18 Of The Greatest And Most Famous Violin Players Of All Time

Written by Izaak Walton
Last updated

The violin has been a staple of classical music for centuries and is one of the most recognizable and popular instruments in the world. It has been played for centuries and remains an important part of many musical genres.

Violinists are often known for their virtuosity, incredible technique, and expressive performance style and in this post, we’re going to take a look at the lives and careers of the 18 greatest and most famous violin players. Let’s get started.

1. Arcangelo Corelli

Arcangelo Corelli

One of the founding figures in the violin music we hear today is Arcangelo Corelli, and many of the classical artists that have influenced today’s violinists were inspired by Corelli and his work.

In his time, Corelli performed all around Europe and was favored by many royal courts for his talent. Among the Italian composer’s popular works is the concerti grossi, a collection of 12 grossi that is considered one of the finest.

Corelli maintained his fame in the Baroque era and inspired multiple generations of violinists, including some of the greats listed here, like Vivaldi.

2. Niccolò Paganini

Niccolò Paganini

Alive from 1782 to 1840, Niccolo Paganini, a popular Italian violin virtuoso, violist, and composer continues to have his music played and studied by violinists to this day.

As most renowned musicians do, he started young on the violin and earned famous tutorage around Italy. It took him a few years, but he eventually toured all of Europe and gained infamy for his wild lifestyle.

For years, it was said he sold his soul to the devil, which later prevented him from a Catholic burial. Paganini’s skill might have come from speculated Marfan syndrome, which made his fingers extraordinarily long and flexible, allowing him to play complex notes.

Paganini was a significant influence on modern violin techniques, his most famous work being his “24 Caprices for Violin.”

3. Antonio Vivaldi

Antonio Vivaldi

Another pillar of the violin world, Antonio Vivaldi, was an Italian Baroque composer and violinist whose music is played regularly to this day. His compositions are practiced and taught as classics in most musical teachings.

Vivaldi composed most of his violin works for the orphanage he worked as a musical director. Much of his fame and renown disappeared in the last decade of his life, only returning in the early 20th century.

His most famous work is his violin concertos, like the “Four Seasons.” A great Baroque composer, Vivaldi also created over 50 operas, the first of which was Ottone in villa.

4. Yehudi Menuhin

Born in America, Yehudi Menuhin began violin at age four, then appeared on the world stage by age 12, shocking audiences with his talent.

This turned into a lifelong career of performing worldwide, especially in Britain, and recording many songs with other famous musicians, like Stéphane Grappell, who we’ll look at next.

Menuhin took pride in teaching violin but also conducting for young musicians. This led him to found the Yehudi Menuhin School.

He toured and recorded music for almost his entire life, with even a collection of 51 CDs of his performances to commemorate his long career.

Menuhin’s music contract with now-defunct EMI lasted from 1929 to 1999, when he passed away at age 83, the longest recording contract in history.

5. Stéphane Grappelli

You don’t have to be a classical violinist to be one of the greats. Our next famous violinist, Stéphane Grappelli, was a well-known and loved gypsy jazz violinist.

Grappelli’s early life was full of changes, and his childhood extended through World War I. He only began to learn the violin at age 12.

Immersed in music and living through both World Wars, Grappelli became the Grandfather of Jazz Violinists. The French-Italian violin player founded one of the first all-string jazz bands, Quintette du Hot Club de France.

He then went on to record hundreds of records and played on a global scale, receiving the Grammy Lifetime Achievement in 1997, the year he passed away.

6. Jascha Heifetz

Lithuanian Jascha Heifetz had an earlier start than most when it came to the violin with his father, a violinist, putting him through “tests” to see how he reacted to the music.

By age two, Heifetz had a violin in his hand, and by the age of seven, he was publicly performing and beginning to earn money from his violin abilities.

Already popular in Europe, his American success took off after a sensational performance at Carnegie Hall in 1917. Following this, he collaborated with pianists as he toured and mainly played the violin solo, his unique style making it difficult to work with others. 

After a partially successful operation on his right arm in 1972, Heifetz stopped performing in concerts and recording. In 1987, the violin legend passed away in his home. Nevertheless, he was posthumously honored with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award two years after his death.

7. Fritz Kreisler

Born in Austria, Fritz Kreisler studied music there as a child and performed in Rome at the age of twelve before traveling to New York in his younger years to complete it.

Kreisler’s unique style shone over various styles, including his violin solos and compositions. Two notable ones are “Liebesfreud” and “Liebesleid.” He also possessed multiple rare and expensive violins made by renowned luthiers like Antonio Stradivari and Giuseppe Guarneri.

Kreisler lived the last decades of his life in New York City. To this day, he is remembered as one of the great violinists who left behind an even more remarkable legacy of his own music and style.

8. Isaac Stern

Born in Poland, Isaac Stern and his family moved to San Francisco when he was still a baby. He took violin lessons in early childhood through his teenage years and debuted at fifteen.

Stern performed for US troops during WWII since he wasn’t eligible for the draft. Then in the 1960s, he was one of the loud voices of protest against the demolition of Carnegie Hall in NYC.

Stern played violin in several Hollywood films and their soundtracks, like Humoresque and Fiddler on the Roof. He also toured worldwide, including performing for an extended amount of time in Israel.

His works made him another influential violinist in the 20th century, and his talent and personality made him popular and well-received. In his lifetime, Stern won six Grammys, and the main auditorium of Carnegie Hall was named after him.

9. Hilary Hahn

An American child prodigy, Hilary Hahn began her violin career at age four, and by the age of ten, she was attending the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.

At age eleven, she played in the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, which set her up for a stellar career, immersed in classical music as both a solo violinist and within an orchestra.

Hahn has produced dozens of original compositions, accompanied film soundtracks, and has played on many famous stages worldwide. She currently has 26 albums and continues to be one of the most in-demand violinists in the world.

10. Itzhak Perlman

Yet another prodigy, Itzhak Perlman, came to the US from Tel Aviv when he was 13 to study at the Juilliard School in New York City. He went on to make a great career out of his talent.

Perlman has an international concert record and has met and performed for more famous events and people than most musicians. This includes the inauguration of Barack Obama, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, and work on multiple film soundtracks.

Perlman has 16 Grammy awards, four Emmy awards, and the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. He is currently teaching at Brooklyn College’s Conservatory of Music.

11. Joshua Bell

Our next violinist, Joshua Bell, had a relatively normal childhood in Indiana, learning violin from a young age. Still, it was only in his early teens that he became serious about playing the instrument.

By the time he was 14, Bell was playing in the Philadelphia Orchestra, and since then, his career and talent only grew greater.

Bell toured the world as a young adult, playing across America and into Russia, winning a Grammy in 1993. Since then, has recorded music for several Oscar-nominated movies, like The Red Violin.

He’s been a teacher at music colleges but has also traveled overseas to teach occasionally. Bell has also shown up in several shows as himself and partaken in social experiments from the Washington Post.

12. Nicola Benedetti

Beginning young and rising to national recognition by age eight, Scottish violinist Nicola Benedetti is one of the more decorated violinists of recent times.

She was the leader of the National Children’s Orchestra of Great Britain when she was only eight. Later, she went on to study at the Yehudi Menuhin School in England.

At 16, she won the BBC Young Musician of the Year Award in 2004, the first of many more accolades she’s earned since then. Her most recent award was a Grammy in 2020 for a classical solo (Marsalis: Violin Concerto).

13. Janine Jansen

Norwegian violinist Janine Jansen began her musical career at age six and rose to significant talent in the years after with her beautiful renditions of many popular classics.

Jansen keeps her performances simple and doesn’t often play with a full orchestra. Her most significant successes have been with her recordings of famous violinists’ pieces, including Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” and the works of Beethoven and Bach.

These have given her a lot of success with the number of downloads and CD sales over the 2000s. Her work with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra has also earned a Johannes Vermeer Award.

14. Julia Fischer

German musician Julia Fischer’s family background in music, made it simple for her to learn violin from a young age. She also knows her way around the piano, as her pianist mother viewed the instrument as a skill for any aspiring musician.

Fischer joined two competitions that helped highlight her career as a violist, one of which was the prestigious International Yehudi Menuhin Violin Competition in 1995. She has also performed worldwide and worked under renowned conductors like Simon Rattle and Michael Tilson Thomas.

She is talented on her own or with others, earning the Gramophone Classic Award for Artist of the Year in 2007. These days, Fischer continues to perform on a large scale, keeping the classics alive.

15. Maxim Vengerov

In recent years, Maxim Vengerov has been known to be one of the great living violinists in the world today. Born in Russia and having learned the violin from a very young age, he started winning competitions not long into his childhood.

Whenever there is conflict in Israel, Vengerov is known to travel there to perform for the citizens. He even opened a music school there called Musicians of Tomorrow.

Accolades are not unfamiliar to Vengerov as he has won a Best Instrumental Soloist Performance at the 46th Grammy Awards and five Edison Classical Music Awards.

Along with teaching, judging competitions, and performing, he continues to share his talent with the world. Vengerov also owns one of the rare Stradivarius violins, the 1727 ex-Kreutzer.

16. Ray Chen

Award-winning Taiwanese-Australian violinist and online personality Ray Chen began playing violin at age four. At only eight years old, Chen was invited to play solo with the Queensland Philharmonic Orchestra, and at 15, he was accepted into the Curtis Institute of Music.

He won first prize at the Yehudi Menuhin International Competition for Young Violinists in 2008 and, the following year won first prize in the Queen Elisabeth Competition.

Chen has worked with some of the world’s most acclaimed orchestras and conductors. He recently launched the Tonic app on iOS and Android, which encourages musicians around the globe to connect. He has a strong social media presence and can be found on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.

17. David Garrett

German violinist David Garrett is perhaps best known for his crossovers of virtuoso violin music with pop music.

As a child prodigy, Garret began playing violin at four. At age 7, he was studying at the Lübeck Conservatoire. At 10, he made his first stage debut. He was just 13 when he became the youngest soloist ever to sign with Deutsche Grammophon.

Five years later, he began to study at the Royal College of Music in London. Garrett then went on to attend the Julliard school in New York City, winning the school’s Composition Competition in 2003.

Garrett has had a prolific career. He’s played with some of the classical field’s most distinguished orchestras and conductors. His autobiography, If You Only Knew, is available now.

18. Nigel Kennedy

British violinist Nigel Kennedy comes from a musically gifted family. He was seven years old when he was accepted to the Yehudi Menuhin School of Music and later went on to study at the Julliard School in New York.

He’s known for his anti-establishment style, but perhaps best known for his 1989 recoding of Vivald’s “Four Seasons,” which sold over 3 million copies.

In 1992 Kennedy announced he was moving away from classical music and began experimenting with other musical styles. He collaborated with many popular artists, including performing with The Who, and recorded covers of Jimi Hendrix songs.

To date, he’s published two autobiographies, Always Playing in 1991 and Nigel Kennedy Uncensored! in 2021.

Summing Up Our List Of Famous Violinists

We hope you enjoyed learning about these famous violinists who have impacted the music world. From the legends who popularized the classics way back in the 18th century to modern violinists, each one has made their mark in music history.

We’ll be adding to this list soon, so if there are any other notable violinists we missed, please let us know.

Photo of author

Izaak Walton is a violinist and violin teacher based out of Denver, Colorado. Izaak received a Master’s in Violin Performance at the University of Denver, and a Bachelor’s in Violin Performance from the University of Georgia. Exposed to a variety of violin methods and musical styles, Izaak built passions for music history, literature, and violin technique.