Who are the greatest violinists of all time?

October 29, 2009 at 04:11 PM ·

We've got an interviews section that features profiles of great contemporary violinists. But we inexusably lack a feature that a site called Violinist.com really ought to have: Biographies on the greatest violinists of all time.

So we're going to add that. But I wanted to ask your help first.

Tell us whom you think ought to be on the short list of the greatest violinists of all time. Tell us what makes each one great. Then let us know what assets you'd like to see on their Violinist.com biography page - links to historic content, specific YouTube videos, outstanding scholarship and research on their lives, etc. We'll take links to specific V.com discussion threads and blogs about the violinist, too. (Give us URLs, please.)

I'm opening this thread up for suggestions, links and debate. Thanks! 

Replies (100)

October 29, 2009 at 04:39 PM ·

Stephane Grappelli, because he was a creative rather than interpretive player.

October 29, 2009 at 05:23 PM ·

Nathan Milstein.

October 29, 2009 at 05:40 PM ·

There's a nice list here: http://www.thirteen.org/publicarts/violin/index.html

October 29, 2009 at 05:51 PM ·

Eugene Ysaye, Fritz Kreisler, David Oistrakh, Ida Haendel, Ginette Neveu, Isaac Stern, Michael Rabin, Itzhak Perlman, Yehudi Menuin, Jascah Heifetz (DUH), Mischa Elman, Henryk Szyeryng, Leonid Kogan, Nathan Milstein, Shlomo Mintz, Kyung-Wha Chung, Pincas Zukerman, Dorothy DeLay, Ivan Galamian, Szymon Goldberg,  Hilary Hahn, Joshua Bell, Anne-Akiko Meyers, Anne-Sophie Mutter, Carl Flesch, Janine Jansen, Julia Fishcer, James Ehnes, Vadim Repin, Maxim Vengerov. 

That's all I can think of right off the top of my head, without googling it. haha.

October 29, 2009 at 05:58 PM ·

This is a decent list:


Can there really be a "short" list?  We have hundreds of years of history to draw upon!

This sounds like quite the project.  Do y'all need any help?

October 29, 2009 at 06:22 PM ·

Not sure my previous message got through, but I suggest Arcangelo Corelli, Antonio Vivaldi, Pietro Locatelli, Giuseppe Tartini, Pietro Nardini, Gian Battista Viotti, Rodolphe Kreutzer, Pierre Rode, Pierre Baillot, Louis Spohr, Ferdinand David, Joseph Joachim, Henri Vieuxtemps, Henryk Wieniawski, Pablo de Sarasate, Leopold Auer, Adolph Brodsky, August Wilhelmj, Bronislaw Hubermann, Efrem Zimbalist, Pinchas Zuckerman, and, of course, Jack Benny.  But not Benito Mussolini.

Violists:  Lionel Tertis, William Primrose . . .

All that's really needed is a list with links to Wikipedia articles.

October 29, 2009 at 06:24 PM ·

I would like to add Josef Hassid...the biography will be painful to read, but the few recordings that remain I hope will never go away.

October 29, 2009 at 06:40 PM ·

Anne, yes, we need help! :-)

Ideally, I'd like to have 8-12 bios to start, with short essays on why that violinist is so significant, then with links to V.com discussions and blogs, as well as great research on the Web. If the violinist is modern enough to have recordings on YouTube, etc., we'd like to embed the best of those, too.

October 29, 2009 at 06:58 PM ·

Robert, I'd obviously put in another vote for Jascha Heifetz (what a surprise I know), Nathan Milstein, Fritz Kreisler, and Nicolo Paganini.  Out of contemporary violinists I would suggest adding Leonidas Kavakos to the list. 

October 29, 2009 at 07:51 PM ·

In broad agreement with the lists already above - but please add Nigel Kennedy - when he is at his best he is unbeatable.

October 29, 2009 at 07:59 PM ·

Maybe the Weekend Vote could be which 5 we agree should be "essential" biographies just to start out with?

October 29, 2009 at 08:08 PM ·



Michael's suggestion is a good one.  At the rate this is going, there will be at least one vote for every good violinist anyone has heard of.  A weekend vote is a good solution to at least get a consensus of the top five or ten.  There was actually a thread at a French violin site where people posted what you are suggesting.  Here it is:



October 29, 2009 at 08:23 PM ·

Actually, the Wikipaedia list Anne Horvath linked to covers just about everyone, and the Wikipaedia biographies seem to be reliable.  Why not just link to the Wikipaedia list instead of reinventing the wheel?

October 29, 2009 at 08:32 PM ·

He has been said but pls include David Oistrakh!!!   Ida Haendel too since she really oughts and deserve to be considered = as the great "male" masters of her time!!!   Of course, Repin is a phenomenon too!  It is a so nice idea!


I also love to hear stories about those who were their students or just met all these famous violinists once.  I like to hear the way they taugh and saw music. Some people who have knew them are (may be) quite old and won't be there forever to share this with us, how sad.

October 29, 2009 at 09:50 PM ·

To reinforce what Anne-Marie wrote...

We don't need lists here, or a vote. What I'm really looking for are a few sentences from readers about the violinists that most speak to them, and why they do. Or the violinists whom they believe to be the most remarkable in history, and why.

We want these to the the violinists' story about these violinists. Not some dry, written-by-committee wiki entries. Sure, you can find those elsewhere. We can do better than that. I am hoping this thread can be the starting point.


October 29, 2009 at 10:23 PM ·


when one asks today`s violinist for a list of great one name that is often noticeably abesent is that of Jospeh Szigeti.  Yet in his own way he was both a truly remarkable violnist and a profoun influence on players and by extension ,  music making in the 20c.

Perhaps onereason he is less known these days can be found in a comment made by Tziganov in his `Way They Play` interview.    He said `some violinsts have sound and some have tone.`  What he meant by this is a little hard to define in words but really player sof the then new Auer school with their molten and intense sound (cf Elman,  Heifetz etc) not to mention Kreilser,  had `tone.`   Szigeti had a sound.  It was never truly lush or burning.   He chose to communicate his huge emotioanl range and intellectual vitality by constantly striving to go beyond wehat the violin was capable of as a -mere- singing instrument by constanly searching for character.  Not only his own character but that of the composer,  the style and how it related to otehr works.    One can get a small sense of this constant exploration and probing in his books which contian many points of violin playing that player sof today seem to have largely forgotten to their detriment.  It is bno surprise that many of the great palyers of the late 20c went to Szigeti for a kind of finsihing school- Chung,  Steinhardt, Goldberg spring to mind.

His other legacy is of course his recorduings,  many of which are still the benchmark.  Prokofiev,  Bartok,  Honegger,  Bach, Mozart,  the Beethoven etc.   Although one can still get magnificent early recodings of bob bons  a la Heifetz and Elman it is already obvious this was not his path. Indeed his transcriptions publishe dtoday are remarkable intellectual statements as well as great music and not played nealry enough.  His major recordings are heavyweight; works by a heavyweight mind.  Ask me the truly horrible quesion `who did the best Brahms?` and I can answer in aflash. The last recording by Szigeti.  His technique was already damaged by ill health and an unfortunate bow arm position that he had managed to work around when he was younger plus nerves. But in a strange way the recording goes beyong the violin into realms of sound and thought that are quite shocing.  Soemthing we could all learn from. 



October 29, 2009 at 10:27 PM ·

I think Buri just did what Robert was talking about.

October 29, 2009 at 10:47 PM ·

Everyone forgot about Christian Ferras...

And to add on those not yet mentioned... Cho-liang Lin, Lu Si-qing, and Akiko Suwanai.

October 29, 2009 at 10:49 PM ·

A few historical violinists:

Arcangelo Corelli -- Brought the violin sonata to its earliest perfection.

Antonio Vivaldi and Giuseppe Tartini -- Performing violinists who expanded the limits of violin technique and took the violin concerto to new levels. 

Gian Battista Viotti -- founder of the French school that is the basis for all modern violin playing; said to have worked with Tourte in developing the modern bow.

Rodolphe Kreutzer and Pierre Rode -- not only great violinists in their day, but also left a body of  works that are the foundation of modern violin technique.

Paganini -- nothing more need be said.

Joseph Joachim -- a very influential violinist; promoted the Beethoven concerto, the Bach solo works, and collaborated with Brahms on his concerto.

Louis Spohr, Henri Vieuxtemps, Pablo de Sarasate, Henryk Wieniawski -- outstanding performers in their day who left many violin compositions that are still performed.

Leopold Auer -- trained an army of great violinists.

Eugene Ysaye --  a force of nature.

October 30, 2009 at 12:05 AM ·

Best recorded = Josef Hassid :-) 

October 30, 2009 at 12:16 AM ·

How short a list is "a short list"?  Well, in another thread, the number 13 has been bandied about as an auspicious number for violinists. So for now, I'll try to limit myself to a list of 13, off the top of my head, in roughly chronological order:

1. Paganini

2. Wieniawski

3. Ysaye

4. Sarasate

5. Kreisler

6. Heifetz



9 Oistrakh

10. Grumiaux


12. Nadien

13. Klaym... - Oops!

But seriously, I'd like to recommend a couple of reference books:

a. The Great Violinists by Boris Schwartz

b. Violin Virtuosos from Paganini to the 21st Century  by Henry Roth


October 30, 2009 at 12:54 AM ·

 Thanks, Buri. That thoughtful response is exactly what we're looking for. Anyone else?

October 30, 2009 at 02:09 AM ·

The 4 violinists that 'moved' me the most would be Anne-sophie mutter, Joshua bell, Sarah Chang (primarily her early recordings, but also some later), and David Oistrakh.


October 30, 2009 at 12:43 PM ·

Some more reference material:

"What would you ask Joshua Bell?" is a familiar type of question that we've seen here in preparation for much anticipated  v.com interviews. Similar types of contemporary interviews can be found in The Strad and Strings. But wouldn't it be amazing if we could go back in time, and ask Corelli what he thought of our modern set-up, or Paganini what his so-called "practice-secret" was all about? Well we can't, of course. Scholars, though, have done some excellent research, and have given us some very interesting biographies.

But the following books have direct interviews with players of the past, who for us, have long achieved a halo of legendary status:

1. Violin Mastery by Frederick Martens. This book includes interviews with Auer, Ysaye, Kriesler, Elman, Thibaud, Powel, Sidel, and 18 year-old Heifetz! Each interview is concluded by the question, "what does violin mastery mean to you?"

2. The Way They Play by Samuel Applebaum, et al. With 14 volumes, this is a veritable encyclopedia of 20th century string playing. Volume I includes interviews with Heifetz, Kreisler, etc. some years later, as well as Francescatti, Menhuin, Milstein, Szigeti, Zimbalist, etc., etc. Also violist, Primrose, cellists Casals, Rose and Piatigorsky, teachers Galamian and Bronstein. Later volumes take us close to to our present time with Mutter, Chung, etc.

There is actually a rare prequel to Vol. I called With The Artists. It is a lot like Vol. I, but contains some material that for some reason was never carried over, such as interviews with Dounis, and NYP concertmaster, Corigliano.

PS I know that nothing that I've written so far is exactly what Robert is looking for, but I think that it is very useful information. And in our very computer-driven age, I think it would do us good to read some more books. It has a different effect on the mind - but that's another subject.

OK, more to the point of what I think Robert may be looking for. One sentence about what Jascha Heifetz means to me: Taking for granted his unprecedented, and in some ways still unequalled technique, no violinists in recordings have more consistently moved me, both emotionally and viscerally.

October 30, 2009 at 01:16 PM ·

Well, I'm so happy we're coming up with a "short" list. So many truly wonderful, memorable, great violinists.

I'm old enough to have heard a few of the legendary ones in person, and these are memories I treasure - (in no particular order)
- Heifetz (once, in the late 50's, vintage recital, "perfect" in every respect, with the legendary Heifetz dead-pan expression and business-like stage demeanor, although I do think he smiled).
- Milstein (in the 50's and also his last concert in Chicago when he was 80, at which he played Paganiniana spectacularly, and a performance of the Bach 2nd Partita in which the Chaccone was played better than anyone else I have every heard, live or in recordings).
- Menuhin (a couple of times with the Chicago Symphony, both times playing the Bartok Concerto wonderfully, and one of those performances is on a special CD produced by the CSO for one of its fundraisers).
- Spivakovsky (in Chicago in about 1960 at an outdoor concert; he played the Sibelius Concerto, which was a specialty of his, and it was riviting).
- Ricci (I've only heard him in recital, in about 1970 in LA and in later years in Chicago; one of the concerts had at least half of the Paganini Caprices; Ricci was terrific).
- Kogan (I heard his premier in, I think, 1955 in Chicago. A recital. Among other things he played the Sarasate Caprice Basque in manner I've never heard from ANYONE else. And he also played to Bach C Major Sonata; the Fugue was not to be believed. The most remarkable thing about his performance, which was in a very romantic and "un-period-like" style, was that the chords seemed to be played slurred, and the effect was like listening to an organ, but with the most beautiful, rich, violin sound you could imagine).
- Oistrakh (I heard Oistrakh 6 times, with orchestra and in recital in Chicago; include about 3 performances of the Beethoven Concerto, one of the Prokofiev 1st Concerto, the Shostakovich Sonata, an absolutely spectacular version of the Locatelli Harmonic Labrynth, and other sonatas. What else can you say about Oistrakh. Heard live, he had twice the tone of ANY other violinist I have ever heard, and his ability to communicate musically and personally with an audience is legendary for good reason).
- Francescatti (perhaps my all-time favorite violinist. I heard him live only once, playing the Mendelssohn Concerto with the CSO; a beautiful, clean, lush, warm performance that was not only note-perfect but seemed an ideal interpretation of the piece).
- Stern I heard him play the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto about 1945 or 46; I was a very little boy and so that I could see I was sitting on my father's knee on the main floor of Orchestra hall, and I still remember what Stern looked like and even at that age I recognized the Tchaikovsky. I also heard Stern several other times, and I have to say he could be inconsistent, but when he was "on," there was nobody like him. I heard him in rehearsal in Columbus, Ohio, when he was first playing the Hindemith Concerto, which he played like no one else).
-Szeryng (I heard Szeryng give a great and note-perfect performance of the Tchaikovsky Concerto with the CSO, and he was another one of the "greatest who ever lived" for sure)
- Rabin (I heard Rabin in Philadelphia when he was about 23 years old. He played the Paganini 1st Concerto, and if I may be permitted to talk about a performance that was truly better than perfect, Rabin was better than perfect. I remember that performance to this day; His Paganini live made every other performance you have ever heard - and I do mean EVERY - pale into a distant second place - technically, musically, emotionally. Even his own recording of the same piece is not quite up to what I heard that evening.
I regret that there are so many others I never heard live.

When all is said and done, who is not only the "greatest," but who has had the greatest impact on the art - I would still have to vote for Jascha Heifetz. Regardless of whether you like a particular performance of his, he set a standard that still stands for everything from technique to attention to the details of nuances to the nth degree in passion of playing to a stage demeanor that does not detract from one's attention to the sound to.....well, enough already.

October 30, 2009 at 02:05 PM ·

Well, I certainly have to agree with Brui about Sziget. But not because of anything special, just beacusbre he was hunggrigfsbgjklnujfdan!! ;)

October 30, 2009 at 03:57 PM ·

A short list of the Violin Greats is impossible.  So is the Ecole Moderne, and with that in mind,  here is my feeble try:

  1. Archangelo Corelli
  2. Antonio Vivaldi
  3. Giovanni Battista Viotti
  4. Nicolo Paganini
  5. Ferdinand David
  6. Henry Vieuxtemps
  7. Henryk Wieniawski
  8. Joseph Joachim
  9. Eugene Ysaye
  10. Leopold Auer
  11. Fritz Kreisler
  12. Jascha Heifetz

I'm stopping there.

Robert, I'm curious about the format.  Will each violinist have their own "thread", with options for adding links, commentary, and references?  Or will there be self-contained "articles"? 

Also, I for one think that the luthiers should be included.  Without them, there is no us.  (Smiles)


October 30, 2009 at 08:13 PM ·

 I think it takes some time to develop a legacy and I doubt that there is any merit in including living violinists.

In fact I think that if the violinist was recorded then 7 out of 10 professional violinists should be able to recognize the player by sound for at least 7 out of 10 recorded examples heard. This obviously only applies for post Ysaye/Joachim/Sarasate violinists. Better yet 7 out of ten student violinists should be able to match the player of Piece A to the player of Piece B for multiple examples. 

If they cannot pass the distinct sound and personality test then no point in acknowledging them as great (assuming they recorded).

October 30, 2009 at 10:14 PM ·

I don't know what type of shortlist you want but someone who's always neglected is Oscar Shumsky

October 31, 2009 at 02:39 AM ·

Sorry, Szigeti, not Sziget. Sziget is an annual music festival in Budapest.

October 31, 2009 at 04:35 AM ·


dang, I was writing about Sziget. I thought this trhead was `beer drinking festivals of the world,`



October 31, 2009 at 11:05 PM ·

 What about Vasa Prihoda people!!!! :)

November 1, 2009 at 03:58 AM ·

Yehudi Menhuin- Definitely!  He was a rennaissance-man in an era where there were few of them.

November 1, 2009 at 07:23 AM ·

 the renaissance?

November 1, 2009 at 08:54 PM ·

Well, from what I read of the intent of this post - it leaves our answers open to alot of interpretation and personal preference.  A biography section in the V.com website.  Greatness is in the eye of the beholder?  I tend to think of different things when it comes to greatness.  We tend to look on greatness in general at our most "famous" of the past - which can often leave others worthy of the distinction unrecognized.

There's greatness in terms of breadth of recordings, flawless technique, importance within the community, and so on.

I totally agree with many of the previous posters.  In terms of violinists of our past and more seasoned veterans who haven't been mentioned alot, I'd like to include:  Stern, Zuckerman, Menuin, Perlman.

For some of our younger generation violinists, time hasn't yet afforded them the traditional "greatness" YET.  I'd still like to include:  Midori, Sarah Chang, Cho-Liang Lin, Kyung-Wah Chung, James Ehnes, Hilary Hahn, Joshua Bell.

Also for me though, greatness can have another context.  Dorothy DeLay was one of North America's greatest violin teachers.  She shaped the lives of so many of today's modern masters destined to be great.  I'd love to see something of her and other teachers not yet mentioned.

November 2, 2009 at 09:49 AM ·

I would like to add Mischa Elman and Fritz Kreisler. Elman had a very warm tone when he played, as did Kreisler, and both also shared their ability to have supreme control over bow and vibrato. Also, who can forget Kreisler's ability to compose?

Of course, there are so many different violinists, that it's difficult to have all of them. Each was special in their own way, and so perhaps if one worked their way through all of them systematically, perhaps after time period, and wrote something that made them special?

November 2, 2009 at 08:06 PM ·

Ysaye should be top on the list. He is possibly the single most influential violinist the world has ever known. 

November 3, 2009 at 12:30 AM ·

@ Buri........... Maestro, I was only trying to emulate your greatness at spelling! ;)

LOL!!!!  Have a great day!

We need to invent chains for bicycles so that people can cycle in the snow.... Then we can afford better violins & Bows!

November 3, 2009 at 07:05 AM ·


oh man,  bikes have had studded tyres for snow since te renaissance. Almost.....



November 3, 2009 at 06:01 PM ·

The beauty of chains is that one can put them on and take them off without changing the wheels!

November 5, 2009 at 03:53 PM ·


The esteemed music critic Tim Page once wrote of the great Jascha Heifetz: “Heifetz can be proven.” That assertion encapsulates what most violinists know (and the rest only grudgingly admit to themselves): Heifetz was the greatest violinist. 
Critics have tried to knock Heifetz off that vaunted pedestal one leg at a time: Oistrakh was a better musician; Szigeti was a greater intellectual; Elman possessed a warmer tone; Ricci was more prolific in Paganiniana; Francescatti exuded a more ingratiating stage persona. None of that matters. Heifetz was a singular figure and the most consequential violinist since Paganini. Heifetz’s flag flutters alone atop the summit of instrumental mastery. 
Heifetz recognized that, at its core, the violin is a singing instrument, and that it is not whether you get from one note to the next that matters, but the way you get there. That performance philosophy translated into what is without question the most unique sound that was ever uttered on the violin, a sound so personal that it is instantly recognizable as his voice from the very first note. As far as musicianship, one is hard-pressed to name another fiddler who held to a higher standard, consistently and over a lifetime, in the areas of rhythmic exactitude and fidelity to the score. With Heifetz, a repeated phrase was never played the same way twice. He was the master of the unbroken line - that ability to convey the progress of the musical argument (as he saw it) of a composition, so that the listener could easily grasp a work's structure, its architecture. Heifetz understood the importance of momentum in music and how vital that is in helping draw the circle that connects the first note of a piece to the last.
Heifetz worked out what he was going to do well in advance of any performance. Consequently, his paying audiences, whether in Carnegie Hall or Moose Jaw, never went home feeling short-changed. Heifetz was not someone who would ever wing it or phone in a performance, just to cash a paycheck. He paid as much seriousness to the outcome of a three-minute musical hors d'œuvre as he did to the Beethoven Violin Concerto. Combine all these attributes to a technique that is still today the touchstone for every aspiring super-virtuoso, and you get what is the closest thing to mathematical certainty, when arguing who is the greatest of them all.
So, let us dismiss most of the criticism of Heifetz outright, as they come from people who have no real idea what goes into generating a sound on the violin. Instead, let us posit that, in an art as fickle as the violin, with practitioners who are among the most ego-centric people one would ever meet outside of politics or rock music, it is noteworthy to have unanimity of opinion on any question, much less the question of who is the greatest ambassador of their art. 
So, if you happen to believe that Jascha Heifetz was the greatest violinist, ever, then you are in good company because Oitrakh, Szigeti, Elman, Ricci, and Franscescatti all thought so, too. Oh, and let us not forget Milstein, Stern, Perlman, Szeryng, Kreisler, Zimbalist, Menuhin, Rabin, Kogan…well, you get the point.


November 5, 2009 at 04:36 PM ·

I would suggest Wolfgang Schneiderhan be added.  His performance with BPO under Jochum of Beethoven's concerto is electrifying as well as sensitive, power and beauty to match Beethoven.  Along with Milstein/Leinsdorf, these two performances of that work are the finest that I've heard.  Schneiderhan was consistently outstanding and deserves to be on your list.


November 5, 2009 at 06:24 PM ·

Bravo, Edward.

November 6, 2009 at 01:36 AM ·

Heifetz, Kogan, Perlman, and Repin. In that order! Why, because that is what I hear when I listen to recordings. They are the ones who do it for me.  

November 6, 2009 at 02:02 AM ·

There are a lot of great musicians to choose from. I think the best person at playing violin is Kogan. However, there are many others I like a lot. I do have one suggestion for this thread. Keep the list as narrow as possible. Already, I am seeing a lot of names of "good" violinists popping up. The point of this list of great violinists is to separate the men from the boys.

November 6, 2009 at 04:09 AM ·

After Heifetz and Kreisler I think one of the greatest violinists of the 20th century was Oscar Shumsky

November 6, 2009 at 04:35 AM ·

I'm glad Aaron Rosand was finally mentioned. I honestly don't think there was anyone better, as his peers said also.

November 7, 2009 at 01:19 AM ·

Even bypassing Paganini, Joachim and Ysaye, where does one start?!?... What are the prerequisite qualities? I'd say:
A combination of special, distinctive sound, interpretative charisma and insight - something important and personal to say -, exceptional technical equipment, inventive phrasing, rhythmic brilliance and subtlety, a balance of intellect, emotional depth and flair, command of a wide range of idioms...A more personal way of putting it is that some artists, even flawed or inconsistent, are capable of magic.
Few of even the undeniably great violinists have had all of those qualities to the highest degree. Heifetz, Milstein, David Oistrakh, Menuhin in his prime, came as close as can be over a sustained period: in my opinion talk of "the greatest" cannot exclude them, beyond issues of personal preference. To me Ferras had all those qualities, and I'm basing this partly on unpublished concert recordings I'm lucky enough to know. There are of course other major violinists who had important, amply recorded careers - among others Kreisler, Elman, Francescatti, Stern, Grumiaux, Ricci, Kogan, Rabin - who, for various reasons, I think are a shade less gigantic in their achievements. Enescu, Huberman, Szigeti, made a range of recordings that are at the very pinnacle, but their output is smaller and often recorded past their prime.
Then all the many magnificent violinists who simply didn't benefit from the opportunities they deserved, it's harder to assess their place in posterity, so the majority of them are now sadly forgotten. I think had they enjoyed a full career, not undermined by various forms of tragedy and hardship, Hassid, Neveu and Wicks would have had achievements in line with the "best of the best". Hassid and Neveu died too young and recorded little. Wicks: again I'm lucky to have heard many private recordings to form a full picture - it really is the highest possible level of playing, from every point of view, but unfortunately not available to most people. Anyway there are of course many others who would belong in a Violin Hall of Fame, famous or not. Not good, boys or girls - great, men and women!  It's a shame the star system relies on a small number of Special Ones.
For me, subsequent generations have offered fewer artists of that caliber- a controversial topic, I know...I do think that the not so well-known Oleg Kagan and Hirschhorn were, and the current generation of young violinists is probably the most interesting in a long while.  
Best, Nathaniel

November 7, 2009 at 05:32 AM ·

"Biographies on the greatest violinists of all time." ----- I am very surprised that no one (unless I overlooked something) has yet mentioned any violinists prior to the era of recordings. If one truly means "the greatest violinists of all time" it is absolutely necessary to look farther back than 1900. Of course, the oldest violinists on recording, including Joseph Joachim, Pablo de Sarasate, Eugène Ysaÿe, and Stanislaw Barcewicz should be included; however, I truly believe there would be a huge defect if the following violinists were left out. Without many of them, we would not be what we are today. (and...there are probably some whom I've overlooked at the moment)

Heinrich von Biber, Arcangelo Corelli, Antonio Vivaldi, Giuseppe Tartini, Francesco Geminiani, Francesco Veracini, Pietro Locatelli, Gaetano Pugnani, Jean-Marie Leclair, Pierre Gaviniès, Giovanni Battista Viotti, Pierre Rode, Rodolphe Kreutzer, Pierre Baillot, Franz Clement, Niccolò Paganini, Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst, Henri Vieuxtemps, Henryk Wieniawski, Louis Spohr, Otakar Sevcik, Ferdinand David, Antonio Bazzini, Leopold Auer

Oh, here are some violinists on recording who (unless I missed something) no one has mentioned yet, and who really should be included:

Carl Flesch, George Enescu, Ginette Neveu, Jacques Thibaud, Franz von Vecsey, Lucien Capet, Manuel Quiroga (1892-1961), Jeno Hubay, Stefi Geyer, Jelly d'Arányi

November 7, 2009 at 05:35 AM ·

Haha! okay, someone else was thinking along similar lines as I was at the time I was typing...

November 7, 2009 at 03:12 PM ·

And don't forget the forgotten ones: Ion Voicu, Rene Benedetti, Samuiil Furer, Igor Politkovsky, Edward Grach, Grigoras Dinicu, Toscha Samaroff, Ricardo Odnoposoff, Elizabetha Gilels, Philip Newman, Andrei Korsakoff...and some modern but seldom named; Hagai Shaham, Philippe Graffin, Arve Tellefsen, Yuval Yaron, Sherban Lupu...

November 7, 2009 at 05:12 PM ·

I'm reading Paganini's bio and it is told that someone appeared to his mom at night and told her he would make one thing she wanted come true. She told that she wanted that her son become the greatest violinist ever and the "angel or so" told that he would do it.   Well I don't know how much of this is true or just put in the book for the showoff (as the explanation for all the girls who fainted when Paganini played... he payed them to do so... : ) but I do know from everything he left that Paganini was a genius even if we don't have recordings of him (never heard of some) !  So it would be so great to put his bio as I'm sure others all ready said.


November 7, 2009 at 05:16 PM ·

I think the only way to accomplish this would be to create two lists:

-"Old" violinists (and musician-composers like weiniawski) who changed the way the instrument is played, or had some profound effect on music and performing in general. (like paganini, vivaldi, etc.)

-"New" violinists who simply are masters of the instrument (joshua bell, Heifetz, etc.)


These two groups are just too different to lump together.

November 7, 2009 at 05:24 PM ·

I'd like to see an emphasis on violinists who are pioneers of historical performance.  Andrew Manze is first and foremost a well respected scholar and superb violinist.  Jaap Schroder is legendary for his Bach sonatas and partitas in the baroque style.  Guiliano Carmignola is an incredibly controversial figure in the historical performance world and in my opinion the greatest interpreter of Vivaldi concerti.  Stanley Ritchie is the most respected baroque violin teacher in the U.S. and Monica Hugget is bringing baroque performance to NY by starting the historical performance program at Juilliard this year.

I would also like to see biographies of controversial violinists of our time that push the boundaries between classical music and the modern world like Nigel Kennedy, Joshua Bell, Vanessa Mae, and Nadja Solerno-Sonenberg.  These guys are trying to pull our field into the current century and they are nothing short of rock stars.

November 7, 2009 at 05:56 PM ·

-"New" violinists who simply are masters of the instrument (joshua bell, Heifetz, etc.)

Bell, Heifetz? An absolutely absurd starting point for a list of masters of the instrument... But I guess everyone's entitled to her opinion.

November 8, 2009 at 02:04 AM ·

"Jascha Heifetz, I'm very happy for you, but Beyonce is the greatest violinist of all time"


-Kayne West

November 9, 2009 at 04:21 AM ·

Ya, I think the argument that Heifetz was the best because that is what the other  greats thought is pretty solid. Who would know better than they, and when they talked about violinist they talked about Heifetz.


Have you heard Perlman talk about Heifetz? The only other player the great ones talked about in this manner was Kogan, and he did not get as much admiration as Heifetz, not nearly as much.  

November 9, 2009 at 05:48 AM ·

If we apply some logic to this discussion then we should not neglect one natural fact: Paganini had no opinion concerning Joseph Joachim, he in turn had no opinion concerning Jascha Heifetz. Heifetz never said a word about Perlman etc. Most opinions about colleagues - are as a rule - oriented towards the past, the older ones.

A big danger for classics. Most repertoire comes from the museum and now we dream of dead performers most of the time. And all this in a form of art which (like drama) exists for every day performance reasons, certainly not for the purpose of striving for the "greatest" can (tin) of music of all times

Slowly but surely I am getting a grasp on Bruckner who enjoyed almost sexually watching opening graves and got inspiration from such "non"-happenings. Every habitat has its animals. Are we classically inclined kind of grave beetles mentally?

Even if there would be sense and possibility in making up an "all time list" then main difficulty lies in agreeing what "great" means in this context. Last week a rather gifted, enthusiastic violin student from my wife's studio being asked for her player idols replied after a few moments of thinking: "No idea, I really love Beethoven." Such healthy and to-the-point approach to classical music will keep it alive, hopefully.

Personality cult is very far from music and pretty close to marketing glue making us stick instead of fly, listeners and performers alike.


November 11, 2009 at 09:41 PM ·

Yikes.... Heisler, I mean, Kreifetz is definitely a good one, hehe!!  Paganini too.... no wonder he's pieces, well, caprices are into 19.. literature for violin, as basic. Not that I ever actually tried to play any of them. I'm staying at Bach for the moment. (Not a bad station, no? huhuhuhu :)

November 12, 2009 at 04:12 PM ·

I am sad to not see Gidon Kremer mentioned amongst a never-ending list of greats.  He is a pioneer of new music and steps outside of the bounds of classical music, forging us into a new century.  He is a master improviser.  Kremer's performed with the likes of Yo Yo Ma and Leonard Bernstein. A truly emotional performer who tells an exciting story every time.

Anne-Sophie Mutter--amongst all the female violinists, she has the greatest business sense (the highest paid female classical musician ever).  Not to mention she is a solid pioneer of new classical music, providing a whole list for a newer generation to discover and play in the future.  Many manuscripts bare tributes with Ms. Mutter's name patched right at the top because of her fierce yet clean and sensual playing style.  Let's not also forget, she must be the first female soloist to ooze sexuality on the stage.  And despite that, still made a name for herself as a serious and talented musician.  Women who try to dress pretty on stage and show any skin are automatically dubbed as airheads and ones who slept their way to the top of the ladder.  And even though Ms. Mutter was most definitely accused of the sleeping with the establishment, she fought through that cloud of negativity!  She is truly a great not only the musical sense but in the feminist sense.  She paved the way for many female musicians.

November 13, 2009 at 01:53 PM ·

I used to listen to endless hours of the Gidon Kremer's interpretation of Bach sonatas (and partitas). Nowadays I find Oistrakh more inspiring somehow..... (maybe because he's already dead... you can't criticize someone in that state, no?)

I reallly like Kreisler though, and just too bad we haven't good recordings of the earlier violinists.

As for non classical, I also listen to Regina Carter.

November 13, 2009 at 03:12 PM ·

NICCOLO PAGANINI  (1782-1840) is number 1, of course !

Obviously, there are not any recordings or videos of his performances, but the very fact that his prominent contemporary violinists believed that he had a pact with the Devil as the only means to explain his superb mastery of the violin (as compared to that of his peers) should be an indication on how good he really was.  Also, his Caprices, Op. 1 are a definitive proof of his mastery both as a violinist and as a composer.

Who's next on the list ?  Who knows.   There have been many great violinists, but I believe that all of them are in a lower dimension when compared to Paganini.


November 14, 2009 at 04:03 AM ·

Paganini does deserve to be on any short list of greats.  But, a crucial aspect of greatness is timelessness.  Paganini was a bona fide revolutionary.  But, could he play Beethoven or Bach in a way that would garner him esteem today as a great artist?

The truth is this: none of Paganini's works are in any way deep.  They certainly showcase the capabilities of the violin in a way no one before him could even conceive.  But, Paganini was already surpassed, in short order, by the likes of Ernst, Wieniawski, and Vieuxtemps - composers who were able to marry lyricism and musicality to the pyrotechnical advancements that Paganini ushered in.  I doubt Paganini could pull off the Elgar or Sibelius, just to take two examples, in a manner that would not instantly brand him as mere circus act. 

We cannot judge greatness in a vacuum.  Our assessments must necessarily be informed by our knowledge and appreciation of the advancements the art of violin has undergone since the time of Vivaldi or Paganini.  Now, Paganini was THE linchpin to that advancement.  But, did the art of violin achieve its pinnacle with Paganini?  Certainly, not.

November 14, 2009 at 06:15 AM ·

Paganini is reported to have had big interest in the late Beethoven quartets... As an more recent example that's not so easy to judge a player by his compositions  I would like to  mention (I know, it's a violin site...)  Rachmaninov, who was rather sober as a player and very sentimantal as a composer... And I would add Tibor Varga, Yuval Aaron, Erick Friedman and Pierre Amoyal to any list...

And dear Carlos, how do you know Tellefsen...? I've heard a most amazing Beethoven Concerto live from him, and the "2 sentimentala romanser" (it's an old LP, all is written in svensk and I'm quoting from memory...)  by Stenhammar are one of my favorite recordings, I mean there the "sound" meets the "tone"...

November 14, 2009 at 06:17 AM ·

The subject of this discussion is  "Who are the greatest violinsts of all time" , not  "Who were the greatest composers of music for violin of all time".  Paganini's compositions are an added asset to his art if we are to appreciate him mainly as a violinist (and not merely as a composer), even if his compositions are not "deep" (whatever the term "deep" may mean).

Paganini's greatest merits and reputation (according to his biographers) rested much more on how virtuosic he was with the violin than with anything else. If the term "violinist" is also to include concepts such as "interpreter", "composer" or "musician", besides virtuosity, then I would agree that Paganini was not necessarily the pinnacle of the art of violin.  But, then ... what is a "violinst" anyway ? It all depends on what we really mean when we use this term. My comments on Paganini have to do much more with his great command of the violin than with anything else, and is in this sense that I use the terms "virtuosic", "virtuosity" or "virtuoso".


November 14, 2009 at 06:25 AM ·


I was reading on my ipod. Small type and I read incorrectly! 


excuse post please


But I couldn't disagree with Edward's post more if I tried. 


November 14, 2009 at 06:55 AM ·

Apologizing to the last poster: I forgot Eugene Fodor in my "addendum"...

November 14, 2009 at 06:58 PM ·

Juan - I better understand your position.  I think I was digressing too far from my own argument.  I was trying to make a point about whether Paganini could be considered The Greatest, but was a bit clumsy in going about it. 

Of course, Paganini single-handedly rearranged the molecules of violin art and set forth a new peformance paradigm by which every player since has operated.  Moreover, there's a reason his compositions will never leave the active repertoire.  They are dazzling vehicles for demonstrating what the violin is capable of. 

The violin is the beneficiary of many profound compositions by great composers, but without the pizzazz that Paganini offers as a counterweight to that profundity, violin art would not be as popular as it is.  Given his contributions, perhaps Paganini deserves his own category altogether. 

Even though I consider Heifetz's achievements more holistic (a demonstration of what you get when you combine instrumental, musical, stylisitc, and artistic excellence into one complete package), there's no question that his acheivements stand on the shoulders of Paganini's.  Moreover, I recognize that a fair assessment of Paganini is made impossible by the fact that his playing cannot be judged by modern ears.  We can never make the kind apples-to-apples comparison we can with, let's say, Milstein and Oistrakh in a series of recordings of the same pieces.  But, the mere fact that he could even conceive of the kind of compositions he acheived great fame and wealth playing surely places him on any "greatest" shortlist.

November 15, 2009 at 02:49 AM ·

Only Raphael Klayman has mentioned Zino Francescatti (forgive me if someone else has mentioned Zino).

November 15, 2009 at 05:27 AM ·

To be fair, actually that was Sander Marcus who mentioned Francescatti as a favorite - a choice with which I would not disagree. But I was the only one to have the nerve, the gall, the temerity, indeed the chutspah to begin to write in a certain name before modesty, reality and common sense stopped me! (I was told though by a musical mermaid that I might be among the top 10% of violinists currently living in my section of Coney Island!)  ;-)

November 15, 2009 at 07:13 AM ·

I think we should only include violinists that we've actually heard play.  Has anyone ever heard Paganini play?  :)

November 15, 2009 at 11:42 AM ·

Maybe we should ask -even if obviously subjective, one way or the other- people closely associated with the violinists. Paganini is out of question, of course, but just take a look at Heifetz's wife..... :-/

November 15, 2009 at 01:28 PM ·

I'm learning so much about classical music-musicians here. Recently I have been awed by the talent of Pearlman. He was incredible even at age ten.

For other genres of music there are also greats. Stephane Grapelli. He played so sweet, lyrical and expressive. His tone and intonation while sliding/double stops was truly incredible. And also the way he phrased his solos against new rythmn styles was groundbreaking. His legacy of Hot Club music reaches globally, with "Hot Club" bands and their devoted listeners. Stephane and Django are legend even after 50 years since their last performance. Django gets so much of the credit they both deserve, he wanted and thrived on it, selfishly demanding attention, Stephane? He reminded Django that he could perform without him if need be, and to behave. Grapelli is what many players aspire to. Jean-Luc Ponty comes to mind here too.

Kevin Burke is an Irish fiddler worth a mention. He leaves you wondering "how does he do that?".

Bluegrass ain't that easy folks! There are many different bowing patterns and percussive techniques as well as countless tunes to memorize and master. Improvisation and music theory are a much different study than Kreutzer or Bach. Vassar Clements was perhaps the greatest American fiddler. He defined the "right" way for every tune he played. Stuart Duncan is really incredible and has been awarded player of the year 8 times since 1995 by the IBMA. He is what I consider the very best kind of player, unrecognizable and hard to identify from listening. And then of course Mark O'Connor. Mark won just about every award possible before age 15. For fiddle and guitar. O'Connor is in a league of his own really and can play any style of music either from sheets of improv. Mark O'Connor would be my choice as the best violinist because of his great diversity of talent. The swiss army knife of violinists, that's what he is.



November 16, 2009 at 04:35 AM ·

Jasmine, I'll admit - I have heard Paganini play! I know that this really dates me, but...

Seriously though, I think it's legitimate to do some historical research and consider a historical figure's compositions, and his impact on colleagues and audiences, whether or not their playng would have been our cup of tea. Just to consider some inter-composer influence - no Paganini, no Berlioz Harold in Italy, and maybe Liszt would not have been the same, as he sought to become the Paganini of the piano. No Ysaye, probably no Chausson Poeme, Debussy Quartet,  or Frank Sinatra - er Franck Sonata!

We're all standing on the shoulders of giants.

November 16, 2009 at 05:02 AM ·


I agree.  I also find that I can never really get my head around the notion that ` Paginini couldn`t play the Sibelius or Elgar or whatever.`   The weakness of this posiiton to my mind is that if Paginini  was living in the era of these works then he -would- be playing them.  He would be the burning talent forced to play for many hours a day as a kid and then  and wowing the world from the concert platform on an almost daily basis.  His name would be something like Heimilrepfran El   Oimingerov.

The role of Paginini as pivotal figure would then have been taken by somebody else.  It is the pivotal role rather than the player which is significant.  I think this kind of interesting but ultimately meaningless transfer has some kind of technical name but if it hasn`t I will christen it Aston Martin because they used to make bloody good cars.  As opposed to Mr Kipling whose cakes are exceedingly dubious.



November 16, 2009 at 02:08 PM ·

"Heimilrepfran El   Oimingerov."  !!!   We would burst under excitment  to here such a beast play ; )


November 16, 2009 at 10:50 PM ·

The beauty and the beast (;

November 17, 2009 at 04:37 AM ·

I don't know about "Mr. Kipling's cakes". But I would recommend Mr. Maugham's "Cakes and Ale"!

November 17, 2009 at 11:50 AM ·

JASCHA HEIFETZ!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

JOE VENUTI!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

:) :) :) :) :) :) :)

November 19, 2009 at 05:35 PM ·

by now many have mentioned the obvious, Paganini, Ysaye, Heifetz, Kreisler, Milstein etc.

There are however a few great violinists  that have not been mentioned.

Josef Hassid, (one of the greatest prodigies ever) and Michael Rabin.

Among the players today, it would have to be Leonidas Kavakos, Joshua Bell, James Ehnes,  Stefan Jackiw, Julia Fischer, J. Rachlin.



November 21, 2009 at 10:36 PM ·

Leila Josefowicz, Yulian Sitkovetsky, Chuanyun Li


November 21, 2009 at 11:28 PM ·


>here are however a few great violinists  that have not been mentioned.

Josef Hassid, (one of the greatest prodigies ever) and Michael Rabin.

actually both of these player s are mentioned earleir in the thread but you`d have ot be reeeal anal retentive to have slogged your way through all those mind numbing lists of great players and remembered who was or wasn`t mentioned.   Lost in all these shopping lists ,  somewhere in the dark ages, also rests Robert`s appeal for commentary on individual players rather than lists,  a request that has largely been ignored.   I blame the influence of modern technology and junk food.



November 22, 2009 at 11:48 AM ·


* Caspar Frantz

* Charles-Auguste de Beriot


November 22, 2009 at 02:34 PM ·

Have Grumiaux and Szeryng been mentioned? And I'd like to personally add Glenn Dicterow and Charles Libove. The latter name will not be familiar to many, as he didn't become a "big name". But many in the know would rank him with some of the other top American vitruosos such as Rosand, Nadien, and Dicterow. Libove made just a few recordings, including a super one of all Ravel. It's gorgeous, artisitc playing of the highest order. I've never heard a better Tzigane.

BTW, Buri mentioned one of the loves of my life. No, not a violinist, not a woman - junk food!


November 22, 2009 at 03:17 PM ·

And don't forget Beer!!!!

November 22, 2009 at 06:19 PM ·

Probably this has been mentioned before now... but it seems fine to include historical people based on their reputations.  None of us has ever heard Paganini, for example, but it's pretty clear that he was one of the great violinists of history.   For all we know, maybe Hilary Hahn plays with cleaner technique and better intonation -- but if those were the only criteria, then Kreisler would never make anybody's list.

November 22, 2009 at 07:59 PM ·

Thumbs up Bruce.

For what it's worth, while we may not know how Paganini actually sounded it's pretty remarkable that he was able to play the things he wrote considering he didn't even use a chin rest much lest a shoulder rest.  Now you give that a try.

November 23, 2009 at 08:51 AM ·

 vanessa mae

November 23, 2009 at 12:42 PM ·

;>)    André Rieu  

entertains large fan communities - not including me though (not my beer, aehhm cup of tea) - by high level Schmaltz on his Strad.


November 23, 2009 at 01:37 PM ·

Hmmm...how did this thread begin? Oh yes - "Who are the greatest violinists of all time?" Now we're down to Vanessa Mae and Andre Rieu. Not to put anyone down, but maybe we need a couple of separate categories such as "who are the best looking or sexiest violinists" and "who are the most successful irrespective of their actual playing"...

November 23, 2009 at 01:59 PM ·

The question appears to have been answered -

The greatest violinist of all time is......



Every violinist who has been mentioned (not including the ones that we may have missed).

November 23, 2009 at 02:33 PM ·

Yes Sander; like Duci de Kerekjarto, Sascha Jacobsen, Isolde Menges, Paul Kochanski, Kenryk Temianka, Ion Voicu, Elizaveta Gilels, Samuiil Furer, Philippe Graffin, Toscha Samaroff......

November 23, 2009 at 03:49 PM ·

What happens when this thread reaches 100?  There are still a few not mentioned.

What will be nice, is a violinist be up for listing and whomever can contribute material about that person will be fabulous!  thie members here will eat wikipedia's lunch when it comes to info about famous violinist including persons who saw, had a master class with and or knew that violinist!

B. Huberman!!!!  Read the Blog!!!!!

November 23, 2009 at 05:04 PM ·

Irvine Arditti

Many of the works that he has performed  are extremely demanding even  if you  only sightread them.

Musicians that focus on modern  works are sadly very neclected


November 23, 2009 at 05:04 PM ·

Irvine Arditti

Many of the works that he has performed  are extremely demanding even  if you  only sightread them.

Musicians that focus on modern  works are sadly very neclected


November 23, 2009 at 06:24 PM ·

 Elmar Oliveira definitely has that "sound" Buri was referencing.  And he's beautifully musical on top of that.  Possibly my fav violinist of today.  Of contemporary violinists, another vote for Kavakos.  He's been called many times a "violinist's violinist."  There are just many things he does with a lot of taste and he also has "that sound" that projects to the back of a hall, something a number of violinists today seem to lack.  Another name that hasn't yet been mentioned--Erica Morini.  She is right up there with the all-time greats, but is less often mentioned--perhaps because she was a woman?  Heifetz without saying should really be first on the list.  His sheer coordination has been unmatched.  I think Perlman is sort of a necessity on this list, as one of the most famous personas of all time.  He just has this personable personality.  Some of my students call him "Mr bear paws." :)  Oistrakh and Milstein and etc etc really go without saying too.  I think the Heifetz generation is the single most important.  The sound, technical accuracy, and personality of that era were earth-shattering.  Of course, video and audio quality of that era were also good enough so that we can actually tell what they might have sounded like....    

November 23, 2009 at 07:55 PM ·

The World Violinists Links


November 24, 2009 at 12:19 AM ·

Raphael, I agree. Vanessa Mae is not really the type of violinist we were talking here even if she is competent in her type of music shows. When "le contenant est plus important que le contenu" I don't think it fits here : )  


November 24, 2009 at 12:46 AM ·

Andreas, yes this does apply too to contemporary violinists like

Carolin Widman, she is not listed in the otherwise very comprehensive list mentioned in the above post (by the link Benny provided).

Missing there are also artists like Liviu Prunaru and Tanja Becker-Bender.

Have contacted them by mail suggesting these additions with respective links.


November 24, 2009 at 01:29 AM ·

I`m sure I was going to mention another ten or so people who play really well but I forgot them....

maybe next time we will get some more er,    biographies and commentary;)

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