100 Greatest Violinists Of All Time?

A friend of mine, Richard Cleaver, blogged not too long ago about a Rolling Stone magazine article on the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time. It caused me wonder if we were to do a poll, who the 100 greatest violinists of all time would be?

I Googled “Greatest Violinist of All Time” and it resulted in 5,090,000 hits – a hotter topic than I thought! (and very subjective). The following top the list in my google search.

1/ A Time Magazine article from Feb. 2, 1962 lists Arcangelo Corelli, Niccolo Paganini, Zino Francescatti, David Oistrakh, Nathan Milstein and Jascha Heifetz as some of the greatest violinists ever to live … at least in the classical music tradition. I was schooled in the tradition of these masters.

2/ Yahoo Answers lists Niccolo Paganini as the clear winner as the greatest violinist of all time with Jascha Heifetz the greatest player of the 20th Century and Itzhak Perlman the greatest player living today. Sarah Chang , Hilary Hahn and Anne Sophie Mutter and Maxim Vengerov are also favorites. Again, these choices all seem to be focused on the classical western music tradition. Much emphasis is also placed on the players with the most perfect technique. I am more interested in musicality, passion, creativity, versatility … how many of these players could/can improvise? Paganini is the clear winner there.

3/ SA-CD.net has a more thorough discussion of the greatest violinists of our time … again in the classical tradition. Where are all the Jazz and Rock violinists listed? Do they count? … ok , found them in this next listing …

4/ Violinist.com has the best discussion thus far on who readers feel are the greatest violinists … many more “Great’s” are listed here from more diverse styles and music traditions. I am happy to see this. Still a bit limited. I would like to see more cultures represented.

We need some clear criteria to evaluate greatness. Here is my criteria in generating my favorite players …

Musicality, Passion, Creativity, Versatility, Virtuosity, New and Unique Contributions to the Instrument, Performances and Recordings

I do not want to restrict this “top 100 list” to just the classical realm. I aim to include all music genres and styles from classical to jazz, pop, fusion, rock and heavy metal to alternative and world folk (fiddle) styles. All the countries and cultures of the world should be represented and all forms of the violin from acoustic to 7-string electric. I want your feedback. Who are your favorite violin/fiddle players? I want your “top 10+ list” from your own experience and listening exposure. Why do you like them? Send me links to your favorite performances and web sites. I am excited to see what you come up with …

Using the criteria above, let me start the list with some great violin players (in no particular order with links to great performances or web sites) who I admire and who have influenced and inspired me in my performance career on acoustic and electric violin …

Enjoy exploring these!

Itzhak Perlman

Mark O’Connor

Jean Luc Ponty

Didier Lockwood

Stephane Grappelli

Lakshminarayanan Shankar

Hugh Marsh

Jascha Heifetz

Karen Briggs

Samvel Yervinyan

Jerry Goodman

Darol Anger

Nigel Kennedy

Mark Wood

Casey Driessen

Natalie MacMaster

I will be adding more names periodically so keep checking back. This is just the start! TD

9 replies
    MATTHEW LEE says:

    I would have to say your missing a ton dont forget great teachers like ivan galamian and dorthy delay and tons of other wonderful violinists like the one i am going to study along with perlman her name is kyung wha chung she is amazing my favorite female violinists and alot others to! I am Matthew Lee hope to be on that list I am going to Juilliard next year, I hope to be on that list! I am making my debut at the whitehouse and the next inaguration if obama gets elected! I honestly think theres no comparsion everyone is unique, has there own wonderful sound! My teacher who is lori franke a wonderful teacher, met perlman , Hillary Hahn, but has heard stories about issac stern that he was awful and cruel to his students and at concerts performing, and that he acted fake in interviews, which is sad.. this has been said to alot of people who my teacher knows

    • Trevor
      Trevor says:

      Thanks for this posting, Matthew … yes I have missed a lot – and I too admire Ivan Galamian and Dorothy Delay (some of the greatest teachers and players of all time). I am counting on readers such as yourself to fill in the gaps. I personally am drawn to violinists who are very diverse in their musical styles … who not only play classical or celtic or jazz on the violin but who have experimented and mastered many styles of music on acoustic and electric violin. I wish you the very best in your musical career! I will keep an eye open for you. God bless you! Trevor

  2. Lee Lieberman
    Lee Lieberman says:

    Sarah Chang has got to be on your list:
    unless looking good doesn’t count (for an entertainer)
    does being a child prodigy count against you?
    a lovely thoughtful person when I saw her at her Carnegie Hall debue in her dressing room.


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