Top 15 Famous Violinists of All Time July 02 2021
Violin playing technique and styles have evolved drastically and considerably over the past 300 years from the time of Giuseppe Tartini in the late 1600s till to-day. Many violinists have left a lasting legacy on the world of violin playing but only a few can truly claim their title as some of the greatest violinists to have ever lived. Hailing from different parts of the world such as Italy, Belgium, Russia, America and more, here are some of the violinists who have built a lasting legacy on their profound musicianship.
Giuseppe Tartini (1692-1770)
Tartini was born in 1692 in Venetian Piran (modern day Slovenia). He
married Elisabetta Premazore, a woman his father disapproved of because of her lower social class and age difference.
Unfortunately, Elisabetta was a favourite of a powerful cardinal, who promptly charged Tartini with abduction.
Tartini fled Padua to go to a monastery in Assisi to escape prosecution and took up violin playing while there.
Tartini's violin playing improved greatly and, in 1721, he was appointed Maestro di Cappella at the Basilica di St. Antonio in Padua. In 1726, Tartini started a violin school and later, became more interested in the theory of harmony and acoustics. From 1750 to the end of his life he published various treatises. He died in Padua in 1770, aged 78.
Giovanni Battista Viotti (1755-1824)
A talented young child, Viotti became a pupil of Gaetano Pugnani and later moved to London in 1792 and made his successful debut at Johann Peter Salomon's Hanover Square Concert on 7 February 1793.
While in London, Viotti became a featured violinist of a concert series, music director of an opera, acting manager of the Italian opera at the King's Theatre, as well as leader and director of the orchestra.
Later, around c.1800, Viotti gave up giving concerts to run a wine business, but still played regularly in private concerts. In 1813, he was one of the founders of the Philharmonic Society of London.
After his wine business failed, he returned to Paris to work as director of the Royal Academy of Music from 1819 to 1821. Viotti passed away on 3 March 1824.
Niccolò Paganini (1782-1840)
The world’s first rock star, Paganini was born in 1782 in Genoa, Italy
and gained both fame and notoriety first as a prodigy, then as a virtuoso who concerted around the world, popularizing advanced violin techniques used by Baroque virtuosos such as Locatelli and taking them to new extremes.
It is conjectured that Paganini had Marfan Syndrome, which allowed his hands to stretch and bend in extraordinary ways. Paganini’s most famous compositions are the devilishly difficult 24 Caprices for solo violin which was composed over a span of many years, long before they were published in 1820.
Paganini died on 27 May 1840 from internal hemorrhaging and after a series of events due to the religious practices then and also the widespread belief of his pact with the devil, his body was moved several times before being finally laid to rest in a new cemetery in Parma, Italy in 1896.
Henri Vieuxtemps (1820-1881)
Son of a weaver and amateur violinist from Verviers, Belgium, Henri Vieuxtemps was a child prodigy and enjoyed an outstanding career as a violinist from the age of 6, studying with Charles de Bériot in Paris and later touring Europe, USA and Russia.
Vieuxtemps taught at the Brussels Conservatory since 1871 but a paralytic stroke to his right arm ended his performing career for good in 1873 and forced him to limit his teaching activities exclusively to Paris.
His famed students included Eugène Ysaÿe, who had studied with Vieuxtemps from 1876 to 1879. Vieuxtemps spent his final years composing in a sanatorium in Algeria, where his daughter had settled with her husband.
Henryk Wieniawski (1835-1880)
Henryk's talent for playing the violin was recognized at an early age,
and in 1843 he was accepted by the Paris Conservatoire and special exceptions had to be made to admit him as he was not French and only 8 years old.
After graduation, he toured extensively and gave many recitals and was often accompanied by his pianist brother Józef.
When his engagement to Isabella Hampton was opposed by her parents, Wieniawski wrote Légende, which helped her parents change their mind, and the couple married in 1860.
In 1875, Wieniawski replaced Henri Vieuxtemps as violin professor at the Brussels Conservatory. During his residence in Brussels, Wieniawski's health declined, and he often had to stop in the middle of his concerts.
He died in Moscow on 31 March 1880 from a heart attack.
Pablo de Sarasate (1844-1908)
Sarasate was a unique musician by all accounts, and the famed violin pedagogue Carl Flesch described the effect of the Spaniard’s playing as ‘putting his audience into astonishment, admiration and highest rapture.’
However, it was Belgian virtuoso Eugène Ysaÿe who recognised Sarasate’s lasting influence on violin playing and proclaimed that ‘it was he who taught us how to play exactly.’
Son of a bandmaster who was Sarasate’s first violin teacher, his extraordinary talent was recognised throughout Spain and aged 12, he went to France to continue his studies with Jean Delphin Award at the Paris Conservatory, winning the premier prix in both violin and solfège and then in harmony all within a year.
Many works were dedicated to the Spanish master, including Wieniawski’s 2nd Concerto and Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy. Sarasate died in Biarritz, France, on 20 September 1908, from chronic bronchitis.
Eugène Ysaÿe (1858-1931)
The great Belgian violinist Eugène Ysaÿe was born in Liège in 1858.
Ysaÿe exerted an enormous influence on the musical world not only as a violinist, but also as a composer and conductor when his performing career took off rapidly in the 1880s and had brought him all around the world, till his death in 1931 in Brussels.
Today, Ysaÿe’s most noted contribution as a virtuosic composer to the music world is translated in his 6 Sonatas for solo violin, which have firmly established themselves as one of the standard repertoire for any advanced students or soloists around the world.
A famous international music competition bears his name.
Fritz Kreisler (1875-1962)
A Viennese by birth of Jewish heritage, Fritz Kreisler was well known for his wonderfully intense yet immaculately tasteful vibrato and his sensuous tone which were a manifestation of his French influence due to his studies with Lambert Massart, who had also taught Henryk Wieniawski and Eugène Ysaÿe.
Kreisler was an officer in Austria’s imperial army but was wounded during the Great War and discharged while serving on the Russian front in 1914.
Kreisler wrote a book titled ‘Four Weeks in the Trenches’ to pen his war memoirs which was published in neutral America in 1915. Among his many close friends and esteemed musical colleagues included Rachmaninoff, Heifetz, Ysaÿe, Elman and many more.
Kreisler passed away at the age of 86 in 1962 in New York City.
Mischa Elman (1891-1967)
Born on 20 January 1891 in Ukraine, Mischa Elman was a
celebrated child prodigy who studied violin from the age of 4. In 1902 he became a tuition-free pupil of famed violinist and pedagogue Leopold Auer at the St. Petersburg Conservatory.
His professional debut in 1904 in Berlin quickly established him as one of the leading European violinists.
Elman became a US citizen in 1923 and he celebrated the 50th anniversary of his debut in the United States with a concert at Carnegie Hall in New York City.
Elman’s tone was regarded by many of his contemporaries as resonant and voluptuous. Elman passed away on 5 April 1967 in New York.
Jascha Heifetz (1901-1987)
Jascha Heifetz was born in Vilna, where his father Ruvin was a violinist in the city theatre.
By the age of 5, Heifetz had advanced enough to enter the Vilna Conservatory, where he began instruction under Elias Malkin.
A year later, Heifetz made his first public appearance performing the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto. Persuaded by Malkin to listen to Heifetz, Leopold Auer urged Heifetz to come to St. Petersburg and become his pupil after listening to his Mendelssohn and Paganini.
Heifetz's American debut took place at Carnegie Hall in 1917 and many years later, he became an American citizen, settled in California, and enjoyed the benefit of a long-term recording contract with RCA, amassing a sizable discography over the years.
Heifetz died in LA, California, on 10 December 1987, at the age of 86 following a fall in his home.
David Oistrakh (1908-1972)
David Oistrakh was born in 1908, Odessa, Ukraine, and died on 24
October 1974, in a hotel in Amsterdam, Netherlands.
Though he had a history of heart trouble, the cause of death was not immediately determined.
Oistrakh was a world-renowned Soviet violin virtuoso acclaimed for his exceptional technique and tone production.
A violin student from the age of 5, Oistrakh graduated from the Odessa Conservatory in 1926 and made his Moscow debut in 1929.
He gave recitals throughout the Soviet Union and eastern Europe and in 1937 won 1st prize in the Eugène Ysaÿe Violin Competition. From 1934 he taught violin at the Moscow Conservatory and from 1951 he toured extensively in Europe and from 1955 in the United States.
Yehudi Menuhin (1916-1999)
American violinist and conductor, Yehudi Menuhin, had one of the longest and most distinguished careers of any violinist of the 20th century.
Born in New York to Russian-Jewish parents, Menuhin went to Paris to study under violinist and composer George Enesco.
Over the course of World War 2, he played over 500 concerts for the Allies, and later returned to Germany to play for inmates recently liberated from the concentration camps.
Throughout the last 20 years of his life, Yehudi Menuhin continued to engage in every aspect of musical work. He spent his 70s and 80s as one of the most active musicians in the world.
Menuhin was a constant contributor to religious, social, and environmental organisations. Menuhin died in Berlin, Germany, from complications of bronchitis.
Henryk Szeryng (1918-1988)
When asked in an interview to the Mexican newspaper “Excelsior”
on 23 July 1978, “What would you do, if you had only one more hour to live?”, Szeryng answered, “I would play the Brahms concerto.”
Henryk Szeryng ended his career as he started it 55 years ago: with the Brahms violin concerto.
A world class musician fluent in 8 languages, Henryk started piano and harmony lessons with his mother when he was 5, and at age 7 turned to the violin, receiving instruction from Maurice Frenkel.
After studies with Carl Flesch in Berlin from 1929 to 1932, he went to Paris to continue his studies with Jacques Thibaud at the Paris Conservatoire, graduating with a premier prix in 1937.
Szeryng died of a cerebral haemorrhage in Kassel, Germany, on 3 March 1988.
Leonid Kogan (1924-1982)
Kogan was born to a Ukrainian Jewish family and they later moved to Moscow, where Kogan was able to further his studies with noted violin pedagogue Abram Yampolsky.
He made his official debut in 1941, playing the Brahms Concerto with the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra.
In 1951, Kogan won 1st prize at the Queen Elizabeth Competition in Brussels playing Paganini's Violin Concerto no.1.
Kogan married Elizabeth Gilels, sister of pianist Emil Gilels, also a concert violinist. His son, Pavel Kogan (b.1952) is a violinist and conductor. His daughter, Nina Kogan (b.1954), is a concert pianist and became the accompanist and sonata partner of her father at an early age.
Kogan died of a heart attack while travelling by train between Moscow and Yaroslavl to a concert he was to perform with his son.
Michael Rabin (1936-1972)
Described as "one of the most talented and tragic violin virtuosi of
his generation’’, Michael Rabin began to study the violin aged 7.
Rabin was advised to study with Ivan Galamian after a lesson with Jascha Heifetz, the former who said he had "no weaknesses, never."
His Carnegie Hall debut took place in January 1950, at the age of 13 playing Vieuxtemps Violin Concerto no.5.
During a recital in Carnegie Hall, Rabin suddenly lost his balance and fell forward, an early sign of a neurological condition which limited his career from then on. His death, at 35, resulted from a fall in his apartment in New York City.
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