The Top 12 Best Violinists of All Time

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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 12 best violinists 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 had a uniqueness in quality which would always be associated as 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) Sarah Chang

Sarah Chang is one of the more recent violin prodigies of this lits. 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.

5) 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.

6) 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.

7) 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.

8) 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.

9) 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.

10) 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.

11) 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.

12) 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.

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