What is a virtuoso?

December 27, 2013 at 05:27 PM · The question is prompted by the playing in this video from Hungary.

Fly My Swallow (1995).com

Are these violinists virtuosos even though its quite likely (I'm guessing) that many have never experienced Paganini?

Replies (28)

December 27, 2013 at 06:44 PM · Yes, they are virtuosi, in their own genre.

And you shouldn't think that the Gypsy style of fiddling is free from classical influences. The composer of that Piece was a classical violinist that studied with Böhm at the same time as Joachim did and was a friend of both Brahms and Liszt.

December 27, 2013 at 06:48 PM · My rule-of-thumb definition of a "virtuoso" - anyone who can play like what I can't.

December 27, 2013 at 07:39 PM · I am with Trevor on the definition of virtuoso. Anyone good enough so that I would trade my bow arm to be able to match is a virtuoso in my book.

December 27, 2013 at 10:56 PM · Greetings,

anybody notice the close resemblance the first two players music had to the Mendelssohn violin concerto?



December 28, 2013 at 02:04 AM · Cood catch Buri - but perhaps we should really ask why the Mendelssohn concerto resembles that of these players - I'm going to guess that their musical tradition is far older... ;)

December 28, 2013 at 03:38 AM · No Elise - many violinist here have a classical background as well. Their musical language are older then Mendelssohn's time, but not their general technique toolbox.

December 28, 2013 at 09:45 AM · Greetings,

Elise have you heard the story Casals told arnold Steinhardt about the Famous Hungarian Gypsy fiddler. Casals was in a restaurant in Hungary and in honor of his guest the fiddler played the G minor Adagio. Casals said it was the best version he had ever heard (as it was so free and creative. Not exact quote.)

Makes me wonder if Casals ever heard the Kreisler version though...



December 28, 2013 at 12:35 PM · Matthias: I thought you were in Sverige - you write as if you are in Hungary?

I wonder what the oldest Roma (or other folk) recordings are - and if they are unaffected by the classical tradition. It would be very interesting to know exactly what techniques these groups developed and to what extent virtuoso violin/composers (such as Viotti, Paganini) used not only their themes (which is well known) but also their technical developments.

It would be a bit sad if classical training has in essence eradicated the 'gypsy school' (which must have had many branches too - but Roma culture includes mass gatherings where, I presume these abilities were shared).

December 28, 2013 at 01:02 PM · Sorry Elise - my mind traveled a bit there :)

Just as there are so many styles of classical music there are many styles of Roma music as well.

Here is a virtuoso performance without obvious classical influences:


My bet is that this is much closer to the origins.

December 28, 2013 at 03:43 PM · wow, and no SRs either - then again there isn't a lot of shifting. Notice how they hardly contact the chin rest.

Did you listen through? the Bass, accordion and that percussion instrument solos are increadible - I wonder how much is improvisation and how much memory. Now I'm wondering if this is typical gypsy music then whats really so unique about jazz? And the old guy at 9.15 is truly amazing...

December 28, 2013 at 04:48 PM · No SRs? That must date their playing tradition to well before the middle of the 20th century!

December 30, 2013 at 07:24 AM · I've posted this Franz Liszt quote before but it is worth posting again because it's so relevant to this discussion and also to all of us as we strive for mastery. Need I add that I totally agree!

"The virtuoso is not a mason who, with chisel in hand, faithfully and conscientiously cuts his stone after the design of the architect. He is not a passive tool that reproduces feeling and thought without adding himself. He is called upon to let these speak, weep, sing — to render these to his own consciousness. He creates in this way like the composer himself, for he must embrace in himself those passions which he, in their complete brilliancy, has to bring to light. He breathes life into the lethargic body, infuses it with fire, and enlivens it with the pulse of gracefulness and charm. He changes the clay form into a living being. . .” Franz Liszt

December 30, 2013 at 09:08 AM · Its a great quote - for Franz. But I suspect that that is not the definition that most people here would tend towards. My impression (please correct if wrong) is that most people see a virtuoso as someone with superlative technical skills. Thus, at the extreme, if you can play the hardest and least musical etudes (I'm not going to name one!) at lightning speed you would be accepted as a virtuoso.

I'm at a loss for words (hehe, yes it does happen) for what we call a violinist who is both a virtuoso and also can make our hearts melt - such as is necessary to play a great concerto.

Anyhow, its on the loose definition above that I based this topic - and why I wonder about these amazing 'ethnic' violinists. If that's wrong I guess we should cap it here ...

December 30, 2013 at 10:42 AM · To me, a Virtuoso must have more than just complete technical mastery of the instrument. He must have a comparable level of artistic expression and inspiration. In other words, the ability to play clouds of tiny gnat-notes quickly and cleanly must be matched with the ability to make it all sound musical and soul stirring.

December 30, 2013 at 03:18 PM · Then in your definition are our gypsy/folk violinists virtuosi?

December 30, 2013 at 03:59 PM · All right! To begin let me say that all of these players are far better than I as violinists.

Having said that, the first video, Fly My Swallow, starts out OK but as they get into the fast sections the soloists sound like they are trying to play above their ability level. I hear some intonation problems with some and the phrasing starts getting lost with no supporting accents or dynamics. They are very flamboyant and entertaining but not what I would call virtuosic.

The second video of the combo is much the same. Their playing seems clean enough but again I don't hear much in the way of dynamics within the phrases. I thinks it needs some specific accents at key points in the phrases. As such, it tends to sound like one long run-on pattern to me. It seems to go right to a frenetic pace and then stay there, except for when it stops to allow one of the musicians to solo.

I will admit this style of tune would be difficult to play so that it remains interesting and moving throughout its length, but then that is one of the requirements for virtuosity(in my opinion).

So, the bottom line is I find it rather repetitious, lacking in musicality, and inartistic, even as dance music.

Then again, I've been accused of being picky. Sorry for sounding so negative but that is what I hear.

December 30, 2013 at 09:42 PM · Greetings,

an artist is someone who plays mostly slow music with a palsied vibrato and a soulful look on the face. women throw their underwear on stage.

A virtuoso plays mainly extremely fast music but cannot quite remember why.

If you are not living in Sweden, have an extensive collection of women's underwear but can't remember why it is better not to mention it on Facebook.

Last profound thought of 2013,



December 30, 2013 at 09:47 PM · If you are not living in Sweden - CHECK

Have an extensive collection of women's underwear


Can't remember why it is better not to mention it on Facebook CHECK.

So what exactly are you saying Mr. Profoundus?

December 30, 2013 at 09:57 PM · Grretings,

more scales and less time lounging in your lingerie in the location of a laptop?

Happy New Year


December 31, 2013 at 04:14 AM · Aha Mr Buri: you were in error, that was obviously not your last profoundus of the year :)

December 31, 2013 at 05:25 AM · I just watched the video of the gypsy ensemble posted by Mathias. This is the real article! Lots of real music making! Lots of tradition! Lots of virtuosity and creativity and musical feeling! And fun! But -- this is not on the level of good jazz improv in terms of harmonic and rhythmic sophistication or in terms of instrumental virtuosity. But it's good stuff. Worth listening to and perhaps even joining in!!

December 31, 2013 at 05:38 AM · If you are not living in Sweden - Un-living? I kind of resemple a zombie...?

Have an extensive collection of women's underwear but can't remember why it is better not to mention it on Facebook - May I mention it here then?

December 31, 2013 at 06:51 AM · Franz Liszt was a raffish devil. Try as he might, he could not put virtue into virtuoso. Anyway, that would have left a surperfluous "E" for Elise.

December 31, 2013 at 07:35 AM · With all due respect, I beg to differ with David about Liszt. Of all the great composers he was perhaps the most generous and caring in his human relations. I would suggest you read any biography of Liszt. The Alan Walker biography is probably the best. You can also read the short chapter in "The Great Pianists" by Harold Schonberg. Liszt helped any musician who he met, giving free lessons to all, giving generously of his knowledge, his influence and often his money. He was a friend, supporter and mentor to Chopin, Wagner, Berlioz, among others. With women he had two long term liasons, with Marie D'Agoult and Carolyn Sayn-Wittgenstein, plus a few in between. In his later life he joined the church and became Abbe Liszt.

December 31, 2013 at 08:04 AM · With all due respect to Roy, Liszt "lived in sin" with the Polish-born Carolyn Sayn-Wittgenstein since her attempts to gain a Catholic-Church divorce were successfully (for him) blocked by her husband.

I rest my violin case. Happy New Year.

December 31, 2013 at 04:42 PM · Ah! I understand. We have different definitions of "virtue". Fair enough.

December 31, 2013 at 05:07 PM · OK, since we are off the topic - and I started it anyway - just think of these two phrases:

A man of virtue.

and now..

A woman of virtue

There's lots of questions in my head about the different inferences: some stereotypes to be sure but also some more interesting real differences between the sexes.

December 31, 2013 at 09:00 PM · Greetings,

I look at virtue this way:

`Just as treasures are uncovered from the earth, so virtue appears from good deeds, and wisdom appears from a pure and peaceful mind. To walk safely through the maze of human life, one needs the light of wisdom and the guidance of virtue.`


To associate it with (non)promiscuity or dare one say `virginity` is, in my opinion, confusing dogma with love and is used primarily for keeping women in their rightful place according to aforesaid dogma.



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