The 25 greatest violinists of all time

19 August 2022, 15:08

The 25 greatest violinists of all time
The 25 greatest violinists of all time. Picture: Alamy

By Kyle Macdonald

Who are the greatest violin virtuosos of all time? Here’s our top 25, listed alphabetically. And any list that ends with Vengerov and Vivaldi is worth sticking around for...

The 25 greatest violinists of all time – as chosen by Classic FM. Do you agree?

  1. Joshua Bell (1967 – )

    From child prodigy to one of the most outstanding virtuosos of our time. Everything about him, from performances to his iconic mass of hair, has superstar quality. Joshua Bell also created some of the most talked-about moments in classical music, with this Washington D.C. metro performance.

    Joshua Bell on sound and double stopping

  2. Nicola Benedetti (1987 – )

    She’s a tireless advocate for the instrument and for music education in general, and one of the finest violinists this country has ever produced. Want to feel inspired? Pop on any of Nicola Benedetti’s incredible recordings, or simply Google “The Benedetti Foundation”.

    Nicola Benedetti on the terrifying moments of Tchaikovsky

    Read more: Nicola Benedetti playing Bach in an empty St Paul's Cathedral is just breathtaking

  3. George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower (1778 – 1860)

    A British virtuoso, of African descent. His playing impressed Beethoven so much that he was the original dedicatee of his ‘Kreutzer’ Sonata, a piece that was considered unplayable by many at the time. It was not all plain-sailing for Bridgetower, who fell out with the great composer – but he remains one of the most exceptional players of any age.

    George Bridgetower
    George Bridgetower. Picture: Alamy
  4. Arcangelo Corelli (1653 – 1713)

    We all love violin sonatas and concertos, right? Well, we have Arcangelo to thank. Trained in Bologna and Rome, this string player rose to astronomical levels of musical profile and general celebrity. Corelli was regarded as the greatest virtuoso violinist of his age, and his brilliant and inventive compositions elevated the violin to its current place among solo instruments and in fact helped shaped the orchestra into what we know and love today.

    Corelli: 12 Concerti Grossi, Op. 6, No. 8; Christmas Concerto - Musica Amphion - Classical Music HD

  5. George Enescu (1881 – 1955)

    He’s a god among Romanians and, happily, also a god among violinists thanks to his exhaustive output for the instrument and his dynamite tone.

    George Enescu and Dinu Lipatti - Enescu Violin Sonata no.3 - I

  6. Joseph Joachim (1831 – 1907)

    Joachim was a Hungarian violinist who was best pals with Johannes Brahms. His incredible energy and playing made him one of the most in-demand and best-connected musicians of the second half of the 19th century. Love the Brahms Violin Concerto? Thank Joseph.

    Joseph Joachim
    Joseph Joachim. Picture: Alamy
  7. Midori (1971 – )

    Ever since she managed to conquer two broken E strings in one performance in front of Leonard Bernstein, Midori has been a legend.

    五嶋みどり タングルウッドの奇跡

  8. Hilary Hahn (1979 – )

    A true experimenter, Hahn’s innovative approach has revolutionised the violin for the modern age. She's great on social media too, bringing the joy of her music to generations Y, Z and beyond...

    Hilary Hahn plays Bach

  9. Jascha Heifetz (1901 – 1987)

    When he first heard Heifetz play, fellow violin legend Fritz Kreisler said: “We might as well take our fiddles and break them across our knees.” Fair enough.

    Jascha Heifetz plays Paganini Caprice No. 24

  10. Janine Jansen (1978 – )

    A Bach specialist with a romantic tone like no other, Dutch violinist Janine Jansen seems to have been at the forefront of the violin world forever.

    Janine Jansen & Sir Antonio Pappano perform Bruch's Violin Concerto No. 1 - Verbier Festival 2021

  11. Fritz Kreisler (1875 – 1962)

    Kreisler was a pioneer of eking emotion out of his instrument, with an immediately recognisable tone. But he was also a composer of fiendish and legendary works for the violin too, securing his legacy and influence.

    Fritz Kreisler plays Kreisler "Liebesleid" in 1930 and 1942

  12. Gidon Kremer (1947 – )

    Equally at home with the Baroque as he is with contemporary music, Latvian Kremer’s style is so adaptable and forward-thinking that it’s all the more incredible he’s able to inject his playing with such personality.

    Gidon Kremer & Martha Argerich – Kreisler: Schön Rosmarin

  13. Yehudi Menuhin (1916 – 1999)

    Few violinists can claim to be responsible for ushering in a new generation of top-flight violinists, but Yehudi Menuhin certainly can. An innovative and passionate educator, as well as a top performer.

    Yehudi Menuhin plays Mendelssohn violin concerto

  14. Viktoria Mullova (1959 – )

    Russian Mullova hit the headlines after a dramatic escape from the KGB during a concert tour to Finland. Clearly, though, Mullova’s talent for diplomatic evasion was more than matched by her violin skills.

    Viktoria Mullova: Tico Tico (Stradivarius in Rio)

  15. Anne-Sophie Mutter (1963 – )

    German violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter was mentored in her early career by the great conductor Herbert von Karajan, and it shows. She’s a huge champion of modern works rather than just the old favourites and, as such, is vital to the instrument’s growth.

    Brahms Double Concerto

    Incredible Brahms from Pablo Ferrández - Cellist, Anne-Sophie Mutter and the Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra. 😍

    Posted by Classic FM on Friday, April 13, 2018
  16. Ginette Neveu (1919 – 1949)

    Tragically, Neveu died in a plane crash when she was just 30, something made all the more tragic by just how much promise she showed. She once beat David Oistrakh in the Wieniawski Competition and was already making some classic recordings - it’s tempting to imagine just what might have been.

    Ginette Neveu Plays Ravel Tzigane

  17. David Oistrakh (1908 – 1974)

    When both Shostakovich and Khachaturian dedicate their violin concertos to you, you know you’re doing alright. Oistrakh was a legend.

    David Oistrakh-Aram khachaturian violin concerto

  18. Niccolò Paganini (1782 – 1840)

    No other violinist in history has held as much influence and power over the way the instrument is played. Compositions, legendary performances, and even a lavish biopic starring David Garrett - what a legacy.

    Paganini Caprice no.24 [HQ]

  19. Itzhak Perlman (1945 – )

    Few have done as much for the popularity of the violin as Itzhak Perlman. Hugely decorated, hugely respected, Sesame Street star and a dab hand at John Williams’ Schindler’s List alongside pretty much everything else.

    Itzhak Perlman's tips for practising

  20. Pablo de Sarasate (1844 – 1908)

    If Sarasate had only written his epic ‘Zigeunerweisen’, he’d still be an absolute legend. But as it happens, he was also a devilishly talented performer.

    Itzhak Perlman Sarasate Zigeunerweisen

  21. Gil Shaham (1971 – )

    Though he was probably always destined for greatness, Shaham got his big break when he filled in for Itzhak Perlman in a concert in 1989, playing the Bruch and Sibelius concertos.

    Gil Shaham - Partita N°. 2 BWV 1004 - Chaconne

  22. Isaac Stern (1920 – 2001)

    Stern was the driving force behind some of the greatest musicians of the generation that followed him, including Yo-Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman. But first and foremost, it was always his playing that made him a star.

    Isaac Stern - Sibelius Violin Concerto in D minor

  23. Maxim Vengerov (1974 – )

    One of the true greats of today (and indeed any age), Siberia-born Maxim Vengerov is another prodigy made good. He’s the first musician to be made an International Goodwill Ambassador by UNICEF, and is Classic FM’s first solo Artist in Residence.

    Maxim Vengerov | 5 Best Violin Pieces | Classic FM

  24. Antonio Vivaldi (1678 – 1741)

    The master of Baroque violin, and an unignorable influence on the violin as it is played today. It’s no wonder that his concertos still act as a training ground for the professionals of today.

    Håkon & Mari Samuelsen play Vivaldi at the Bristol Proms

  25. Eugène Ysaÿe (1858 – 1931)

    He’s not much of a name outside musical circles, but Belgian violinist and composer Eugène Ysaÿe has written some of the absolute beasts of the repertoire – and by all accounts, he was a fairly incomparable player, too.

    Augustin Hadelich plays Ysaÿe Sonata no. 4 LIVE