His interest in the fortepiano began when he discovered the difference in sound and interpretation that results when that instrument is used for playing composers contemporary with it, especially Mozart
In 1983 he joined Musica Antiqua Köln
as its harpsichord player, then resigned from the ensemble in 1986 to embark on his solo career on both harpsichord and fortepiano. He also began teaching at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis in Basel, Switzerland, where he was on the faculty from 1987 to 1996.
His recital programs and recordings include the standard Baroque composers, but also earlier music and Spanish keyboard works. His repertory extends from the English Baroque and into the Romantic era, where he plays the piano music of such composers as Mendelssohn, Schubert
, and Schumann on harpsichords or pianos appropriate to the times of the music. He looks for important links among compositions of various eras. For instance, he thinks Beethoven
's Diabelli Variations are heard in a different light if one knows Bach
's Goldberg Variations. He waited nearly a quarter of a century to play the Goldberg in public; his long-awaited first performance of it was in Montréal at the end of April 2000.
He has performed in major festivals and in most of the major concert halls of the world. He frequently works with other renowned artists, including Anner Bylsma
, Tatiana Grindenko, René Jacobs
, and various important early music ensembles. One of his closest partnerships is with tenor Christoph Prégardien
, who sings with him in the early Romantic repertory. Their recording of Schubert's Winterreise on Teldec
won six major international recording prizes.
Recordings include Le Style Classique: The First Viennese School (2004) and Schubert: Schwanengesang and songs after Seidl (2008). In 2007 Staier won France's prestigious Diapason d'Or award for his album Mozart am Stein vis-à-vis
played not on a harpsichord nor on a fortepiano but played on an instrument called a vis-à-vis that was a hybrid of the two. He continued to make acclaimed harpsichord recordings, including a 2015 set of Bach harpsichord concertos in which he was teamed with the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra
Recording for Harmonia Mundi
, Staier maintained a vigorous schedule in the 2010s. In the year 2015 alone he released three recordings, one of which, a group of Brahms clarinet sonatas with Lorenzo Coppola
, brought his historical practice into the late 19th century: he used an 1875 Steinway piano that Brahms
himself was known to have liked. In 2016 and 2017 Staier released ensemble recordings devoted to Schubert
on the fortepiano. Staier has toured not only in Europe, North America, and Japan, but, as of 2017, in Korea, south Asia, and South America as well.