5 pianists who turned failure into success

26 August 2020
By Ellie Palmer
Suffered failure recently? Don't worry: Even the best fail before they succeed.

It's easy to assume that our favourite pianists rose through the ranks to stardom with no real major hiccups along the way.

But even the best of the best suffered their fair share of failures and rejections before eventually finding success. We take a look at 5 of them below. 



Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

We all know the Austrian as one of the most decorated composers and pianists in music history, but it wasn't all plain sailing for him.

Between 1773-1781, Mozart was employed as court musician in Salzburg by the city's ruler,  Prince-Archbishop Hieronymus Colloredo. He struggled to find happiness in the job during his time there – one reason being he felt he was on a very low salary.

He quarrelled with the Archbishop on numerous occasions during his time in Salzburg and, after trying to quit himself, he was eventually dismissed from his position by the Archbishop in 1781.

This proved to be a vital turning point in Mozart's career as he finally felt "free" from the holds of his court musician role. By the end of 1781, he had established himself as one of the finests pianists in Vienna after performing in a competition before the Emperor with Muzio Clementi.

The rest is history! 



Content continues after advertisements

Leon Fleisher

© Joanne Savio

At the age of 36, while on tour with the Cleveland Orchestra, Fleisher's fourth and fifth fingers of his right hand began to suddenly curl up with no explanation.

He was subsequently removed from the tour, with all future concerts cancelled.

Going forward, he was forced to completely abandon playing with his right hand, focusing instead on repertoire for the left. In 1990 he embarked on a pioneering course of treatment involving injections of botulinum toxin, commonly known as Botox, directly into the affected muscles.

His recovery was such that in 2004, he released his first recording for both hands, called appropriately, Two Hands. That same year he was the first to perform Hindemith’s Concerto for the Left Hand in 2004 when he gave its premier with the Berlin Philharmonic. 



Lang Lang

© Robert Ascroft

It's hard to imagine that THE Lang Lang has ever been rejected as a pianist before.

However, when he was just nine years old, he was expelled from his piano tutor's studio due to a "lack of talent".

After noticing his sadness at the situation, another of his music teachers suggested that he learn Mozart's Piano Sonata No. 10 in C major, K. 330.

"Playing the K. 330 brought me hope again," comments Lang Lang.

As we all know, he has grown into perhaps the most recognised pianist in the world.



Ivo Pogorelich

© Bernard Martinez / Sony Music Entertainment

He may now be a widely-acclaimed pianist, but back in 1980, he caused quite the storm at the Chopin Piano Competition.

The Serbian approached his performances in the early rounds very uniquely, which wasn't to the liking of most of the competition's judges. He subsequently didn't make it through to the finals, which caused one judge to protest at the decision.

That judge was Martha Argerich. She labelled him a "genius" and resigned from the jury in protest.

Pogorelich gave his debut recital at New York's Carnegie Hall a year later after dominating post-competition discussions.



Piotr Anderszewski

© Warner Classics

The Polish pianist has toured all over the world during his career.

However, he first came to the public's attention back in 1990, when he walked off stage in the semi-finals because he didn't feel he was playing well enough. He was playing Anton Webern's Op 27 at the time.

Thankfully for us, he made his London debut six months later at the Wigmore Hall and is still performing in the world's biggest venues today.


Failure on your journey to success is inevitable. Don't give up! We can only imagine what the piano world would have looked like had the five pianists above given up.

Main image: Lang Lang as a child with his professor. ©www.bruceduffie.com 

Content continues after advertisement