Best Violinist of All Time (Classical and Modern) 

 May 25, 2022

By  Zen Chung

Choosing the best musicians in recent times has been a matter of debate. Do you look at the popularity or the sheer skill? In recent times, the number of streams seems to be taking center stage on who the best musician is in the music industry. Classical music has always had high standards on who gets to play in an orchestra. Even though people who can barely hold a chord get the most attention, the standards went down.

We will look at the best violinist in the world, and this is a tight race because there were pretty good ones. From the devil's violinist, Paganini, to the exceptional modern violinists we have today. With the availability of the internet today, we have managed to see an emergence of child prodigy instrumentalists. It is important to note that most people who have a remarkable violin technique start at a young age.

Here are the best violinists of all time, roughly down to the best.


Best Violinist

10) Sarah Chang

Sarah Chang is the real definition of a child prodigy. She was discovered at the young age of five years old after she played Max Bruch's violin concerto no.1. This piece got her accepted into Julliard at that age. This is a very rare occurrence for anyone to get into such an honored classical music scene at such a tender age. Violin music takes a long time to master. The techniques can be unforgiving, especially in competitive settings, and somehow Sarah Chang managed to make it work.

Sarah has since played with the New York Philharmonic and the Philadelphia Orchestra, both of which are the best orchestras in the world. People wait all their careers to get into these orchestras, yet she made it there as a child. She was born in 1980 and began playing maybe immediately because she was already playing in these orchestras at five.

Sarah Chang has since released her album, which was a best seller and has received many awards while at it. Her awards included the "Young Artist of the Year" in the Gramophone Magazine. In addition, her first album got the "New Comer of the Year Award." In addition, she has debut in albums with other music artists like Julian Lloyd Webber, a cellist.

Sarah Chang has performed with other orchestras, including the Chicago Symphony, Berlin philharmonic, and the Hong Kong philharmonic orchestra. In addition, Chang has played in venues such as the Kennedy Center, Carnegie Hall and the Barbican Center. These are venues that other musicians only dream of playing in. Sarah Chang is one of the great violinists of all time.

9) Joseph Joachim

The musical career in the violin world can require a lot of patience and endurance. Luckily for Joseph Joachim, he managed to play a solo violin for the solo part of Beethoven's Violin Concerto at a very young age. Violin concertos take time and courage to execute, and Joachim managed to do it flawlessly, putting him in the limelight. His violin skills were exceptional at only 12 against other players who had years of experience.

Joachim wrote cadenzas for Beethoven, Mozart and Brahms, which is no easy feat. This makes Joachim a legend if you think about it. The other exceptional achievements include writing overtures for Shakespeare's Hamlet and Henry IV in 1854. In addition, Joachim wrote the violin concerto No.2 in D-minor in the Hungarian Manner. However, Joachim's achievements are not comparable to any other person's.

In 1899, Joachim was the Oxford and Cambridge musical club president. His exceptional achievements keep going on, with him being part of musical groups like the Gewandhaus orchestra. He was also part of the Joachim String quartet. However, Joachim's understanding of classical music was at its best when he became the first director of Hochschule für ausübende Tonkunst.

Joachim is not only one of the best experimental composers but one of the best at it. He does it flawlessly and makes it look easy while at it. Joachim is proof that starting at an early age is always the best thing for most talents.

8) Pablo De Sarasate

Pablo is a well-toured violinist making him one of the most famous violinists. His musical experience started when he was a child and was successful in adulthood. Pablo is a force to reckon with in the musical world, having toured in Europe, South America, and North America. Being known all over the world in the 1800s was not the easiest thing as there were very limited ways of being popular unless you were good at your craft. But, somehow, Pablo managed to pull it off.

Pablo played opera fantasies, which were a big part of the entertainment world in such a period. Only musicians with a high rank would take part in such. Pablo not only performed pieces, but he composed them too, making him a master in his field and one of the best violinists in the world. Pablo de Sarate is not only one of the most celebrated violinists, he truly deserves it.

Pablo incorporated the piano and orchestra in his playing. His Spanish influence on his music made his pieces one to look forward to each time he had a show lined up. Pablo worked for hand in hand with and toured with his pianist Berthe, who was good at her craft and arranged other works for violinists.

Pablo was well documented and appeared in some Sherlock Holmes stories. In Lackey's A Study in Sable, Pablo can create, speak to and control ghosts with his violin music.

7) Yehudi Menuhin

Image Source: classical-music.com

Talk about a perfectionist. Yehudi is an internationally revered violinist who took the world stage and owned it. Yehudi started learning the violin at the age of 4 and, only three years later, caused a sensation when he performed the Felix Mendelssohn's violin concerto at age 7. His learning curve was exceptional as he was already touring as a teenager and was well known worldwide, showcasing his violin works.

Yehudi performed over 500 concerts for allied troops during World War II and later performed for liberated inmates. This was not the easiest thing as Yehudi Menuhin was born into a Lithuanian Jewish family. Nevertheless, his music was not only influential but inspirational and experiential.

Yehudi had an incredible technique and was open in his musical interpretation. He would get criticism from musical analysts sometimes and had to take a break at some point to go and work on his craft. This is a character that all great musicians emulate. Taking criticism positively is part of growth and the best way to learn and improve one's technique. The greatest violinists all have this trait in common.

Yehudi had a great career that preceded just playing the violin. He was granted knighthood and received it when he became a British citizen. He promoted social justice and environmental issues. All musicians who have an impact have someone to borrow from and do things beyond their musical world and impact the rest of society. Yehudi started the Yehudi Menuhin school to push his purpose and impact further.

Yehudi's recordings alongside the English chamber orchestra stayed at the top of UK classical charts for more than one year, proving that he was the best violinist even by today's standards.

6) Joshua Bell

Joshua is one of the best violinists of recent times. Bell is a Grammy Award-winning violinist who has performed with almost all the major orchestras in the world. In addition, Bell is a recitalist, soloist and chamber music player, and the best while at it. Bell is also the music director at the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields.

Image source: csosoundsandstories.org

Bell to be on this list as a living violinist is a proof of how good he is as one of the best violinists. Bell has collaborated with musicians from multiple genres, and his experimental music is proof of how versatile a musician he is. While the violin is his solo instrument, Bell has understood the importance of playing in orchestras and helped commission other musicians' works. He has also performed for soundtracks of films like the Red Violin.

Bell started learning the violin at age four, and by the age of 12, he started attending studies by his mentor, Josef Gingold. Bell had his first Carnegie hall debut at 17 with the St. Louis Symphony orchestra. This achievement is a big deal at his young age because such stages are highly contested. Bell has since won many awards and performed for three sitting American presidents, Bell is a living legend in our modern days and has been named an "Indiana Living Legend."

5) Itzhak Perlman

Perlman is definitely one of the greatest violinists of this age. He enjoys a celebrity status while holding his place in the violin world. Perlman is a virtuoso and undeniably the current reigning one in the world today. His charm and talent are only some of the few things up his sleeves. Perlman has performed with almost every major orchestra and traveled all over the world.

Israeli violinist Itzhak Perlman in 2009, playing his Stradivarius during a rehearsal with musicians from the Simón Bolívar National Youth Orchestra in Caracas, Venezuel

Image source: npr.com

If 16 GRAMMYS are not enough testimony to the greatness that Itzhak Perlman exhibits, then nothing can. In addition to his Grammys, Perlman has 4 Emmy awards, the Kennedy Center Honor and a Grammy lifetime achievement award, one of the hardest awards to come by. Lets add a Genesis Award to that list.

Apart from awards, Itzhak Perlman has received a lot of presidential distinctions. Performances at the white house are in his bag as well. Talk of an achiever. He performed at Obama's inauguration ceremony, which was viewed by people all over the world.

4) Hilary Hahn

Hilary Hahn is an American violinist whose reputation has managed to cross borders because she is committed to sharing her experience globally. Her skill set is neck to neck with the best violinists of all time. Her virtuosity is mind-blowing, and her interpretations open a new view of what violins can do. In addition, Hilary has a dynamic approach to music-making with her violin, making her sound a unique one that you will hardly hear anywhere else. Hilary made her first debut at the Budapest festival orchestra at the age of 16.

Hilary Hahn is a three-time Grammy award winner. Her recent season revolved around Bach's music. Very few violin players keep the discipline that Hilary Hahn brings. Her consistency proves itself repeatedly with the many ways she manages to surprise all of us. Hilary has made recordings of Bach's works, which were anticipated by critics and fans alike for almost two decades. She has also done a tour of the same, bringing the experience to completion for a music career.

Hahn's relationship with her fans is admired as she commits to signings after each of her concerts during her tours. She also shares and keeps a collection of fan art which is heartwarming and encouraging. In addition, Hahn is an inspiration to all of us, having played in orchestras such as the Baltimore symphony orchestra and the Philadelphia Orchestra, among other remarkable stages.

3) Papa John Creach

Solo violin concertos are every violinist's dream. However, if you are Creach, you may have other things in mind. Papa John Creach is an American jazz violin player who kicked off a revolution that saw jazz violinists come into the picture. Creach began playing in Chicago bars at a young age and took part in symphony orchestra, a rare occurrence among the blacks at the time. Creach was breaking glass ceilings with his achievements.

Image Source: wbssmedia.com

Creach performed with the greats like T-Bone Walker, Nat King Cole, Luis Armstrong, and more during his time. Having those names in one sentence shouts greatness, let alone performing and touring with them.

John's learning curve was not the easiest and had to be helped through his bowing technique. Creach got better at his technique when he got an electric violin. Papa John had to learn different techniques to adapt to the musical scene at the time. This included being a violin virtuoso and being able to fit into contemporary music at the time. He could play in all string jazz bands and orchestras simultaneously. Talk about versatility.

2) Paganini

Image source: npr.com

This list would not end without us talking about the devil's violinist. Paganini is arguably the greatest violinist of all time. Paganini's eccentric life is thanks to how well he was with the bow and violin in his hands. It was said that he could play up to 12 notes per second. So you may want to take a second to think about that.

The Romantic period had its challenges and one that also saw a high art competition. It was a good time for singer-songwriters, but with the competition. Somehow, Paganini managed to stay at the top and had a circle of people like Ingres, one of the best painters of his time. Choose your circle wisely.

Paganini played like no one before him. He played so fast, everyone believed he had made a pact with the devil to be able to play that fast. There was no way he would do that by himself. However, this feat was replicated by Garett, who played Paganini in the Devil's Violinist, a film based on Paganini.

1) Jascha Heifetz

Violin solos are the epitome of violin playing, and no one ruled this space as much as Jascha did. Jascha recorded with many orchestras, including the Chicago symphony orchestra and the Boston orchestra. However, his career was not without hard times. Jascha performed under an alias during world war ii. Yet, as Jim Hoyl, he managed to tour throughout Europe, playing his violin on the greatest stages of the time.

Image source: benningviolins.com

Jascha is credited as the greatest after Paganini, and his virtuosity exceeds any bounds possible. Jascha had a lot of achievements, including fighting for social justice. For example, he converted his Renault to an electric car in his quest for clean air. He also advocated the adoption of 911 as an emergency number.

Final Take

If you walk down the history of orchestras and schools like the Vienna Philharmonic, Cincinnati symphony orchestra, the Royal Academy or the Curtis Institute of music, you will find greatness. Of course, there are many great violinists than we can mention. However, the things that make a violinist great can go beyond just playing. How much inspiration a violinist command means a lot to a career. The impact a violinist has on the society around him defines a career.

While our list has ended, there are notable violinists like Ysaye and others who we would have wished to talk about. The violin is the greatest instrument that has graced different stages and genres. The violin can evoke emotions and inspire conspiracy theories extending to the spiritual world. Yet, the violin somehow remains relevant during wars and good times.

Zen Chung

I'm Zen Chung, a piano and violin teacher based out of Plano, Texas. I started this blog because my students (and their parents) kept asking about the best musical instruments to buy online. Look no further I'm here to save the day! 

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