The 25 greatest violinists of all time
6 April 2018, 17:29 | Updated: 28 February 2020, 13:30
Who are the greatest violinists of all time? We’ve asked our experts at Classic FM and come up with the top 25, listed alphabetically.
Joshua Bell (1967 - )
When the idea of a child prodigy was still something strange and new, Joshua Bell was one of the only musicians to actually turn it into a fully-fledged career through sheer, continued hard work and excellence.
Nicola Benedetti (1987 - )
She’s a tireless advocate for the instrument and for music education in general, but she just so happens to be a world-class violinist too. A world-changer of the future (and a Korngold fan).
Sarah Chang (1980 - )
Incredibly, Sarah Chang has been performing on international stages for over 30 years. That’s what happens when you can play entire concertos from the age of 5. It’s hard to imagine a child prodigy who made such an impact at such a young age, and then miraculously keep the momentum going into her adult life.
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.
Julia Fischer (1983 - )
Not content with being a world-class violinist, Fischer is also a concert pianist on occasion – and perhaps it’s this that gives her that inimitable musicality, something more rounded than so many of her contemporaries.
Midori Gotō (1971 - )
Ever since she managed to conquer two broken E-strings in one performance in front of Leonard Bernstein, Midori has been a legend.
Hilary Hahn (1979 - )
A true experimenter, Hahn’s innovative approach has revolutionised the violin for the modern age.
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.
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.
Nigel Kennedy (1956 - )
A genuine firebrand, Kennedy achieved the trick of simultaneously annoying and delighting the violin establishment. Even today, slightly mellower than in his wild days, he’s essential.
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.
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.
Yehudi Menuhin (1916 - 1999)
Few violinists can claim to be responsible for ushering in a new generation of top-flight violinists, but Menuhin certainly can. An innovative and passionate educator, as well as a top performer.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 biopic starring David Garrett - what a legacy.
Itzhak Perlman (1945 - )
Few have done as much for the popularity of the violin as Itzhak Perlman. Hugely decorated, hugely respected, and a dab hand at Schindler’s List:
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.
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.
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.
Maxim Vengerov (1974 - )
Few violinists appear so effortless in performance than Russian Maxim Vengerov, another prodigy made good. Oh, and he’s the first musician to be made an International Goodwill Ambassador by UNICEF.
Antonio Vivaldi (1678 - 1741)
The daddy 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.
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 he was a fairly incomparable player, too.