The best violinist ever?

July 21, 2006 at 08:46 PM · The best violinist ever? My first thought is to say there is no such person; there is only the violinist that you like best. And for me that is Perlman (if I had any guts I would say Holland, but because of his past substance abuse problems few have heard of him, so I will stick with Perlman). But the more I thought about this the more I realized the best violinists are: Paganini, Sarasate, Kreisler, and Vieuxtemps. Why? Because they not only played like gods, they wrote for the instrument as well! And is that not why the rest of the music world laughs at us and sees us as abnormal or esoteric, at best. When you listen to the Fusion guys talk they mention Larry Carlton, Robin Ford, Jay Graydon, Pattituchi, Sample, Benoit, etc…And what is it about these guys? They play like gods, and play “their own material!”

Now please understand that I believe there is an incredible upside to the repertoire that exists in the classical violin world, and all the tradition that goes with it. It is really great to hear so many versions or approaches to the same pieces. But the fact that we are all playing the same music and that very few good things have come since Kreisler, is huge downside to our musical world.

The greatest violinist of our time will be the one who cannot only play like Ehns, or Perlman, or Bell, or Rippin, etc., but the one that adds meaningful melodies to the existing repertoire, in other words--new stuff that is as good as the old stuff! That is the person or persons that we should all be waiting for.

Replies (100)

July 21, 2006 at 09:13 PM · Oh my god, I'm kind of scared what kind of responses this really subjective topic will elicit.

Anyway, my favorite violinist (I will refrain from using the phrase "the best violinist ever" LOL) is David Oistrakh. Everything he plays is so amazing. Everything is well thought-out, and all the things he does with his bow arm or his body only add to the way he wants his music to be. His bow arm, by the way, is fantastic.

July 21, 2006 at 09:36 PM · I'm sure the flame war will start eventually :) but I want to comment that it's not obvious to me why compositional ability should automatically elevate a violinist's status. Sure, composing is a way in which musicians can contribute beyond pure playing, but so are other things...teaching, philanthropy, etc. The word "best" has meaning only relative to a particular standard, and to define that standard as "playing ability + composition" seems as arbitrary as "playing ability" alone.

July 21, 2006 at 09:37 PM · There's a guy who came to my school last year who plays new music, although not necessarily his OWN music. He does work with most of the composers who write the music, though. His name, I think, was Peter Sheppard Skaerved. The program implied that he was an international bigshot. I didn't like any of the music he played, and the fact that it was both a recital and a lecture was pretty annoying, because the fella liked to talk quite a bit. I did, however, have some respect for the fact that he plays new music and tries to expand the capabilities and expectations of the violin. I think the violin world would be more interesting if there were more people playing new music.... but on the other hand, I prefer a more conventional style of music than most new music I've heard. I know that new composers feel they have to break new ground, but at a certain point, it can lose the feeling of "music" and degenerate into "noise". Oh well, these are just my thoughts. If I was really that passionate about it, I'd start writing my own sonatas and concertos and all.

July 21, 2006 at 10:04 PM · First of all, to me, being a virtuoso violinist is totally different from being a virtuoso composer. That people like Kreisler, Ysaye, and Joachim were able to excel in both fields just blows my mind. On the other hand, I would love listening to Kreisler just as much even if he had not been a composer. I don't enjoy listening to him play the Beethoven Concerto any more or any less because he penned other wonderful compositions for the violin.

Before passing judgment on the current generation, I think you should consider the contemporary musical climate more carefully. Just because modern violinists don't tour with their own works doesn't mean that they are any lesser musicians for it - or even that they don't compose for their instrument, period! (To use two of your examples, I have read that both Mr. Bell and Mr. Ehnes compose, whether in the form of cadenzas or even solo sonatas.) Consider today's audience or booking agent. The fact is, a booking agent for the New York Philharmonic is *probably* going to be more likely to book Hilary Hahn to play the Mendelssohn Concerto than a Hahn Concerto. I'm not necessarily saying that's the way it should be, or that things shouldn't change, but from what I've observed, this is the way it is. Violinists - especially when they're starting out - get paid to play the works of the masters. Heck, this dilemma even existed in Kreisler's own time. The only way that he got his own pieces on the program was by claiming they were written by dusty Baroque masters! And if Kreisler had to lie then - in the age of Brahms and Mahler and Bruckner and their contemporaries; now some of our generations' most renowned "masters" - then certainly modern violinists would have to lie now. And I would think such a stunt would fall flat in today's more critical, demanding classical musical world. It very nearly fell flat in Kreisler's own time. Can we blame today's violinists for not composing or sharing their compositions with us, when most of them don't have the infrastructure to do so?

So that's a quick explanation why I don't think composer/violinists are in high demand, or even practical in today's classical music world, unless something changes. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying it wouldn't be fascinating - I would just love to hear a Bell or Ehnes or Hahn sonata, and how they compose to make the most of their own personal styles of playing - but I just cannot see it happening in the infrastructure that's in place right now. Non-composing virtuosos have been in the majority for fifty - maybe even seventy-five - years, and I feel it will take a powerful force to change that trend.

July 21, 2006 at 10:45 PM · Everyone must be confused, I am obviously the best violinist! ;)

July 21, 2006 at 11:19 PM · I think that its a joke that there IS a difference between composer and performer now adays. I think that writing for the violin ABSOLUTELY elevates. Music isnt JUST about performance. I listen to very few violinists anymore because i never hear anything new? Since when is innovation secondary?

let the flame wars begin!

July 21, 2006 at 11:25 PM · For hundred of years we have been playing the same rep., and the rest of the muscial world is rightly laughing at us for it.

Now there's a statement that's easy to say, but impossible to prove.


July 21, 2006 at 11:33 PM · This thread turned out to be more interesting than I thought it would. I figured we would have at least one vote for every great living or dead violinist, and that would be boring. However, we may have exhausted this aspect, and I fear that we are about to go into the thread I dreaded. Therefore, I will preempt it by voting for Buri.

July 21, 2006 at 11:31 PM · Kelsey, I thought you were the 2nd best violinist.


July 21, 2006 at 11:49 PM · No way,itzhak perlman is 1st place and Sarah Chang is the 2nd best

she is realy realy realy realy realy amazing!

everything is soooooooo in tune!!!!!

July 21, 2006 at 11:54 PM · Yes. That is truly what music in the modern day is really about.

July 21, 2006 at 11:56 PM · "For hundred of years we have been playing the same rep., and the rest of the muscial world is rightly laughing at us for it."

This is a very rediculous statement. The reason we've been playing the same repertoire is because it continues to speak relevantly to the human condition, irregardless of the century. And I maintain that there is music being written today that will show to have the same ability/effect, but first the unworthy music must be weeded's the same process that occured hundreds of years ago, we just won't necessarily be around to see what sticks.


July 22, 2006 at 01:09 AM · So, unlike the historical players, why don't the modern virtuosos write something?

July 22, 2006 at 01:21 AM · And it is ME who will decide what music is unworthy of course.

I actually taught god how to play the violin.

July 22, 2006 at 01:41 AM · Kelsey Z is the best.

July 22, 2006 at 02:42 AM · Ray,

Unlike many of the historical players, virtuosity has sadly become less multifaceted. Players now rarely improvise, compose, or are proficient in more than one instrument. That seems to be a thing of the past. It does not mean that they are any less a virtuoso, perhaps simply less rounded overall.


In a sense you are right. As members of the public, we all will be part of the decision making process of what is eventually going to stick.


July 22, 2006 at 03:03 AM · The best says it the best: "There is no top. There are always further heights to reach." - Jascha Heifetz

Ask him yourself:

Fritz Kreisler is up there. Shmuel Ashkenasi.

July 22, 2006 at 02:59 AM · Outside the straight classical realm, there are great violinists doing all sorts of neat stuff.

You've got a guy like Marc O'Connor who writes, arranges, plays practically every style, and is incredibly influential.

There's also Jean Luc Ponty, who's singlehandedly defined the art of electric jazz violin and is a great player. To my knowledge, he's got classical training too.

A lot of us knock Andre Rieu, but he's bringing violin to the masses. I actually like him for the fact that he stays within his limits and is a good entertainer. Obviously there are lots of players that can do more, but he's selling and that's what counts.

Vanessa Mae is a better violinist than most people give her credit for. Say all you want about her, but she's extremely well trained and probably outearns most of us. She writes, she transcribes, she reads, she does a little bit of everything. That lady has EARNED her success the hard way.

This is going to sound like self-promoting bragging, but I myself play different styles on different instruments. I write, I transcribe, and I'm even putting together a solo guitar act on acoustic-electric guitar (just bought a terrific Alvarez today). Meanwhile I'm practicing my violin as hard as ever just because it's fun.

My point is that there are guys doing all sorts of neat stuff all over the place. We just have to open ours eyes and hearts to them, that's all.

July 22, 2006 at 03:00 AM · "Vanessa Mae is a better violinist than most people give her credit for. Say all you want about her, but she's extremely well trained and probably outearns most of us. She writes, she transcribes, she reads, she does a little bit of everything. That lady has EARNED her success the hard way."

Earning success on looks is earning it the "hard" way? Not that she isn't a well-trained violinist--but is she of the same caliber as today's soloists? She is half musician, and half sex symbol. Let's be honest here.

July 22, 2006 at 02:47 AM · As discussed on another thread, there are a lot of violin concertos written recently, many which don't get played much at all.

I don't think it's the lack of new music written in general, or new music written by violinists in particular that is the problem. The problem is orchestrating the forces needed to perform the new works. Maybe that's one reason new chamber works seem to have a better chance at being performed.

The situation with works requiring an orchestra might be open to improving, but a new work still needs a champion to give the money people confidence. The classical music industry is conservative, but so is the popular music industry. The interesting stuff emerges despite the big money backers, not because of them. I'm sure there are good and interesting works written already that hardly anyone's heard. That's a good place to start.

July 22, 2006 at 03:04 AM · Being a sex symbol does not preclude strong musicianship, technique, or creativity.

How about looking at it this way: Mae makes the rest look impotent lol

July 22, 2006 at 03:07 AM · In reply to Kevin Huang's list -- I used to like Ponty but that's from back in the Mahavishnu days, and as for the other folks you mention... I better not say.

There are some interesting players out there making original music, both classically trained like the Kronos Quartet and Ethel who typically work closely with the composers and collaborating musicians, and people like Yann Tiersen and Owen Pallett who fit more the jazz/rock writer-performer tradition.

July 22, 2006 at 03:14 AM · Vanessa Mae is often derided as an example of good looks and sex appeal outweighing musical talent, SO UNLIKE the classial music world. Humph.

Is it just me, or does anyone else find it curious that the greatly gifted classical soloists that crop up all happen to be good-looking? I guess there must not be any fat and ugly and musically gifted violinists in the world.

July 22, 2006 at 03:33 AM · None of YOU GUYS earn as much playing the violin as the players I mentioned do. I certainly don't have the fame and notoriety of these folks, and that's why I acknowledge and respect what they do. But I am not truly a fan of these players either, so it's not all black and white here.

And no, Vanessa Mae is "not in the same caliber as today's soloists". She EARNS MORE than they do, I'd imagine. And she's definitely more famous, especially in Asia.

Looks count BIG TIME in all genres of music. There are tons of people who can play, tons of people who look good, and tons of people who can play AND look good.

Fortunately, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and there's pretty much room for everybody.

July 22, 2006 at 04:13 AM · In defense of VM, you don't get a collection of love letters like Sarasate's supposed to have had unless you have something really sexual happening. It wasn't because of his detache. I'd bet he moved a little too, relating to another thread.

It occurs to me that Pag, and Sarasate, and Kreisler wrote in a style that was very compatible with popular music of their time and place. They didn't write "serious" music (though you can call it what you want, or consider it to work on multiple levels). The violin isn't a natural part of the major trends of today's popular music. A classical violinist today would have to write either bad or awkward pop music, or serious classical music that likely wouldn't stand up to the scrutiny that would demand. So classical violinists today don't perform their own compositions. There's plenty of repertory today. I've heard Kreisler wrote his small pieces to have something to play in that style (like O'Connor probably). You know at least at the beginning they were originally forgeries, to give them validity, before it was found out and they became "in the style of..." You have classical musicians like Jason Vieux at CIM writing their own compositions for guitar, in a light popular style like I said, because guitar...well figure it all out for yourself. Oh yeah, and who's best ever is a dumb question.

July 22, 2006 at 04:06 AM · Just because someone earns a lot doesn't mean they are great. It just means that they've been marketed well.

And thank you to those (Marty and Jasmine) who rank me among the best! I'll do my best to make you both proud! ;)

July 22, 2006 at 04:13 AM · "Just because someone earns a lot doesn't mean they are great. It just means that they've been marketed well."

So true. Just look at Charolette Church, Andrea Bocelli, Il Divo, and Britney Spears....*heave*

July 22, 2006 at 06:37 AM · I like Andrea Bocelli...

July 22, 2006 at 08:13 AM · Miss Lin wrote: “I'm sure the flame war will start eventually :) but I want to comment that it's not obvious to me why compositional ability should automatically elevate a violinist's status. Sure, composing is a way in which musicians can contribute beyond pure playing, but so are other things...teaching, philanthropy, etc. The word "best" has meaning only relative to a particular standard, and to define that standard as "playing ability + composition" seems as arbitrary as ‘playing ability’ alone.”

It seems very obvious to me that if someone were to come along and play like Ehns or Perlman, etc…but write like Sarasate, Pag, and Kreisler, well he/she would be contributing much more to the classical violin world than anyone else today! If that were so than that would make this person the most meaningful violinist of our time. And if that were so than that would make this person the best because if someone is the most meaningful than he is the best.

Someone else said it couldn’t be done because of the market. But why could not an Ehns, etc., put out a CD made up of mostly classical rep. and include something of his own that is just as good as the stuff that has been written. Can you imagine a violinist like this writing something as musical as “ Meditation from Thais,” or “Vocalise,” or “Siciliene,” or “ Pag’s “Sonata No.12,” or “Cantabile,” or Sarasate’s “Introduction and Tarantella,” or “Malaguena,” or “Romanza,” or Mendelson’s “sweet Rememberance, or “On Wings of Song” or Kriesler’s “Libesleid,” or “Libesfreud,” or “Praeludium and Allegro.”

If a great violinist did such a thing the world would listen! And the violin world would be that much better for it! And if it were happening with many artists, well, you can only imagine… The point is that it could easily be marketed today, as long as it did not replace the traditional rep. And eventually it would come to be expected!!!!!!!!

Some others talked about the fact that most of the modern classical stuff is non-melodic. I could not agree more! But I did not say we needed this modern stuff that sounds like trains about to collide, I said stuff as good as the old master’s wrote.

A few questioned that the rest of the musical world is not laughing at us. I have to laugh. To say such a thing means you must be so buried in your classical world that you cannot smell the roses right in front of you! I have a few friends who are big-time session players in L.A. and I have often had the privilege of coming to their sessions. I cannot count how many times other players, or engineers, or vocalists have told me that the real problem with the classical world is it has nothing that is truly melodic to offer that is NEW.

And why is it that we are stuck in this type of situation. It is for the very type of responses that I knew so many of you would write. It is exactly these types of dead and scared thoughts and attitudes and feelings that cripple and kill what could otherwise be glorious!

If you doubt that it would be glorious, ask yourself what the violin world would be like without the works of Kriesler, Paganini, Sarasate, etc…

And yes this work could come from outside of the players themselves, the point is that it is badly needed. If not we will always be listening to Joe Newcomber’s version of the 24 Caprices, etc…

July 22, 2006 at 08:15 AM · it takes some measure of intelligence to play the violin passably, and it never ceases to amaze how devoid of intelligence some discussions here can get.

There are few things I'd want Vanessa Mae to do to me... none of them involve her playing the violin.

July 22, 2006 at 10:13 AM · Was that a self-fulfulling post there? In more ways than one.

July 22, 2006 at 11:11 AM · Those who stubbornly insist that classical violin is devoid of originality are the only ones missing out on the beauty and innovation of what's going on in the violin world.

July 22, 2006 at 12:34 PM · "Best violinist ever?"

Wrong question. You'll never get any agreement, if only because it's a personal opinion and everyone's got a different set of criteria - violinist/composer? Showmanship? (sorry, Showpersonship) Originality? Looks? Etc.

Now, if the question is "Who is your favorite violinist, and why?" then that's different.


July 22, 2006 at 02:36 PM · Personally, I agree with Raymond that there isn't "the best violinist," but the violinst whom you like best. Although I am partial to Sarah Chang, and Hillary Hahn.

July 22, 2006 at 05:09 PM · Raymond,

If someone is composing something to "sound like the old masters" or to "be melodic," then they're composing for the wrong reasons. You're just going to end up with cheap imitations. I don't want more music that sounds like Paganini or Kreisler or Vieuxtemps. Yes, Kreisler wrote "in the style of" other composers, and his pieces are certainly beautiful. (I wouldn't put them up against Bach or Beethoven, but still, they're beautiful.) I think Kreisler had a very special talent - to go backwards without sounding contrived or unoriginal. But most people who do that end up looking ridiculous. I want music that's truly innovative, that brings something new and profound to classical music. I love melody; don't get me wrong. And I think it will always be important. But melody is not the only element of good composition - look at Beethoven.

IMHO, one area that is in relative infancy right now and will probably be appreciated about 200 years later is microtonal music. I believe Stravinsky said that pitch is the last area in which true innovation remains to be seen.

July 22, 2006 at 05:50 PM · I did not mean that they should copy the works of Sarasate, etc. I meant that we need players writing music that fits their style and voice which is just as melodic and full of energy as what Sarasate, Paganini, Kreisler, etc. wrote.

In other words, the list of true classics (the Meditation of Thais, Vocalise, etc.) needs to be extended by this generation. Instead the great artisists of today are living off of their work rather than adding to it!

As for atonal modern music, I already addressed that--we do not need trains about to colide!

July 22, 2006 at 06:26 PM · This is like watching a guy standing in a tub of water screaming at the top of his lungs "I THIRST!"

After all, a modern song like "Ashokan Farewell" is truly great by any standard.

July 22, 2006 at 07:15 PM · "As for atonal modern music, I already addressed that--we do not need trains about to colide!"

WHAT?!?! I find it very strange for a trained musician (as per your profile) to make a comment like the above.

Have you not heard Schoenberg's Phantasy for violin and piano? It's a remarkable piece of music, fiendishly difficult and quite accessible to most trained and untrained ears; though completely atonal.


July 23, 2006 at 12:24 AM · modern violin music that equals vivaldi, kreutzer, schoenberg, paganini, bartok ect. in quality: Kronos quartet is one of my favs. Not so contemporary is Bernard Herman the guy who wrote the scores to all the Alfred Hitchcock films.

July 23, 2006 at 12:32 AM · Here is perhaps a different way to approach the question. Rather than the best violinist, who was the most important. To give an example from another part of the music world, a relative of mine, Wanda Landowska, was basically the mother/founder of the whole period performance/period instruments movement. There is a respectable argument that she may have been the most important musician of the 20th century on this basis even though she was not the best keyboardist (although she might have been the best harpsichordist). The music world would be a lot poorer if she had never existed, perhaps poorer than if Heifetz had never been born. So, the question is who was the most important violinist, the one whose legacy is particularly crucial to us?

July 23, 2006 at 05:55 AM · Mr. Paul: If you insist on using formalities, I prefer Ms. Lin or Dr. Lin. "Miss" seems a wee bit inappropriate for someone my age and marital status, as much as I like to be seen as a young person.

But back to the topic at hand: I think Tom has hit the nail on the head. We are arguing about the most important violinist, not the best violinist. For the latter, I don't see how anything other than playing ability is relevant. But as for the person who has left the most significant legacy, certainly his/her contributions to the entirety of musical history should be considered. I would still argue, however, that compositions are not the only contributions of value; there is teaching, which has a great deal of importance for future violinists, as well as philanthropy, enabling certain people to study who might otherwise not be able to, and other aspects I haven't listed.

July 23, 2006 at 05:01 AM · Dear Dr. Lin,

I knew the whole time long that what I was really arguing for was who is the most important violinist. But then, in a somewhat roundabout way, I am arguing that to be the most important is to be the best.

As for a strict interpretation of “who is the best,” I do not think that anyone can say that, or even should; music is about creating music, not being first, or the tallest, or the fastest, etc… Which means that the only way you could determine who is best is if you had a “most musical meter,” but of course such a device does not exist, and I for one am very happy that it does not.

There is not a “best violinist,” there are only the ones we enjoy most, and if you are a musician the ones you should enjoy most are the ones who you “hear” as most musical.

Oh, and as for the most important: surely other factors would come into play, but in the end it would be: how did the person play, and what did the person contribute to his instrument. And surely teaching, acts of benevolence, etc., would matter, but not nearly as much as really incredible music like what I mentioned before.

Perhaps we could look at it this way: a classic is defined as “something that passes the test of time.” If that is so, and it is, than today we are not involved, or “being” true classical musicians because we are not doing anything that will pass the test of time. We are only repeating things that have already passed the test of time.

Now I realize that there are some exceptions: the stuff John Williams wrote for Perlman will surely be heard forever (Schindler’s list, The Color Purple) and then there are other Perlman movie scores: Il Postino, Cinema Paradiso, Bloch’s “From Jewish Life,”etc. But there are few, and we need to honor the heritage that we belong to by adding to it, not just replaying it over and over again as if it can no longer be done. To put it in another way: there is a part of me that thinks Dvorak and Brahms are probably rolling over in their graves screaming—“Write something really good, and do it over and over again!!!!!!!!”

July 23, 2006 at 05:12 AM · Tom,

Sorry to burst your bubble but the most important musicians of the 20th century were no where close to being white, and nowhere near classical artists for that matter.

July 23, 2006 at 05:51 AM · So WRITE SOMETHING, Raymond Paul.

If you don't like the way today's violin music sounds, come up with your own. Why rely on somebody else's foibles when it is your personal pleasure you seek? I write and perform my own songs, not that I expect other people to like them as much as I do. Certainly you have the background and capability to fill the tonal void you're complaining about.

Besides, there's other great modern violin music that you're not acknowledging. Arvo Part's "Fratres" is a great piece that is getting more and more attention. And didn't Joshua Bell just star in "Red Violin" playing some fabulous works by John Corigliano? That stuff WILL stand the test of time.

July 23, 2006 at 06:35 AM · And Hilary Hahn did the sound track for the Village...

July 23, 2006 at 10:04 AM · Mr. Huang,

Do you really want to tell me that when you get Ehn’s new album, or Rippin, Chang, Hahn, Bell, etc., that you expect to see a few original works on their album? On the other hand, if I buy a jazz album by some jazz virtuoso, say Carl Verheyen or Ford, or Sanborn, etc., I will surely see many original tracks, and a few of them will be great and add to the jazz rep. Is this not true?

So I am not saying that we should all write something. Why? Because most of us do not have the talent to really add something beautiful to what already exists. What I am saying is this generation of violinists will not have done much if they do not start working on adding to the rep. that already exists. And they will not start doing this till we as a buying public start demanding good new melodies.

And until the violinists of today start doing this they will be a mere shadow of the Paganinis, Sarates, Kreislers, etc…

And yes I am sure there are more original things out there than I have heard or acknowledged here. My point, however, stands strong! If it did not you would expect to hear original work when you buy the next Mutter or Shaham CD, but you and I both know that there will be nothing new that is good on there; just another version of the many versions that have already been done over and over again.

Finally, I guess I should say this: I wish I was the answer to this dilemma, but sadly I am not. I do not play like Bell, or write like Sarasate. What I am is a voice in the wilderness crying out about the woods that are burning before us, which most are not willing to see.

July 23, 2006 at 04:08 PM · I can't speak for the Ehneses and Hahns and Bells, but I can speak for MYSELF.

I just got into the habit of writing songs, albeit most of them are for guitar at this point. I've got at least one violin song on the burner and probably could do more of them if I wasn't so tied up trying to be a guitar fingerpicker. And of course I've got unaccompanied transcriptions galore since I stroll as a solo violinist.

I and the players I mentioned above are probably not YOUR concept of violinist-composers, but there are folks like me who try to do our own transcriptions and original compositions. Some of the stuff we do will stick and most of it won't.

You may think you're a voice in the wilderness, but if you open your mind you'll hear that the wilderness is NOT SILENT. Besides, wood has to burn for new growth to take place.

July 23, 2006 at 05:09 PM · Ray,

You probably know that for many years Mutter has been playing new works by all different composers. It seems like she has an album every few years or so with new stuff on it. She has been doing this ever since she was in her teens.

Recently, Leila Josefowicz has been playing a lot of new music. One of her more recent CDs has works by both Beeethoven and Brahms, as well as modern composers. I'm sure she did this to try and get more people listening to the new rep; they are practically forced to if they want to haer her B's. Another one of her CDs has various show pieces as well as some rock pieces. Most of the concerts she plays nowadays have some standard rep.(Beethoven symphonies), and then Leila will ome out with a brand new violin concerto.

Edgar Meyer worte a violin concerto for Hilary Hahn. A violin conerto based on the Red Violin was transcribed for Joshua Bell.

Most of these new pieces are not bad at all. They could easily stay around for some time, if they are played enough. Maybe they are not written by the players themselves, but that does not mean they are not new works for the violin rep.

Heifetz and Oistrakh did not write pieces for themselves, but they had many works written for them that are still FREQUENTLY played.

July 23, 2006 at 06:57 PM · Hello Friends,

As usual I have been enjoying the multiple tennis matches produced by this discussion topic. Naturally, I have a few opinions, but first I feel it necessary to clear up some misconceptions:

Raymond--While Perlman recorded two albums of cinema music with John Williams conducting, be very careful not to jump to the conclusions that (a) John Williams composed all of the music on those albums; (b) Perlman played the violin solos on the original soundtracks; or (c) the selected cinema melodies represented actual violin solos from their respective movies. In most cases, NONE of these are true.

To my knowledge, John Williams only composed THREE violin solos FOR Perlman to play on original soundtrack recordings. They are "Schindler's List," "Sabrina," and "Chairman's Waltz" from Memoirs of a Geisha.

The music from The Color Purple was composed by Quincy Jones and there were no violin solos in the original soundtrack, if memory serves. It yielded a beautiful melody for the Perlman/Williams album, however! Il Postino and Cinema Paradiso have equally beautiful melodies but were not exclusively written as violin solos nor did Perlman perform them on those soundtracks.

John Williams created a showpiece "Devil's Dance" for Gil Shaham to record, which was based on the music Williams composed for the movie "Witches of Eastwick." Interestingly, Perlman appears on a TV show in that movie!


July 23, 2006 at 07:09 PM · More corrections:

Heifetz composed MANY arrangements for violin/piano and violn/orchestra. In fact, Heifetz was a very accomplished pianist and was very skilled at writing full piano arrangements & transciptions with violin.

The Violin Concerto based on the music from The Red Violin was NOT transcribed for Joshua Bell. In actuality, the Violin Concerto uses the original "The Red Violin: Chaccone for Violin and Orchestra" as the FIRST MOVEMENT of the Concerto and John Corigliano composed Second and Third movements to complete the concerto--these are not transcriptions.

In fact, many are not aware of the fact that Corigliano composed the "Chaccone" BEFORE writing the music that appeared in the movie. The story goes that Corigliano was chomping at the bit to write the film score, but the producers were behind in production (no dailies for him to view). Corigliano knew that he was going to prepare a concert work based on this music for Joshua Bell to perform on tour. So, with permission, Corigliano chose to simply compose the "Chaccone" outright (with full orchestra instrumentation--woodwinds, brass, percussion, strings, etc.--most of which NEVER APPEARED in the scores for the film!!!) For those of you who saw the movie, you may recall that Corigliano skillfully arranged his original themes in the style of each musical period through which the "Red Violin" travels. This meant that the orchestration was primarily for violin and strings!--no winds/percussion!

In any event, this was somewhat rare for a film score to be composed "in reverse" order. Still, he won the Academy Award.


July 23, 2006 at 07:29 PM · Impressive, Peter Wilson.

That's some excellent information there.

July 23, 2006 at 10:23 PM · Perlman did play l Postino and Cinema Paradiso, though I am not sure if he did it on the original soundtracks. And yes you are right, Quincy Jones did write the stuff for Color Purple.

And yes I am aware of the compositions that all of you mention, but I think this proves my point, more than anything else. I mean many of you are scratching the top of your head for meaningful melodies written for violin in this generation, and we have only a few. And only a few of those are in the league of what the Paganinis, Sarasates, Kreislers, etc. wrote.

As I said I do not think this weakens my argument, I think it strengthens it!

And Kevin, unless what you are writing is in the class of the rep. that now exists, and unless it gets recorded, it will do us very little good. But if you are writing great stuff then by all means get it out there and add to the rep that already exists.

July 23, 2006 at 10:44 PM · Perhaps the real question should be, "is the pedagogy of violinsoloists antithetical to fostering compositional creativity."

There is a lot of composition going on for violin--it is simply not "classical." Except movie scores, which are sort of classical except that they are not.

And look at the few modern players who stich their necks out: Joshua bell for instance. He gets shredded by classical "purists" for (a) making his own stuff and b for crossover

July 23, 2006 at 10:12 PM · Getting back to the discussion topic "best" or "most important" violin . . .

There have to be some distinctions made regarding those violinist who recorded their work and those who only performed live or who lived before recordings. Unfortunately, we only have historic accounts regarding the later and, in some cases as you might imagine, folklore can stretch the legend a bit. It is also extremely important to remember that TIMING and circumstance is often quite significant regarding the success and/or failure of any given violinist. This is why the younger generation of violinists will listen to some of the old masters (who we now have the privilege of hearing on remastered CDs) and will scratch their heads in wonder as to why these violinists were considered great. In our age of multiple takes, editing, cutting/splicing, it is less difficult to get that "perfect" recording.

Finally, as much as this may sound hokey, I think it is quite appropriate to say that ALL the great violinists were equally important, for they all influenced each other--all had an INDIVIDUAL sound--and often were the greatest of their nationality or generation. The violin world is so interconnected in this way that one should listen to as many violinists as possible.

There are many fine books about the great violinists--some by Henry Roth, for example--but perhaps the most comprehensive book that truly addresses these issues of lineage would be "GREAT MASTERS OF THE VIOLIN" by BORIS SCHWARZ. It covers violinists as far back as Corelli & Vivaldi to Paganini, Vieuxtemps, Wieniawski, Ysaye, Kreisler, Heifetz, Milstein, Oistrakh, Rabin, Perlman, etc. up thru the early 1980s. Clearly, there are many many great violinists who have emerged since the 80s, but for historical perspective, this book is invaluable. I consult it frequently. It contains literally hundreds of violinists and teacher of the violin. Actually, Henry Roth has done an excellent job of covering many of the modern violinists and teachers of the last 20 years.

If I had to pick the most influential of all great violinists of the 20th century, it would have to be Heifetz. He was the most prolific of all violinists before or since with regard to recording repertoire, he played with absolute perfection on recording and live--with a huge sound; he appeared in movies and television and is perhaps the greatest known violinist to the masses. Even the Muppet "Ralph the Dog" (a pianist) once said, "I'm no Heifetz, but I get by . . ." which speaks volumes to Heifetz' influence. I'm not saying he is my favorite violinist and there are many who claim Heifetz looked and sounded cold, but no one can deny his place at the top, in my opinion.


July 23, 2006 at 11:17 PM · is this thread a joke?

July 24, 2006 at 12:12 AM · no, you're the joke Jordan. You actually write your own material.

Who the $$$$ does that these days. That's so 1910.

July 24, 2006 at 12:49 AM · >That's so 1910.

Pieter, you crack me up.

July 24, 2006 at 01:56 AM · Can a discussion of "important" violinists exist without mention of Vivaldi and Mozart ? As they also had other gigs besides violin but played their own stuff. Just heard Brian Reagin perform Mozart #5 with the Chautauqua Symphony...This is such great music, completely idiomatic and the orchestral parts ain't-too-bad either.

July 24, 2006 at 07:04 AM · Raymond,

I understand what you're saying and agree with much of it. But I do have a question. Since when are works by Paganini, Sarasate, Kreisler, or Vieuxtemps considered great or inspired music? Or, for that matter, the Thais Meditation? Please don't get me wrong: I love all these pieces. But it seems to me that they are not anywhere in the same league as Beethoven, Bach, Shostakovich, Prokovief, Sibelius, or Brahms. The first group of composers wrote (mostly) good music. The second wrote inspired music.

What we need are not violinists who also happen to compose; we need composers who can play violin or have a capable violinist at hand to show them what's possible and not possible for the instrument.

P.S. I also agree that much modern music is pretty horrible. But I don't think you can say that microtonal music sounds like trains colliding because I seriously doubt you've ever heard any true microtonal music. There hasn't been much composed yet. Most of the stuff out there is still essentially a 12 tone system with microtones thrown in rather haphazardly for color or effect, which is what we do with expressive intonation anyway.

July 24, 2006 at 11:10 AM · Thank you for your words Nicholas! I would not say that the group I chose wrote better stuff than the group you chose, I would only say that being violinists the guys I mentioned wrote specifically for the violin in a way that few others have. I think the proof of that is the fact that almost every great violinist has or will have recorded most of their repertoire. Which great violinist has not recorded the meditation, or a lot of Sarasate, or a lot of Kreisler? In fact, an amazing thing is the fact that the great Heifietz did not record the 24 caprices.

So I guess I would just say that these great violinists wrote stuff that has become embedded in the ears and minds of all those who followed. But honestly I do not have a real problem with at least saying that the composers you mentioned, and many others for that matter (Mendelssohn, Dvorak, Rachmaninoff, Vivaldi, etc…) are on par with the ones I mentioned.

My real point is that the classical violin world would be much better if artist not only played the traditional repertoire that we all love, but would also contribute original stuff that is just as good. And that stuff could come from them personally, or as you said from “ composers who can play violin or have a capable violinist at hand to show them what's possible and not possible for the instrument.”

July 24, 2006 at 12:11 PM · It seems that a new shift is occurring with our generation of violin virtuosos. They are all starting to commission more and more pieces, and there seems to be a more emphasis on contemporary composers (rather than before).

Does anyone else see this?

Midori commissions works each day...sarah chang is going to premiere the Stern-dedicated composition...mutter is comissioning a ton of stuff...bell is obviously performing the red violin concerto...there seems to be more violinists these days taking note of the contemporary makers. Or am i wrong? Have they been doing this since the beginning?

(oh, and did anyone know that Paris Hilton plays the violin and piano? ever since the age of 6!)

July 24, 2006 at 12:36 PM · Pieter - your point about the most important musician of the 20th century not being white is interesting. I meant most important to classical music rather than music in general. I would be interested in your picks for most important to music overall.

July 24, 2006 at 02:30 PM · "My real point is that the classical violin world would be much better if artist not only played the traditional repertoire that we all love, but would also contribute original stuff that is just as good."

I agree 100%.

July 24, 2006 at 04:13 PM · Id like to see Paris play violon. Haha imagine what that could do to classical music sales!

July 24, 2006 at 04:22 PM · Yuck. Iccchy. Like I have a cat hairball in my throat.

July 24, 2006 at 05:45 PM · there is no 'best' violinist and there never will be.

July 24, 2006 at 05:52 PM · Wow! Paris Hilton?! I heard that on Conan Obrien...I thought he was But I am amused to hear that its true.:)

I think you are right patrick. there are tons of new pieces being commissioned right now.

July 24, 2006 at 06:14 PM · Nicholas Tavani,

You might be right but somehow I suspect you are saying these things simply because it's conventional wisdom. What do you find uninspiring about Sarasate? There is a vitality and a joie de vivre in his works which can be very cathartic. I am not comparing him to Beethoven, I'm always just very wary of these people who say things like "this piece is not that hard technically. It's musically hard". People say things like this all the time, but you can bet the farm that they have no idea what it means... they just heard some famous teacher say it in a masterclass about someone playing a Brahms sonata or something.

The same thing applies to the venerable aforementioned. It seems that everything else is completely secondary to Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart etc... this is fine, if there is some design to your reasoning. Whenever I go to a concert and someone plays Lalo or maybe Bruch concerto, 90% of the violinists will say "wow that was great. I really like that piece. Obviously it's not like Beethoven (or insert whatever thoughtless pseudo intellectual nugget here)....."

It's as if we have to apologize for liking candy. I heard Perlman say that not everything has to be profound. Sarasate, is like candy. If one day you fall in love with a woman, would you want every last moment to be spent gazing lovingly into her eyes, contemplating the beauty of creation and celebrating that the gods have conspired to put you two together? No, probably not. Life is a series of different emotions... elation and light hearted joy are as important as our more profound moments. These kinds of stock wisdoms are part of what I'm observing more and more here and comming from the mouths of violinists and musicians of all different levels. It seems our musicology classes are preventing people from thinking for themselves...


Taking into consideration how music has helped shape our current society, I'd have to say early jazz musicians from New Orleans, Bessie Smith(when the world needed a strong woman, and a black one, at that), Robert Johnson (30 years of what is now "classic rock" owes it all to him), Hendrix, who for the guitar was as important as Paganini was for instrumental composing....

July 25, 2006 at 10:16 AM · Raymond, I think I see what you mean finally, which is the ones who have been the most highly regarded are also the ones who composed. In cases where they left a dual legacy of compositions and recordings, they seem to be most widely remembered because of the compositions.

July 25, 2006 at 07:56 PM · Not to rain on your astute selection of Hendrix, Pieter, but I feel that there are other guitar players that have had more influence on modern guitar technique than Jimi Hendrix did.

The guy that really got American guitar going was Django Reinhardt. There are many other fine guitarists from that era, but Django was the most interesting and wrote the most lasting compositions. EVERYBODY copied Django, likely Hendrix as well.

Virtually no attention has been given to some of the great African American guitarists of the far past, but there was one who made a HUGE impact on guitar technique: Charlie Christian of the Benny Goodman Orchestra. He was one of the first players to amplify the guitar and take it from a rhythm instrument to a melodic one. Also the ragtime guitarist Blind Blake purportedly had a HUGE influence on fingerstyle pickers like Merle Travis.

I'd also name Les Paul, the inventor of the solid-body electric guitar. Chet Atkins came soon after, and he had far more of an impact on pop music than people realize. After all, he produced the Everly Brothers and their influence can be heard in the work of the Beatles (at least according to Mark Knopfler).

One guy seldom talked about anymore is Stanley Jordan, who was the first big pioneer of the two-hand guitar tapping technique. That style is seldom seen today, but it never fails to impress. I may take a stab at it one day myself.

Back to the topic: there are more and more people playing their own stuff in the pop violin world than ever before.

July 25, 2006 at 10:04 PM · Oscar Shumsky for me.

July 26, 2006 at 01:30 AM · Kevin,

Kindly read the bios of Clapton, Ace Frehley of Kiss, (widely known as THE most influential guitarist in rock), Slash, Page, Jeff Beck, Pete Townshend, even David Gilmour and pretty much anyone else in rock, all worship Hendrix. He took Robert Johnson's blues, and put it into overdrive. Not only the sound, but that very very alpha male style that defined guitar playing, the principle melodic instrument of the 20th century from the 60s to Nirvana. Yes, I know jazz guitar will pull influences from les paul, atkins, johnston, reinhardt etc... but the guitar as an icon in the 20th century is completely in rock n roll.

It transcends male dominance in society. I know what you might think is more interesting or whatever, but when you consider impact on society at large, Hendrix is probably the most important guitarist ever. I'm not going to get into the chicken and the egg argument... yes I know that if Dixie Land Jim in 1920 didn't play his little banjo in some cess pool in New Orleans, Hendrix wouldn't exist, but who do we consider the most important for violin, given what he did for romantic repertoire (and the principle body of work in the violin cannon), Paganini. Yes, he probably ripped off Locatelli, but no one cares.

You are totally right, but guitar in Jazz was never really a standout instrument for me, unless I was listening to Reinhardt and Grapelli, or Venuti and Johnston...

Blues very much took over, and that's why I consider Hendrix who is all powerful in rock. The lasting influences of some of the guys you mentioned are far more archaic, but they are there nonetheless.

July 26, 2006 at 02:40 AM · The guys I mentioned were the biggest pop stars of their day, not merely "jazz" guys as we think of today. Just because modern audiences don't always know who they are doesn't mean that they weren't influential then or today, especially among guitarists like myself and others who actually play for a living.

Hendrix had a phenomenal influence on rock guitarists specifically, but it isn't as if he taught anybody anything new. Everything he did had been done over and over again by the guys I mentioned. His career was incredibly short (died young) and he did not bring any new innovations to guitar technique. On the other hand, each one of the players I mentioned had long careers spanning decades and truly revolutionized guitar technique.

Because I gig on guitar, I run into a lot of guitarists of all brands and shapes INCLUDING the hard core rockers. We acknowledge's Hendrix's brief but potent influence, but none of us would go so far as to say that he was THE most influential guy when there are guys like Chet who literally created rock-and-roll from scratch. Or Les Paul, who invented not just the electric guitar but the concepts of effects boards and multitracking. Or Django, who took gypsy into the pop world for the first time in history and has been inspiring guitarists for the last 100 years.

July 26, 2006 at 02:56 AM · Kevin,

You and all these gigging guitarists have some very differing opinions from the "guitar gods". But, whatever. Maybe that's why the world is ordered as such.

Hendrix not inventing anything new? No one ever used overdrive like that, and no one ever used a whammy bar or a cry baby like that, at all. Not to mention his virtuosic playing and taking the pentatonic scale to a new level... the aformentioned is like, the entire basis of rock guitar playing. Have you picked up a guitar magazine in the last 20 years?

July 26, 2006 at 03:01 AM · Hendrix virtuosic? You must not be a guitar player.

July 26, 2006 at 02:58 AM · for me ,that is ivry gitlis.well, it's realy hard to make a choice. there're too many "great" fiddlers: capucon,zehetmair,benjiamin schmid..and HIP performers: lucy van dael,vera beth ,andrew manze, john holloway,alice bury...but Gitlis is a outstanding figure,a unique one .No reason to choose.

July 26, 2006 at 03:23 AM · jordan... i was playing malmsteen 5 months after getting a guitar, I know a lot about rock guitar.

Hendrix was a guitar virtuoso. You think because he didn't play a lot of fast notes that he didn't have a great command of the fretboard, and ample expressive abilities? David Gilmour is also a virtuoso. It's incredible to me how limited some people's ideas are when it comes to the guitar. They all think Eric Johnson is the greatest...

July 26, 2006 at 03:56 AM · Charlie Christian died young, yet nevertheless his memory persists.

July 26, 2006 at 04:44 AM · Pieter, guitar magazines do NOT reflect the general views of professional guitarists who play for pay. That's lesson one for you to absorb, since you've probably got professional guitar aspirations. It's clear that you don't hang around with many of them, particularly those outside of your narrow "rock guitar" defintion. You'll have to learn to at least feign respect for gigging guitarists like me who don't fit your ideals of what a guitarist should be, at least if you want to WORK.

Lesson two is that the "gods" of rock guitar often are big fans of the players I mentioned. Steve Vai is a big jazz fan, Peter Frampton hung out with Chet Atkins and Les Paul, Joe Satriani gigs with jazz guitarists and probably listens to the classic recordings, and Eric Johnson appeared on Chet's Nashville Now show. Malmsteen himself probably grew up listening to the same guys I grew up listening to.

The first guitarist to use overdrive like that recently died in his advanced age. He was chronicled on NPR earlier this year. Many people called him the "inventor of the power chord", and he was a heavy user of distortion to create that "heavy" sound. Unfortunately, I don't remember his name. Hot player, too.

The whammy bar is a watered down version of the "Bigsby", which is a tremelo bar pioneered in the early 20th century. Chet Atkins used it to great effect, and so did quite a few "Hawaiian" guitarists. If you listen to many historic recordings in the pre-Hendrix days, the use of the Bigbsy is everywhere. However, kudos should be given to Hendrix for using it in his own music in his own way.

The pentatonic scale has been used by blues and ethnic guitarists since the late 1800s and early 20th century. Bill Pratt mentioned Charlie Christian - that guy had a really incredible usage of the pentatonic scale. Eddie Lang also took the pentatonic quite far, and those two were more listened to and copied in their day than Hendrix was in his. In fact, I have a feeling that Hendrix was listening to those guys just as many folks in that generation were. Not listening to Charlie Christian in those days would be like being a violinist today and not knowing who Jascha Heifetz is.

And yes, Hendrix very much is a "virtuoso".

July 26, 2006 at 04:54 AM · Kevin... not to sound smug but I'm friends with A LOT of pro guitarists...

You mention Vai. Funny, he told me Hendrix is without a doubt the top for him, which Satriani confirmed about 5 seconds later (I met them at G3 in Montreal, along with Malmsteen).

You don't need to explain what a Bigsby is. I had a Black Beauty RI with a Bigsby which I sold for an LP Supreme and an SG custom... I'm sorry, but those Haiwaian sounds Atkins was making was nothing like Hendrix, nowhere near as cool.

Malmsteen was principally influenced by Blackmore of Deep Purple, Hendrix, Bach and Paganini.

July 26, 2006 at 05:16 AM · Perhaps you should start a new thread about guitarists. Back to the topic...

There is no "best" or most important violinist. I would have to say that Bach showed how to compose for most instruments, including the violin. People like Vivaldi, Locatelli, and ultimately Paganini pushed the violin to its technical limits. This is incredibly important for the violin because it allows the later great composers such Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelsohn, Brahms and such up to Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Sibelius, Corigliano etc. to know exactly what their limits are for their masterpieces.

Obviously Heifetz was a great giant of the violin as well. He didn't push the limits of what could be done, he just perfected (well, nearly) these technical aspects. I do believe Ricci is actually the most prolific recorder of the violin repetoire though, Peter.

In the sense of violinists/composers I believe Heifetz hurt this area. Of course he made many transcriptions and cadenzas and wrote some original pop songs, but he raised the technical proficency that is expected to almost unreal expectations.

With the violin repetoire being so incredibly enormous to learn and memorize combined with being compared to Heifetz's "perfection," I believe there is little time for the great violinists of this generation to really dive into composing and actually be productive and turn out meaningful works. That is if they want to have concert careers, sleep, and perhaps have a little spare time. Maybe this is why Sibelius and others gave up the violin.

Joachim is also another that I neglected to mention. He composed and helped other "greater" composers turn out much of the core of the concerto repetoire.

July 26, 2006 at 05:51 AM · For all this talk of Heifetz's alleged technical impossibility, there are quite a few performers out there playing near flawlessly every night:

James Ehnes, Franz Peter Zimmerman, Nikolaj Znaider, Julia Fischer, Viktoria Mullova, Leonidas Kavakos, Hillary Hahn, Vadim Repin etc... I don't think Heifetz hurt anything. Maybe he made things better. It's just an illusion, or better yet, a bedtime story that no one can reach his technical level. That's BS. Go to a concert of Ehnes or Kavakos... tell me how many mistakes you hear, if that's what important to you.

July 26, 2006 at 05:48 AM · Whoaaah is this a guitar website all of a sudden or what? Hendrix was undoubtedly the most influential guitarist of the 20th century, but I prefer Djangos playing.

About modern solists not having enough time to compose - they all go on about not practicing so theres no excuse. Maybe its a question of talent. Composition is so difficult, it has taken me months just to pluck up the courage to buy some blank manuscript paper. Eeak

July 26, 2006 at 06:13 AM · Pieter- that's not what I said. What I said was that in order for those and other performers to continue to play up to a standard that Heifetz, or whoever you think is or was the most technically advanced player, brought about as well as keep up with their repetoire and learn new repetoire is nearly impossible in itself. I never said nobody could reach that level. The expectations are just different now and obviously every day the repetoire is the largest it's ever been. This is why I said that unless you want to have any personal time in your life I think it would be impossible to maintain this new standard with the largest rep ever as well as become a serious or great composer. I hope you or someone else can prove me wrong.

A thing I forgot to mention was that we don't know what this generation of great violinists will do later in their lives. Perhaps when their concert careers decline they will turn to composing like some other violinists have done in the past.

July 26, 2006 at 08:22 AM · Brian,

I don't think this is true. Sure, there are way more concerts, but I think soloists get a lot of fulfillment from playing all the time. That, and the commercial structuring has changed such that I don't think audiences really want to hear what soloists have to say. Maybe that's not true, but other than safely composed cadenzas, you almost never hear anything original. I'm not complaining, but like you say, I think it's the result of the current market.

July 26, 2006 at 12:54 PM · WHOA! Come on everyone, less heat more light!!!

July 26, 2006 at 08:37 PM · bringing this thread back to the topic at hand...

i think that both the art of violin performance and composition have advanced so much that specialization is now necessary to meet the technical demands of today. i doubt we can turn back the clock and return to the innocent days of the violinist/conductor/composer. classical music today is far too sophisticated and wide-ranging for the hyphenated musician.

it would be a godsend to find a cross between heifetz, beethoven, and toscanini in one human being but i somehow doubt that standard will be reached in my lifetime. would love to see it happen, THAT would be an all time great musician.

July 26, 2006 at 09:13 PM · You could return to that... it's all a choice. It seems a lot of soloists are pushed to do well over 100 concerts a year. If you chose to do less, you could conceiveably do other things.

July 27, 2006 at 07:48 PM · I reallly fail to understand why this debate refuses to die. It is predicated on the fallacy, after all, that in order to be a great musician one must be a composer. These are different professions - whether inherently or through evolution.

Time was when a good doctor could treat your earache or your constipation or the battle wound in your leg. But the trouble is that this was back when the treatment for all three might well have involved leeches and Evil Spirits. Now we have ENTs and GI specialists and emergency room surgeons. Who decries that evolution of specialization? or pines away, longing for a return to the good old days of alligator dung being used to treat cataracts?

And in the arts, who would say that Shakespeare was a lesser playwright for not also being a player? Or that Burbage was a lesser player for not being a playwright?

Some people are blessed with multiple gifts. But that does not increase the significance of any of their endowments taken individually. Michaelangelo was not a better or worse painter than Leonardo because Leonardo was also an inventor, natural philosopher, and diplomat. Either judge their painting side by side or judge their multifacetedness. But don't use one judgment to inform the unrelated other.

And as for the violin world, let's be very, very careful how we use the word "compose", and what exactly we term a "composition". I don't compose because I don't want to write senseless or trivial garbage. But for anyone who thinks that any arranged series of pitches constitutes a composition, they are all too willing to claim multifaceted musicianship for themselves. If the definition is vague enough, then yes there IS something to bemoan about the fact that performers no longer compose. But then again, if the definition is vague enough, then I'm a doctor for having applied Neosporin to my sliced-open index finger yesterday.

July 27, 2006 at 09:29 PM · Past century we had some violinist-composers:

Eckhardt-Gramatte, Grazyna Bacewicz, Sammons,

Francescatti, von Veczey...and of course,Kreisler.

July 28, 2006 at 01:06 AM · Let's see - if the best violinist is also a composer, then an even BETTER violinist is also a pianist and a conductor, as well as a teacher. Hmmmm, could it be? By that definition, the greatest violinist was Enescu. And maybe he's in the running for the title even if all he ever did was play the violin.

And what about Jack Benny? - a violinist AND a comedian.

And, hey, what about Nero? - A violinist AND a Roman Emperor.

And here's another one...Sherlock Holmes - A violinist AND the world's first consulting detective.


July 28, 2006 at 01:16 AM · Let's not forget Albert Einstein...

But seriously, I think Emil said much better what I was trying to get at before. Being a musician and being a composer are two different things, and while one might argue that composition is a valuable contribution to musical history, so are many other things.

July 28, 2006 at 02:16 AM · "Let's see - if the best violinist is also a composer, then an even BETTER violinist is also a pianist and a conductor, as well as a teacher. Hmmmm, could it be? By that definition, the greatest violinist was Enescu. And maybe he's in the running for the title even if all he ever did was play the violin" - I'm confused just a bit

July 28, 2006 at 05:43 AM · Okay, let's end this with the greatest violinist/composer/conductor/teacher not yet mentioned:

Eugene Ysaye.

Szigeti, Enescu, Thibaud, Kreisler, and many other fiddle players called Ysaye "The Master of us all."

He was conductor of the Cincinatti Symphony.

He composed the greatest, most important, unaccompanied works for the violin since Bach, the Six Sonatas, Op. 27 and these are a clear reflection of the mastery Ysaye had on the instrument.

Even Heifetz would agree.


July 28, 2006 at 10:58 AM · Greetings,

are you saying Heifetz would agree that the Ysaye sonatas are of more significance than the Paginini Caprices?



July 28, 2006 at 06:04 PM · pedagogically speaking, the Ysaye sonatas are pretty overated. Some people think they're the Bach S&Ps or something.

July 28, 2006 at 09:16 PM · I don't think it's really fair to compare the Ysaye Sonatas with the Paganini Caprices--they're really apples and oranges and have equally great significance in the history of violin literature. I personally believe that the Ysaye Sonatas have more substance, however, and really meant that for the unaccompanied SONATA literature, the Ysaye Sonatas are the finest since Bach. As for Heifetz, I simply meant that he would likely agree that Ysaye revealed his technical mastery in his compositions.

As for the comment made that the Ysaye Sonatas are overrated, I'm going to have to refrain from detailed comment because perhaps I'm too close to these works--dissertation topic and all--I could defend them for some time. In short, I believe they are UNDERrated.



July 28, 2006 at 09:31 PM · Hello, funny discussion here, had a similar one on the german "vioworld" board some weeks ago!

What I'm surprised about here is:

1) that Nigel Kennedy is not even mentioned, though he is really the most wellknown "classical and all other styles" violinist in europe - has played his symphonic "doors concerto", made his own "Hendrix experience" (my favorite!) and also played gipsy style and improvised Jazz.

2) Also Mark o'Connor should be more well known in USA as composer of quite some violin pieces like his Capriccios - seem to be a bit like Paganinis in difficulty.

3) If even Vanessa Mae is considered (I also like her Storm, Toccata and Devil's Sonata, but I hate her "classically played" pieces - her "original" 4 seasons are the worst of the about 30 interpretations I have) I think someone should also mention Regina Carter (some fantastic pieces on her CD's "freefall" and "something for Grace" and others)

and there are more - especially Edgar Meyer (already mentioned above - this one at least is a really serious composer)

kind regards

I forgot: Gilles Apap (also living in USA and if you ever listen to his Ysaye Interpretations on his new "solo" CD you know why some consider this music as so beautiful - which in most available interpretations is "not possible to listen to" . Gilles Apap was mentioned by Menuhin as "the violinist of the 21st century" and plays wonderful Bach as well as all kinds of american and european folk and even indian music)

July 30, 2006 at 07:24 PM · Pieter what is it with you and the guitar don't you know that the guitar is not the only instrument made for diffrent kinds of music.The violin has deep rots in all kinds of music not just classical.

July 30, 2006 at 10:56 PM · It might have been interesting to talk about the differences between "best" and "favorite." I think they mean the same thing in this context.

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