Famous amateur violinists?

May 7, 2007 at 08:24 PM · Who cares about Condoleezza Rice,

Bill Clinton, Helmut Schmidt, Charlie Chaplin, Sir Edward Heath, Lothar de Maizière?

Where are the violinists aside from the well known like Einstein? Right know, I can just think of a few:

actor Armin Müller-Stahl (he studied violin and is still a noble, discreet patron for younger violinists)

Lots of american presidents: Nixon (besides some other instruments), Lyndon B. Johnson, Woodrow Wilson and Jefferson, who could "calculate an eclipse, survey an estate, tie an artery, plan an edifice, try a cause, break a horse, dance a minuet, and play the violin."

Heydrich, some members of the Red Army Fraction (RAF), e. g. one of their leaders Ulrike Meinhof, she thought about studying violin in the 50's and kept on practising in the solitary confinement (pretty beyond belief, but historians say so)

Then Hermann Hesse, Thomas Mann, Paul Klee and Marlene Dietrich: she studied hard as a kid ("The lessons are tough, I've to practise like mad!"). Though she wasn't as obsessed of her instrument like Charlie Chaplin, she kept on practising, especially in her holidays.

"I took my violin to my holidays in Sylt to practise, I had hardly any opportunities to play the weeks before. No doubt - I'd make it up for. On the first day - rain fell in sheets anyway - I started. I remember exactely: I practised Kreisler's „Tambourin chinois“. After a few bars, it knocked on the door and a tiny little man appeared: "Erm..., would you mind to stop playing here? You know, I'm a musician,and I HAVE to recover, and if you play..."

So I changed the hotel and played there. But just for one day. Meanwhile so many guests complained about my playing, that the innkeeper told me, not to open my violin case again. So I moved again. Next morning in the next hotel I tuned, deeply hoping I could practise. Just when I started the first bar, someone in the adjoining room started trumpeting. When I stopped, he stopped. Wrathfully I put my violin away and went to the beach. And whenever I started to practise, he started to play trumpet. So I threw the violin on the bed and surrendered.

So - which famous amateur violinist do you know?

Replies (100)

May 7, 2007 at 10:24 PM · Well, Sherlock Holmes was an amateur violinist, but I guess you're after real people...

I seem to remember reading that Thomas Jefferson played some.

May 7, 2007 at 10:44 PM · He mentioned Jeff. I think he left music too, maybe a quartet, but not sure.

May 7, 2007 at 10:48 PM · Dr. Herbert Axelrod has made the news recently, although for unfortunate reasons.

May 7, 2007 at 10:58 PM · Unfortunately, not a violinist, but I believe Karl Malone (NBA Basketballer with the Utah Jazz (Has he retired yet? I haven't been keeping track)) played the Cello.

May 7, 2007 at 11:06 PM · Heydrich, SS Governor of Poland or was it Hungary.

Wolfenson previous president of the World Bank.

Louis Farrakahn the black leader.

Jack Benney, is he dead or is he still 39?

Henny Youngman, he is dead for sure.

May 8, 2007 at 12:09 AM · Albert Einstein?

[edit- oops] he was mentioned in the first message. sorry, I haven't had much sleep of late.

May 8, 2007 at 12:40 AM · Former Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas was a devoted amateur violinist and quartet player

May 8, 2007 at 05:29 AM · Philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, and I guess Beethoven:)! He had tried the violin seriously but never did he reach a professional level.

May 8, 2007 at 03:32 AM · Poet/critic Allen Tate not only played the violin, but attended the Cincinnati Conservatory for a year before studying literature at Vanderbilt.

May 8, 2007 at 03:59 AM · Mussolini

May 8, 2007 at 11:37 AM · Jayne Mansfield and this other Queen, Queen Elisabeth of Belgium

May 8, 2007 at 12:15 PM · Thomas Jefferson not only played the violin, but was quite serious about it. There is a very good book called: "Thomas Jefferson - Musician & Violinist" by Sandor Salgo. Opening it again, now at random, I see "He practiced the violin no less than 3 hours a day for a dozen years." (p.10) He had a Tourte bow that I once saw, and possibly a Strad at one point. Nobody knows what happened to it.

On the other side of "the Pond" around the same time, King George III played the violin and loved Bach and Handel.

Matisse played the violin, as did, i believe, Paul Klee.

May 8, 2007 at 03:59 PM · Very interesting question!

Indeed Sherlock Holmes is the first person to come to mind, but maybe that's because I just got my hands on the new three-volume annotated edition of the Holmes stories, which contains in-depth theories discussing his and Watson's musical tastes. But alas, he was not a real person. Although, I suppose, we can always hope otherwise. :)

Aside from that, Jefferson and Einstein are the only people I can think of! This is indeed strange. I'll be watching this thread for more answers; now that the question has been raised, it is going to bother me...

May 8, 2007 at 04:28 PM · The 19th century French artist Jean Ingres (whose legacy includes a famous drawing of Paganini) was an amateur violinist. In fact, the French term for "hobby" is "le violon d'Ingres."

May 8, 2007 at 04:34 PM · Marshall Tukhachevsky, a Soviet military leader eventually executed by Stalin, was an amateur violin-maker (and may have played the violin, too). Milstein mentions him in his autobiography.

May 8, 2007 at 04:44 PM · David Lloyd Kreeger, who was the head of the GEICO insurance company, was an ardent amateur violinist, and then, of course, there's David Fulton, the software tycoon, violin collector and amateur violinist.

Senator Byrd of West Virginia is an accomplished fiddler.

May 8, 2007 at 05:29 PM · I've read that Paul Klee was in fact a rather accomplished violinist. And let's not forget Jayne Mansfield (Not great, but she did try the first movement of the Vivaldi A Minor on TV years ago and was, well, passionate). And what about Louis Farrakhan, who from what I have read has some accomplishments as a violinist. Jack Benny, of course, actually took his playing rather seriously.

Hey, what about Nero? (I think he was playing Kreutzer while Rome was burning)

May 8, 2007 at 05:36 PM · His playing actually inspired the Romans to burn their city down.

May 8, 2007 at 06:07 PM · Especially if he was playing Kreutzer #2.

May 8, 2007 at 06:35 PM · Nathan Milstein's mother was a violinist.

Not really an amateur violinist, but Russell Crowe spent months learning how to play the violin for the movie Master and Commander. He wanted it to look like he really was playing it, so he learned how to play. i find that very interesting...

President John Tyler played also.

May 8, 2007 at 06:32 PM · I once read an article (New York Times, I think, within the last year) about piano teachers who teach people like Adrian Brody, the star of "The Pianist" how to play so they look real. Apparently, it is sort of a crash course in how to play piano, and the student can actually play the few pieces necessary.

May 8, 2007 at 06:33 PM · Did anyone mention Larry Fine of the 3 Stooges?

May 8, 2007 at 06:36 PM · Yeah, I think when they do the crash courses, they don't learn how to read the music or anything. They just listen to what it sounds like and put their fingers down where the teacher tells them to.

May 8, 2007 at 06:53 PM · Larry Fine taking a "crash course" in playing the violin? - that's funny.

I always like it in the movies when you see these actors pretending to play the violin, and their left hand isn't moving at all, but you hear this beautiful vibrato. Ahhh, Hollywood.

May 8, 2007 at 07:14 PM · Well, there is always Antonella Barba of this years American Idol fame. Ansel Adams once considered a career as a concert pianist...but I guess that doesn't count since you asked about violinists. Hmmm....Didn't Sibelius play the violin? He was kind of an amateur in a sense...though he was a musical genius in other ways obviously so maybe that doesn't count either.

May 8, 2007 at 10:25 PM · Meryl Streep learned a little violin for Music of the Heart-in an interview she said she learned 3rd position because "professionals play in 3rd position".

May 8, 2007 at 10:32 PM · I've read that Bill Gates has a Strad or two, whether he plays or owns them strictly for investments....?

May 9, 2007 at 02:10 AM · Did Emfram Zimbalist Jr. escape violin lessons?


May 9, 2007 at 02:52 AM · In the musical 1776 there's a song about Jefferson and his violin -->link. I've never seen the DVD but I saw it on stage in 1976. It had me rolling on the floor, so it might be worth renting.

May 9, 2007 at 02:58 AM · don't rent - laugh here

May 9, 2007 at 04:02 AM · That's great. Here's the one that really gets me going though. Richard Henry Lee of Old Vir-ginny-ahhhh.

May 9, 2007 at 08:33 PM · No-one is going to know the following two, but they were resp. are prominent political figures in Germany.

Lothar de Maizière, the last Ministerpräsident (April to October, 1990) of the now defunct GDR, is a trained violist who gave up professional orchestra playing as he suffered physical difficulties. He turned politician when the communist GDR regime ended.

Wolfgang Tiefensee, former mayor of Leipzig, now German minister for traffic and transportation, is a trained cellist.



May 14, 2007 at 10:33 AM · Saul Bellow and Henry Ford

Hey, what about Nero? (I think he was playing Kreutzer while Rome was burning)

Flann o'Brien wrote, John Keats had a dog named Byrne. Once the dog disappeared for a while. When asked how he could play violin in such a situation, he answered: "Why shouldn't I play violin, when Byrne is roaming." :)

May 15, 2007 at 12:06 AM · Well, we just had, for a commencement speaker at University of Illinois School of Music Graduation, Sheila Johnson, who was concertmistress when she was a student here. She co-founded BET (Black Entertainment Television).

Very impressive lady - she spoke in terms of the ongoing choices that we make and the immense responsibility of managing a career in music.

She was a student here of Paul Rolland, whom some of you will know of. She was also the first African-American cheerleader at Illinois. Although I was more wondering if she wasn't the first and only concertmistress cheerleader here.

By the way, the two dated usages here are hers, but they would probably be mine, too, unless I caught myself. :-)

May 15, 2007 at 02:48 AM · Louis Farrahkan and

May 15, 2007 at 02:50 AM · Laurie Anderson.

Is what I meant to say but the site won't let me edit my bad html.

May 16, 2007 at 03:57 AM · From the BBC comedy 'Allo 'Allo; Herr Otto Flick of the Gestapo

A very funny character who can actually play.

May 16, 2007 at 09:25 PM · Thomas Hardy

Prince Charles plays(ed) the Cello


May 17, 2007 at 12:29 AM · If I'm not mistaken: Davy Crockett and Sen. Robert Byrd, W.Va.,

both fiddlin' legislators.

July 3, 2007 at 04:17 PM · Jeremy Irons

July 3, 2007 at 04:30 PM · Saint-Exupery

July 3, 2007 at 04:31 PM · Steinhausen

July 3, 2007 at 04:31 PM · Regina Carter

July 3, 2007 at 04:35 PM · Suzuki, Einstein

July 3, 2007 at 04:36 PM · Pope Pacelli, Pio XII, the Pope of the Silence

July 3, 2007 at 04:57 PM · "And whenever I started to practise, he started to play trumpet. So I threw the violin on the bed and surrendered."

ee-hah! I had nearly the same experience with banjo! Though it was because the neighbors were cantankerous old geezers. That, was simply a temporary diversion though.

July 3, 2007 at 05:01 PM · Il diavolo è subdolo e mancino e suona il violino (F. Battiato)

July 3, 2007 at 05:03 PM · Lorin Mazel

July 3, 2007 at 05:27 PM · Lorin Maazel is decidedly not an amateur. He was a section player in the Pittsburgh Symphony and he has been a soloist in the Vienna Phil's New Years concerts.

July 3, 2007 at 05:37 PM · Sti c...i

July 3, 2007 at 05:38 PM · Katherine Drinker Bowen, known for her romantic and sometimes semi-fictionalized works of history and biography was a devot4ed amateur violinist.

Bowen wrote a very touching little book about her experiences as an amateur chamber player -- "Friends and Fiddlers." That book gave me some important inspiration early in life. It's long out of print, but if anybody runs across a copy it is rewarding reading.

Books of hers that are still available are "Miracle at Philadelphia" about the writing of the Declaration of Independence, and "Beloved Friend" about the friendship of Tchaikovsky and Madame von Meck.

July 4, 2007 at 01:22 AM · Did anyone mention Marlene Dietrich? She wanted to be a professional but it didn't happen.

Regarding Larry of long fuzzy hair fame (the hair that Moe was want to pull out in long tortuous strips whenever he got agitated), I didn't realise he was a violinist until I saw him on a DVD pretending to play the violin. I saw straight away that he knew what he was doing, and said "Hey, Larry knows the violin!".

July 4, 2007 at 01:46 AM · Can I really get lessons with him do you think?

(pardon us everyone while Joel saves my artistic life).

P.S. On a whim I just changed my name on my profile board. I didn't realise it would change on my posts, too.

July 4, 2007 at 07:49 AM · Hey Jim, can you imagine having to watch that in 8th grade civics class? We all had a lot of fun with that one. Of course, I was completely mortified to be associated with such horribly mushy cheesy song, but later I went to the library and checked out the record so me and my brothers could take turns ridiculing the entire musical. We were such geeks...

July 4, 2007 at 05:39 PM · Olivia Newton John's grand father played the violin in Germany with Einstein and many other great scientists.

July 5, 2007 at 03:53 PM · It feels great to actually know violinists that I think may be famous someday... I would drop their names, but I'm respecting the possiblity that they don't want the media to find out...

July 5, 2007 at 09:08 PM · I won't admit how I know this, but apparently Nicole Ritchie plays violin (and piano and cello)...

July 6, 2007 at 12:12 AM · Robert, here is a little piece of trivia regarding Olivia Newton John: my family were right next door to the Newton Johns in High Street, Newcastle in the 1960's. But we moved out of that house when I was born because I was the 3rd child and the house was too small. So, I have a tiny, tenuous link with Einstein! Maybe thats why I'm an amateur violinist (but not a famous one, thank heavens).

July 6, 2007 at 05:07 AM · lol... Wonder what the people are like who moved in after you?

July 7, 2007 at 03:42 AM · Mussolini (yes definitely).

Russell Crowe (he learned it for Master and Commander and has kept it up since).

The French artist Ingres. (There is a French saying that someone has a "violon d'Ingres", meaning that even though you're really good at some occupation, eg painting as in Ingres' case, you are crazy about something else for which you have much less talent. And I have seen the actual violin of Ingres in the Ingres museum in France.

Prince Charles plays the cello, as did his ancestors George IV and Frederick Prince of Wales (father of George III). Frederick died young due to being hit by a cricket ball, so he was a sportsman as well as a musician.



July 7, 2007 at 04:56 AM · I wonder if Russell Crowe, and indeed his friend Richard Tognetti of the ACO, reads violinist.com?

July 7, 2007 at 07:49 AM · I have a photo of Russell Crowe knitting. I think he was more interested in looking good for the photo than actually using them. That's the main reason I don't care for him much as an actor. I bet he looks just great with his violin, too.

July 7, 2007 at 12:06 PM · Jessica Alba, (actress) takes violin lessons for 8 months for her new film "the eye"

she plays role as "blind violinist" in this movie, and she says "i am playing pieces from mozart and beethoven now. but it's very very difficult"

July 7, 2007 at 12:38 PM · Sibelius was far more than an amateur. He actually was conservatory trained and auditioned unsuccessfully for the Vienna State Opera Orchestra. There are those who say that he conceived his concerto for himself although it is doubtful he performed it.

April 12, 2008 at 01:52 PM · Charles G. Dawes, Emile Berliner

William Kennedy Dickson, the inventor of the motion picture camera and coworker of Edison, you can watch him playing in his Experimental Sound Film from 1895, it's the first film with live-recorded sound.

Clara Haskil - when she practised with Arthur Grumiaux, they loved to switch parts.

April 12, 2008 at 04:58 PM · The Prince of Wales plays the cello (or at least used to).

April 12, 2008 at 05:22 PM · I also read that about Nicole Ritchie.

I thought Ronald Reagan played in addition to being an actor, but I can't find anything about it. Am I just nuts?

April 12, 2008 at 06:02 PM · ha ha, I searched for Ronald Reagan & violin, but found a better one: Joe Louis, who started violin lessons, but 'rejected this “sissy” activity' after a while according to this link.

April 12, 2008 at 07:21 PM · i have no idea if someone already said it, but albert einstein was a famous amateur violinist. he was said to love bach & mozart.

April 12, 2008 at 08:11 PM · JACK BENNY!!


In other words, smart and funny people! :)

April 12, 2008 at 11:22 PM · Hey, I heard Einstein was a violinist...

April 15, 2008 at 03:18 PM · The actor behind BORAT (Sasha Baron-Cohen) studied violin.

April 23, 2008 at 03:06 AM · Captain Jack Aubrey, the hero of the Aubrey-Maturin series of naval/historical fiction novels by Patrick O'Brian, is an avid amateur violinist.

His particular friend & companion, Stephen Maturin is a cellist and they play their way (badly!) through 20-some sea adventures.

The audio versions of these books narrated by the actor Patrick Tull are really wonderful!

April 23, 2008 at 03:35 AM · A recent arrival to the famous amateur violinist camp:

Conductor Maxim Vengerov :-)

April 23, 2008 at 03:44 AM · Arnold Gingrich, the Editor and Publisher of Esquire Magazine. Arnold also wrote the book "A Thousnad Mornings of Music," a story about his practicing violin every morning for a thousand days in hopes of getting better.

What makes me gnash my teeth is his violin, a superb Amati that was enlarged by Lupo and mentioned over and over in the book, was almost given to me for free by my Father's former concertmaster of the best orchestra in the world that nobody knew about... deliberately, Sonja Maguire. Mrs Maguire asked my father what I was doing one day. He said Ray is playing in the Tulsa Philharmonic helping to pay his way through school. "WHAT?" She howled. "Damn!" She said. "I didn't know Ray played violin, I just gave mine away and had I known he played I would have given it to him." Mrs Maguire was filthy rich so giving away an instrument like that was nothing.

This violin had the sweetness of an Amati and after Lupo fiddled with it also the power of a 1700's Strad without losing the Amati tone. Damn!

April 23, 2008 at 09:02 AM · @ Sander Marcus:

You do Larry Fine a grave injustice! He of "Three Stooges" fame was actually a very accomplished violinist! In fact, he took up the instrument at a young age and actually became an award-winning theater performer. See his official bio here:


Hope Paolotto's preceding comment on violin crash courses for actors was actually in reference to Russel Crowe's grueling training for Master & Commander: he spent months learning to play a single piece of music... "It's an unforgiving mistress," he said respectfully (and rightfully so!) of the violin.

I'd have replied sooner if I had read this thread earlier.

April 23, 2008 at 09:38 AM · Lots more information about famous people who were amateur musicians on this site. There are indeed many benefits to a sound music education!


April 23, 2008 at 11:51 AM · Do not forget Sherlock Holmes. He played

on his own Stradivarius, and never missed

a recital by Sarasate or Lady Halle.

April 23, 2008 at 12:18 PM · Timothy: I stand corrected. In fact, it's gratifying to learn more about Larry Fine of the 3 Stooges and his serious training as a violinist.


April 24, 2008 at 06:43 AM · @Sander: You're welcome! No worries :D

April 24, 2008 at 11:39 AM · About Einstein,Gregor in his book remember

that once Albert played the violin for him

and at the end,anxious asked him "Well, how

I've played?" And Piatigorsky answered

"Hm, relatively well"

April 24, 2008 at 02:34 PM · Nero. (Okay, okay, so it wasn't really a fiddle, it was some kind of lyre-like thingy, on the other hand the dude was definitely famous).

April 25, 2008 at 08:13 AM · Einstein used to play Beethoven sonatas with Schnabel. The story goes that after playing for some time Einstein would end up getting horribly lost. Schnabel would stop and sigh: "Wot is de matter Alfred? Can't you count?!"

April 27, 2008 at 07:25 AM · Adolf Eichmann: he was said to had been a medium level amateur with Beethoven and Schubert as his favorites, he and his defending lawyer stressed it out several times in the Eichmann trial.

Ludwig Beck: an ardent amateur playing in an officer's string trio during WWI.

Rudolf Kárpáti: Hungarian sabre fencing legend (six-time Olympic champion). He studied violin, but got in trouble with his right arm, before he finished a study as musicologist. He wrote a longer essay about parallels between playing violin and fencing.

Christian Tramitz: comedian, studied violin in München

April 27, 2008 at 07:41 AM · Alexander Borodin, a great Russian chemist, was the leading authority of his day (late 1800s) on aldehydes, a class of organic compounds. He was also a "Sunday composer."

April 27, 2008 at 07:52 AM · "Adolf Eichmann:"


April 27, 2008 at 10:43 PM · "Now, Watson, I will go into the world where all is sweetness and light," said Sherlock Holmes to Dr. Watson, as the former got out his violin.

April 29, 2008 at 12:41 AM · Yes, I am a geek, but let's not forget Data on "Star Trek"

: )


April 29, 2008 at 12:42 AM ·

April 29, 2008 at 03:44 PM · Pauline: "Holmes" said that he went to

listen to at least 2 famous violinist of

his time. Do you remember who were they?

April 30, 2008 at 02:48 AM · I really really don't understand the fascination with entirely invented amateur violinists who never existed. Isn't it a sorry state of affairs that we have to invent role models? Aren't there any real persons that can serve us as role models?

April 30, 2008 at 04:59 AM · There are PLENTY of real persons that can serve us as role models. What about Sherlock Holmes and that old guy in the Frankenstein movie? And Paul Boray, the violin virtuoso from the slums of New York who rises to the top with the assistance of socialite Joan Crawford? He was cool.

April 30, 2008 at 04:55 AM · most of my students call me Santa Claus.

April 30, 2008 at 05:01 AM · I think Holmes went to hear Pablo de Sarasate and Vanessa Mae.

April 30, 2008 at 05:56 AM · does the latter case count as the ubiquitous `lemonentry my dear watson` or is it just my spelling.



April 30, 2008 at 11:24 AM · Charles 'Pa' Ingalls.

The novels might have been softened a bit from the harsh reality, but at least Pa was a real person. You can still see his violin in a museum somewhere.

Hmmm....fictional characters, let's see, Thomas Hardy's character Gabriel Oak...come to think of it he played flute, it was Hardy himself who was the violinist. The lead characters in 'Under the Greenwood Tree' are a small group of amateur violinists.

May 3, 2008 at 06:47 PM · Stephen, you must be thinking of Trini Lopez, who sang "Lemonentry very pretty."

I'm surprised at the small number of famous laymen who have played the violin throughout history.

May 4, 2008 at 05:01 AM · Most of them didn't live long enough to play throughout history.

May 13, 2008 at 04:53 PM · Daniel Pearl, here you can find more about the Daniel Pearl Memorial Violin and its foundation as well as about the music festival dedicated to him.

March 3, 2017 at 05:47 AM · Martin Luther King Jr. growing up. Coretta Scott King studied violin in college. Lucille Ball practiced her violin in her dressing room. Jayne Mansfield played played the Vivaldi A minor Concerto on the Ed Sullivan Show - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DYinuc9Rb-E

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