Throughout time, music has influenced many cultures and the world itself as a form of self-expression and storytelling. But even more impressive are the musicians responsible for the creation and evolution of such music. And one such instrument with a rich history of influencers and prodigies responsible for its dominance in the musical world today is the violin. So without further ado, here are the top 15 greatest violin players of all time.
1) Niccolo Paganini
Born on October 27, 1782, in Genoa, Italy, Niccolo Paganini is widely accepted as one of the most influential and prodigious musicians to ever touch the violin. He revolutionized and laid the foundations for the modern violin technique through his use of the many string techniques used today such as bow bounces and harmonics.
Most famously was the rumor about him stating that his mother had sold his soul to the devil in exchange for his monumental prowess. Though it’s an obvious lie, his skills, such as being able to play 12 notes per second, were unequaled at the time. Paganini is best known for his 24 Caprices which implore the musician to display various violin skills throughout the music. They are known as some of the hardest violin pieces.
There is no record of his violin expertise, however, here is a composition of some of his best pieces:
2) Fritz Kreisler
Fritz Kreisler was born on February 2, 1875, in Vienna, Austria. He is also noted as one of the best violinists to ever live. His prominence in the United States came when he made his debut at Steinway Hall in New York City along with his first tour in the United States in 1888.
His style of playing was reminiscent of gemutlich, which means cozy and pleasant, and had a uniqueness in quality which would always be associated with Kreisler’s playing style. He also wrote many famous pieces for the violin ranging from solos to operettas such as Liebesleid and Apple Blossoms.
3) Jascha Heifetz
Jascha Heifetz is another musician considered by many, even fellow virtuosos, as one of the best violinists to have lived. Most notably, fellow peer and legend Fritz Kreisler said of him upon hearing Heifetz’s debut, “We might as well take our fiddles and break them across our knees.” Strong sentiment from one as influential as Kreisler.
Jascha Heifetz was born on February 2, 1901, in Vilna Lithuania. He practiced in the Saint Petersburg Conservatory and debuted publicly at the age of 7. Later he traveled to America and debuted at Carnegie Hall becoming an immediate sensation. His tone of playing, control, and skills warranted him as the greatest virtuoso since Paganini. In many ways, he paved the way for the 20th century and modern violinists.
4) Pablo de Sarasate
Sarasate was born in Spain in 1844 and was one of the most famous composers and virtuosos of the Romantic period. At a very young age he gained the favor of Queen Isabella II of Spain, and at 12, was sent to study at the Paris Conservatoire. He paved the way for the future of violin music displaying his own exquisite technique and composing numerous compositions, most famous of which is probably Zigeunerweisen.
5) Yehudi Menuhin
Menuhin was born in 1916 in New York City. He is considered one of the greatest violinists of the 20th century with a long and distinguished career. He is also one of the students who were under the tutelage of George Enescu.
Menuhin performed for many prestigious people at many prestigious places from a young age. But his role in World War II is memorable as well. Menuhin played for Allied forces and later surviving inmates of concentration camps.
6) Itzhak Perlman
Itzhak Perlman is an Israeli-born American violinist. He has performed throughout the world for prestigious events in front of distinguished people such as in the White House for Queen Elizabeth II, and at President Obama’s Presidential Inauguration.
He has been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, 16 Grammys, four Emmys, and the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. He has made many guest appearances on many shows ranging from Sesame Street to the Tonight Show.
7) Sarah Chang
Sarah Chang is one of the more recent violin prodigies on this list. Born on December 10, 1980, as Young Joo Chang in Philidelphia, Pennsylvania, Chang was noticed for her immense talent. At 8 she auditioned for and was accepted by the New York Philharmonic and the Philidelphia Orchestra. She later studied at the Julliard School of music.
At 10, Chang released her first album titled Debut which quickly rose on the Billboard chart of classical music. She has gone on since then to play in many prestigious venues such as Carnegie Hall and received numerous accolades solidifying her status as one of the best violinists in the world and of all time.
8) Joshua Bell
Born in 1967 in Bloomington, IN, Bell was a child prodigy and began playing at the age of four after his mother had discovered that he made a musical instrument out of rubber bands on the family’s dresser. He made his Carnegie Hall debut in 1985, at age 17. He attended Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music. Bell’s instrument is the Gibson ex Huberman, a Stradivarius made in 1713 during what is known as Stradivari’s “Golden Era”. He has played around the world and provided solo music for numerous films including The Red Violin, Ladies in Lavender, and Angels & Demons.
9) Anne-Sophie Mutter
Mutter was born in 1963 in the German town of Rheinfelden. Inspired by violinist Yehudi Menuhin, Mutter began studying under Erna Honigberger, a pupil of Carl Flesch. She continued studying under Aida Stucki at the Winterthur Conservatory after Honigberger’s death. She made her public debut on stage in 1976, at the age of 13, at the Lucerne Festival playing Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 4 in D major. She has played with orchestras around the world and is well-known for her performances of contemporary music. Mutter often appears on stage wearing elegant strapless gowns since she found fabric was too slippery to provide the traction that she needed while playing.
10) Maxim Vengerov
One of the youngest violinists on this list, Maxim was born in 1974 in Novosibirsk, Russia to two musicians. His dad was an oboist and his mother an orphanage children’s choir director. He started playing violin at age 5 and by age 10 had won the 1984 International Karol Lipiński and Henryk Wieniawski Young Violin Player Competition. He has played with orchestras around the world. Maxim became the first classical musician to be appointed an International Goodwill Ambassador by UNICEF due to his performances for children in countries around the world including Kosovo, Thailand, and Uganda.
Vengerov performs on the late period 1727 “ex-Kreutzer” Stradivarius violin that was made during the golden era of Stradivarius violins.
11) George Enescu
George Enescu was born in the village of Liveni in Romania on August 19, 1881. He holds celebrity status amongst Romanians for his talent and contributions to the musical world. Besides being a violinist, Enescu was a composer, pianist, and conductor as well. At the age of 5, he composed his first piece titled “Romanian Land”. Noticing his talent, he was admitted into the Vienna Conservatory at seven.
Enescu eventually made his debut in America as a conductor for the Philidelphia Orchestra. Though Enescu was primarily a composer, his compositions still hold a special place in the violin community. Additionally, he taught the violin as well to people who would become violin legends in their own right.
12) Hilary Hahn
Hilary Hahn is a 21st-century violinist who is considered by many was one of the greatest violinists in the world today. She was born in Lexington, Virginia on November 27, 1979. By the age of 16, she had been admitted into the Curtis Institute of Music and had learned many etudes and Paganini’s Caprices, including 28 violin concertos and other works.
Her inventive style of playing has influenced, to an extent, the modern violin world. She debuted with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra at 11 and since then has performed with many other influential Orchestras and famous venues. She has received numerous international awards as well.
13) David Fyodorovich Oistrakh
Oistrakh was born in 1908 in Odesa, Ukraine. Like many on this list, his talent at his young age was recognized and he was accepted into the Odessa Conservatory. He too, like Menuhin, performed during World War II, but for Soviet soldiers and factory workers.
He went on to perform in many festivals and alongside many orchestras throughout his career. He has recorded many labels and collaborated with other famed musicians to create brilliant works of music.
14) Nigel Kennedy
Nigel Kennedy is an English-born violinist. He graduated from the Royal Academy of Music in London and joined the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra at age 22. At seven was accepted at the Yehudi Menuhin School of Music and later at the Julliard School. His 1989 recording of The Four Seasons by Vivaldi with the English Chamber Orchestra became wildly popular. Recently he has branched out into different genres including jazz and klezmer.
15) Midori Goto
Midori Goto is a Japanese-born violinist who made her debut, at the age of 11, with the New York Philharmonic. She is considered one of the world’s top violinists. She is famous for her Tanglewood performance directed by Leonard Bernstein when she successfully overcame two broken E strings. She is now involved in many social events and has formed a non-profit called Midori and friends. She is also a UN Messenger of Peace.