The Famous Violinists Who Made Classical Music What It Is Today

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


Classical music wouldn’t be what it is today without the contributions of some very famous violinists. In this blog post, we take a look at some of the most influential violinists in history and what made them so special.

Niccolo Paganini

His Life

Niccolo Paganini was born in Genoa, Italy in 1782. He was a child prodigy on the violin and gave his first public performance at the age of 12. He quickly became one of the most celebrated violinists in Europe. His virtuosic technique and musical expression astonished audiences and inspired other great composers and performers of the time.

Paganini was not only a great violinist, but also a composer. He wrote a number of works for solo violin, as well as several concerti and string quartets. His music is characterized by extreme technical difficulty, as well as lyrical beauty. Paganini remained an active performer and composer until his death in 1840.

His Music

Paganini was a virtuoso who composed some of the most technically demanding pieces ever written for the violin. His 24 Caprices for Solo Violin, Op. 1, were written in the early 19th century and are still considered one of the most challenging works for that instrument.

In addition to his solo works, Paganini also wrote a number of concerti for violin and orchestra. Among the best known are his Violin Concerto No. 1 in D major, Op. 6, and his Violin Concerto No. 2 in B minor, Op. 7. He also wrote a set of six trio sonatas for violin, viola and guitar, which are some of the earliest works written specifically for that combination of instruments.

Fritz Kreisler

Fritz Kreisler was born in Vienna, Austria on February 2, 1875. He was a world renowned violin virtuoso and composer who made classical music what is it today. He started playing the violin when he was just six years old and by the time he was 10, he was already playing in public concerts.

His Life

Fritz Kreisler was born in Vienna on February 2, 1875 to a Jewish family originally from Moravia. Some controversy surrounds his date of birth; his parents insisted that he was actually born one year later, in 1876, to make him seem younger and more precocious. As a child, he started taking violin lessons at the age of five and made his public debut as a soloist nine years later. He entered the Vienna Conservatory at age twelve, studying under Josef Hellmesberger, Jr. and Anton Bruckner.

In 1892, Kreisler won the premier prix (first prize) at the conservatory, which allowed him to study at the École Royale des Beaux Arts in Brussels for one year. Unfortunately, his time there was cut short when he contracted typhoid fever and had to return to Vienna to recuperate. Afterward, he traveled to Paris to continue his studies with Eugène Ysaÿe. It was during this time that he began using false identities to play in lower-class venues so that he could gain experience performing in front of an audience without being recognized as a student or conservatory graduate.

In 1896, Kreisler made his American debut with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and received critical acclaim for his performances. He tours throughout America and Europe over the next few years and becomes one of the most celebrated violinists of his generation. In 1901, he premieres his Violin Concerto No. 1 in D major with Richard Strauss conducting; the work is well-received by audiences and critics alike.

Kreisler enlisted in the Austrian army during World War I and served as a field surgeon; afterward, he settled in America and became a naturalized citizen in 1917. He continued touring and performing throughout the 1920s and 1930s, often premiering new works by contemporary composers such as Ernest Chausson, Sergei Prokofiev, Francis Poulenc, Darius Milhaud, Paul Hindemith, Maurice Ravel, Erich Wolfgang Korngold Ralph Vaughan Williams. Many of these pieces were written specifically for Kreisler and became some of the most popular works in the violin repertoire.

Kreisler retired from public performance in 1941 but continued to give occasional lectures and master classes until his death on January 29th 1951 at New York Hospital.

His Music

Fritz Kreisler was universally admired for the beauty of his tone and the elegance of his musicianship. He was a master of the sweet lyricism for which the Viennese school is famous, as well as of amiable humour and artful rhetoric. In violin playing he is remembered especially for his smooth legato bowing and lyrical phrasing, which helped make him one of the most popular concert artists of all time. As a composer, he ranks among the minor masters of Romanticism, best represented in a series of graceful short works that capture much of the attractive charm and sentimentality associated with that period in music. Among these are “Liebesfreud” (Love’s Joy), “Liebeslied” (Love Song), “Schön Rosmarin” (Lovely Rosemary), and “Syncopation.”

Yehudi Menuhin

Yehudi Menuhin was born on April 22, 1916, in New York City to Ukrainian-born parents who had emigrated to the United States. Menuhin’s father, Moshe, was a violinist in the Imperial Russian Army who later became a conductor. Menuhin’s mother, Marutha, was a piano teacher. Menuhin was a child prodigy, making his public debut as a violin soloist at age seven. He played his first major concert at Carnegie Hall in 1929, at the age of thirteen.

His Life

Yehudi Menuhin was born in New York on April 22, 1916, into a family of Lithuanian Jews. His father, Moshe Menuhin, was a rabbinical student who became a violinist; his mother, Marutha, was a pianist. Menuhin moved with his family to San Francisco in 1918 and made his concert debut at the age of seven. In 1926 he toured Europe with the New York Symphony Orchestra under Arturo Toscanini; the following year he made his first appearance at London’s Wigmore Hall. In 1929 he enrolled at the Unterrichtsanstalt fur Geigenbau in Berlin to study violin making—an unusual move for a child prodigy—but he soon returned to performing.

The young Menuhin attracted widespread acclaim for the purity and beauty of his tone as well as for his technical prowess and interpretive maturity. He quickly became one of the most celebrated violinists of his generation, performing throughout Europe and North America with leading orchestras and conductors. He also began appearing as a soloist with major orchestras, such as the Berlin Philharmonic and the New York Philharmonic. In 1937 Menuhin made his first recording, Bach’s Violin Concerto in E Major (BWV 1042), with the Orchestre National de la Radiodiffusion Française under Igor Stravinsky; that same year he married Nola Nicholas, an Australian soprano. The couple had two sons—Jeremy (born 1938) and Klevan (born 1940)—before divorcing in 1951.

During World War II Menuhin toured Allied countries giving concerts to boost morale; he also played in concentration camps in Germany and Austria as part of the musician Alan Berg’s project to bring culture to Jewish inmates. After the war Menuhin continued to perform and record prolifically. He founded several music schools and festivals, including the Menuhin Festival Gstaad ( Switzerland) , which premiered in 1957, and Yehudi Menuhin School ( Surrey), which opened in 1963 . He also served as director of London’s Royal Academy of Music from 1966 to 1967 .

His Music

Yehudi Menuhin was one of the most famous violinists of the 20th century. He was born in New York City to Russian-Jewish parents, and he began playing the violin when he was only four years old. He made his public debut when he was seven, and he soon became a child prodigy, giving concerts all over the world.

As a young man, Menuhin studied with some of the greatest violinists of his day, including Eugène Ysaÿe and George Enescu. He made his first recordings when he was only 16, and his playing was marked by a deep understanding of the music and a profound musicianship.

Menuhin was also a gifted conductor, and he led many of the world’s greatest orchestras in performances of both classical and contemporary music. He founded several music festivals, including the Bath Music Festival and the Menuhin Festival Gstaad, and he served as director of both the Royal Academy of Music and the Yehudi Menuhin School.

Menuhin’s influences were far-reaching, and his example inspired many other great violinists, including Isaac Stern, Nigel Kennedy, and Maxim Vengerov. He died in 1999 at the age of 82.

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