Since these are musical instruments that have been part of our lives for quite some time now, and by that we mean centuries, it’s pretty obvious that there are numerous people who have managed to master them.
Of course, when it comes to putting together a list of the greatest violin players of all time, personal preferences do play a role and not everyone agrees on which ones of these great musicians should make the cut. However, there are some names that simply cannot be forgotten, so let’s take a look and see what these are.
This great musician was a child prodigy, having been accepted at the Paris Conservatory at the age of seven. He went on to win his most prestigious prize when he was twelve and he was one of the first violinists who achieved international fame through the gramophone.
Considered by many the most talented violinist since the beginning of the recording age, Jascha Heifetz gave his earliest public performance at the age of five. He later relocated to the United States where he made an impact with his technique and masterful arrangements of the violin. He went on to teach in his later years.
Another example of an enormously gifted musician, George Enescu’s celebrity was limited by his modesty. Known for the fact that he disliked showmanship, he was more than just a violinist, being Romania’s leading composer and a teacher.
Among his pupils, we can name Yehudi Menuhin, Ivry Gitlis, Ida Haendel, or Arthur Grumiaux. His musical journey began at the age of four when he started studying violin, showing outstanding musical skills. At the age of eight, he made his first public appearance, and later on studied at the Paris Conservatoire.
Frank Peter Zimmerman
After his studies in Germany and Amsterdam, Frank Peter Zimmerman embarked on his solo career in 1983, and he was soon performing around the world. The musician has also made his mark on contemporary music, in premiered works by Matthias Pintscher, Augusta Read Thomas, and Brett Dean.
The German violinist is known for his outstanding technique and pure, warm, and strong sound. Chamber music is the one that brought him the most satisfaction, as he told BBC Magazine in an interview.
Another musician that is considered truly iconic, Yehudi Menuhin was known for his frequently groundbreaking approach that ranged from recording Elgar’s Violin Concerto under the baton of the composer himself to playing jazz with other famous figures such as Stéphane Grappelli, or collaborating with Ravi Shankar.
During his long career, Szigeti left a substantial number of outstanding recordings and spent his time teaching extensively. He also published his influential treatise, Szigeti on the Violin, in 1969. His last years, from 1960, were spent in Switzerland, and his story also included escaping wartime Europe for America in 1939.
Born in Paris, Ginette Neveu was the great-niece of the organist and composer Charles-Marie Widor. She had the opportunity to train with the finest of professors, including George Enescu and Carl Flesch. Her tragic death at the age of 30 meant that the world was deprived by a violinist who had made a tremendous impact with her emotional intensity.
Respected for his probing musical insights as well as for his virtuosity, Isaac Stern made music come alive with an electrifying pulse. He was also a devoted chamber musician, known as part of a legendary piano trio alongside Leonard Rose and Eugene Istomin, and of one of the all-time great piano quartets with Jaime Laredo, Emmanuel Ax, and Yo-Yo Ma.
Arthur Grumiaux was more than a violinist, being known as a skilled pianist as well. You can say that he needed a bit more than just a good violin case to carry all of the instruments he could master. The opposite of a temperamental maestro, Grumiaux enjoyed playing chamber music, most notably with the great Romanian pianist Clara Haskil.
After catching the eye (and ear) of both cellist Pablo Casals and Isaac Stern as a violin prodigy in Israel, Zukerman went on to New York’s Juilliard School to study with Ivan Galamian. His personal sound is easy to recognize, being intense, passionate and strong-centered. This means he also played a generous repertoire.
A student of Joseph Joachim, Busch became known not only as a solo violinist and composer but also as a founder of the Busch Chamber Players. He also founded the Marlboro Festival in Vermont and was the ignition behind three distinguished chamber ensembles: the Busch Quartet, a duo with pianist Rudolf Serkin, and the Busch Trio.
Another child prodigy, the musician was still a teenager when he made his Berlin Philharmonic debut playing the Beethoven Concerto with Karl Böhm. He had such a tremendous impact over the following decade that he was signed up by Herbert von Karajan with a unique deal to record the major violin repertoire with over 20 discs.
With a career that began through winning two major music contests, namely the Sibelius competition held in Helsinki in 1980 and the Tchaikovsky gold medal in 1982, Viktoria Mullova is renowned for her recordings of Bach, which have received exceptional reviews. She has also experimented with other, more contemporary styles.
Considered by many as one of the most charismatic and underestimated violinists of his times, Ivry Gitlis is an expert in jazz, pop and gypsy styles, as well as in Classical, Romantic and contemporary repertoire. He trained mainly in Paris, where he studied with George Enescu, Jacques Thibaud, and Carl Flesch.
Praised by Joachim and Brahms, Huberman was a child prodigy and he shot to fame by participating in Adelina Patti’s farewell concert in Vienna. His interpretations were known for their striking individuality, integrity, and artistry, even if his technique and style were sometimes subjects of criticism by some fellow violinists.
Bell was born in Bloomington, Indiana, in 1967, and he began taking his first violin lessons at the young age of four after his mother noticed that he liked playing with rubber bands that he then plucked, mimicking the motion of playing the violin.
By the age of 14, Bell appeared as one of the solo violinists with the Philadelphia Orchestra. In 1989, he received an Artist Diploma in Violin Performance at Indiana University. Joshua Bell is one of the few musicians who managed to turn his music passion into a fully-fledged career through years of hard work.
Across his long career, he has won numerous awards, including the Gramophone Award in 1998. His current instrument is a 300-year old Stradivarius made in 1713.
People may have also heard him perform without knowing it since Bell has also performed the violin solo for “The Red Violin”, and the soundtrack for this movie managed to win an Oscar. He was also featured in the scores for other movies, such as “Angels & Demons”, “Defiance”, “Ladies in Lavender” and “Iris”.
At age 16, Nicola Benedetti was cast into the spotlight, and now in her 30s, she is regarded by many as the best violinist of the 21st century. She has always struggled since her talent forced her to grow up in the public spotlight, which is always difficult for a child, even for a prodigy.
She was born in 1987 in Irvine, UK, and she is currently the top female violinist in Scotland, and some may add the world to this list. Benedetti’s passion for music extends outside the stage as she is an advocate for the violin and music education in general.
As one of the most famous modern violinists, Nicola Benedetti is very sought-after nowadays, and that has a lot to do with her ability to captivate diverse audiences thanks to her lively presence and innate musicianship.
Talent played a big part in making Nicola Benedetti the violin legend that she is today, but there’s certainly a lot of hard work involved as well. The artist has mentioned that she practices anywhere between 3 to 7 hours a day.
Another impressive fact about Benedetti is that in 2012, her album, “The Silver Violin”, was the first solo instrumental album in recent history to enter not only the top classical charts but also the top pop album charts.
A list of the greatest and most famous violin players couldn’t be possible without Niccolo Paganini. This Italian composer and violinist has laid the foundation for the modern violin technique. Born in Genoa, Italy, in 1782, he made his first debut on stage at the age of 9.
When he was taken to another famous violinist of the time, Alessandro Rolla, the teacher declared that there is nothing that he can teach to Paganini that he doesn’t already know.
Despite being a violin virtuoso at a young age, Nicolo studied the violin for a while, as well as instrumentation and composition. Many fans and even some critics consider him to be the best violinist of all time.
The violinist didn’t impress just with his music but also with his tumultuous lifestyle that was filled with vices, love affairs, and rumors. He was the subject of numerous TV productions and movies, including “The Devil’s Violinist”, “The Magic Bow”, “A Song to Remember” and many others.
Oistrakh is considered to be one of the most famous violinists of the 20th century, and throughout his long career, he worked with multiple major musicians and orchestras from all over the world, including the Soviet Union, the United States, and Europe.
David Oistrakh is a legendary Russian violinist who was born in Odessa, Ukraine, in 1908. He is regarded as the best violinist of its generation, and he gained a lot of praise thanks to his exceptional tone production and technique.
He started studying the violin from age five, and in 1929, he made his Moscow debut. From 1937 he turned to teaching violin at the Moscow Conservatory but not before giving recitals throughout the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.
For the first few decades of his career, his music could only be listened through recordings in Western Europe and the United States. However, in 1951, he went on a tour in all of Europe, and in 1955, he toured the United States.
Grappelli is a French violinist that was born in Paris in 1908. His mother was French, and his father was Italian. He got his first violin at the age of 12, and he soon began busking when he was 15 years old, playing in hotel and pit orchestras.
As a musician, he was interested in all kinds of music, and in 1928, he heard Joe Venuti, a jazz violinist playing for the first time, back when solo jazz violinists were a rare sight. Soon enough, he got to be known as the godfather of jazz violin, which is a very impressive feat for someone who was self-taught.
Grappelli had staged numerous concerts around the world and continued to perform even when he was well into his 80s. In 1997, shortly after his death, he received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. He was also included in the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame.
By age 9, Kyung-wha Chung was already playing technical concerto in her native city, Seoul. She was born in 1948, in Seoul, South Korea, and she remains to this day one of the most famous Asian violinists in the world.
She was also one of the first western-style female violinists to emerge from Korea, and she has managed to capture an international audience thanks to the elegance, fluidity, and lyrical beauty of her music.
It didn’t take long for her to gain fame, and by age 13, she had already moved countries and started to attend the prestigious Juilliard School in New York City. Following an injury to one of her fingers in 2005, Kyung Wha Chung had to stop doing public performances for five years.
Despite being well into her 70s, Kyung Wha Chung still plays with the same energy and exudes the same warmth, vibrancy, and enthusiasm that made her so beloved by audiences in the first place.
Fischer is not only among the most famous female violinists, but she is also a concert pianist, which makes her one of the most rounded artists on this list. She was born in 1983 in Munich, Germany. She received her first violin before her fourth birthday, and she started studying the instrument right away.
A few months later, she also started playing the piano with her mother, a passion that they still share today. Her formal violin education took place at the Leopold Mozart Conservatory, and then at age 9, she went to the Munich Academy of Music.
As a professional violinist, Fischer has won five prizes and all the competitions she entered. It is also impressive that playing the piano isn’t just a hobby, as she also won three prizes for her piano playing.
Friedman was born in Newark, New Jersey, in 1939, and he was an American violinist that, for a time, was regarded as the most promising young violinist of his generation. While he didn’t manage to become the next Heifetz, he did end up becoming a student of his.
He enjoyed a lot of success in the 1960s, and for a time, he was one of the most famous violin players in the United States. He then branched out and decided to focus more on teaching and conducting rather than playing the violin. His concert career ended forever when an accident rendered him unable to play his beloved violin.
Elman was born in Talnoye, Ukraine, in 1891. As a child prodigy, by the age of 11, he could already play some of the most complicated pieces of music on his violin. This has helped him get accepted into the Moscow Imperial Conservatory.
Today he is celebrated as one of the violinists who has helped lead the recording generation. In 1908, he started touring the United States, and in the next few years, he embarked on a world tour that took him throughout Europe and East Asia.
Elman had an extensive repertoire, and his tone was considered resonant, and the public and virtuosos all over the world admired the emotion that he could evoke through his music.
Born in 1882, in Częstochowa, Poland, Bronisław Huberman was a Polish Jewish violinist that became famous thanks to his personal interpretations that helped garnered him high praise for his unique tone color, flexibility, and expressiveness.
He may not have been the world’s best violinist in terms of technique, but what made him so beloved was the openness and honesty that his music oozed. He is also famous for setting up The Palestine Symphony Orchestra that managed to save almost 1,000 Jews from concentration camps.