoffrey Parsons and Gerald Moore.

Graham was instrumental in forming The Songmakers’ Almanac to highlight overlooked areas of vocal music that are accompanied by piano playing.

Johnson has won several prominent awards for his work in music and he’s also been awarded several honorary degrees.

15. Jamie Cullum

And last on the list we have famous british jazz pianist, Jamie Cullum decided to start playing the piano and the guitar at the young age of 8.

He got his start by playing at different pizza chain locations in London a few nights a week and then went on to record serveral best selling albums and a number of world tours.

Summing up our List of Famous British Pianists

Elton John by slgckgc (CC BY 2.0 DEED)

We hope you’ve enjoyed learning about these 15 famous British pianists but this list doesn’t even scratch the surface of the amazing piano players that called Britain home.

Let us know which pianists you think we should add to our list next and we’ll update it soon.

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Robert is a professional pianist and writer who's been playing the piano for over 20 years. He studied music education at college and now works as a full time musician and piano teacher all over the country.