Peter Schaaf first entered the Juilliard School of Music at age eight, and continued there to get bachelor’s and master’s degrees, studying piano with Sascha Gorodnitzki and Rosina Lhévinne. He won the Kosciuszko Foundation's Chopin Prize and the Morris Loeb Prize from Juilliard. He had a brief solo career, including a concerto appearance with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, then concentrated on chamber music and accompanying. He played recitals with Kyung-Wha Chung, Yo-Yo Ma (including his New York debut in Carnegie Recital Hall), Renata Tebaldi, Jon Vickers, and many others. With Vickers, he toured in Canada and the United States, and there is a commercial recording (VAI) of them performing Schubert's Die Winterreise.

His love of portraiture, his fascination with photography, and his desire to stay at home with his family, steered him into a career as photographer, and he eventually stopped playing the piano for twenty-five years. He specialized in portraits of musicians, which were published in Time, Life, Newsweek and People magazines, and he had many photo assignments for the New York Times. Artists he has photographed for posters, CD and LP covers include Vladimir Ashkenazy, Elly Ameling, Isaac Stern, Rudolf Serkin, Peter Serkin, Peter Schickele, Rob Kapilow, Carol Wincenc, and Seiji Ozawa.

In 2008 Schaaf returned to the piano to begin a long dreamed-of project—learning Iberia by Isaac Albéniz, which he has loved since student days. Now he has performed the entire work several times and recorded it, to fine reviews. This masterpiece from Albéniz has been praised for over 100 years but seldom performed complete, due to its legendary difficulty. Schaaf wants to bring this brilliant and lyrical music, “flamenco on a Steinway,” to more of today’s audiences.