By Katharine Rapoport

Violinists who have changed the face of musical history arrive on this planet only every now and then. Here are ten outstanding violinists who have made special and unique contributions to music.

Niccolò Paganini (1782–1840)

Famous for spectacular feats of all kinds on the violin — including supposedly sawing through two or three of his four strings so that he’d be left ­playing on only one or two strings — Paganini’s “24 Caprices” for solo violin still represent the pinnacle of violin virtuosity. Unfortunately, Paganini lived before recording was possible, but his thrilling violin works are available on CD and MP3 today, interpreted by the some of the finest artists:

  • Paganini: 24 Caprices (EMI), by Itzhak Perlman.

  • Michael Rabin: The Early Years (Sony), by Michael Rabin. This album contains 11 of Paganini’s Caprices, which Rabin recorded in 1950, just after his 14th birthday.

  • Paganini: 24 Caprices (Sony), by Midori (at age 17!).

  • Accardo Plays Paganini: Complete Recordings (Deutsche Grammophon), by Salvatore Accardo (with the London Philharmonic Orchestra).

Fritz Kreisler (1875–1962)

A child prodigy, Kreisler graduated from the Vienna Conservatory at the age of 10 and from the Paris Conservatoire at age 12 — with the Premier Prix! His use of a very warm and vocal vibrato changed the concept of violin tone forever.

Kreisler was the first violinist to make a substantial number of recordings, which contributed greatly to his renown and popularity. He was also a brilliant and prolific composer and arranger, activities that led to a remarkable page in music history. Check out the following albums:

  • Fritz Kreisler Plays Kreisler (RCA)

  • Beethoven/Mendelssohn: Violin Concertos (Naxos Historical)

  • Bruch/Brahms: Violin Concertos (Naxos Historical)

Jascha Heifetz (1899–1987)

Jascha Heifetz is known for his phenomenal perfection as a violinist. Young Jascha was a remarkable child prodigy, performing works such as the Ernst and Tchaikovsky Concertos when he was 11 or 12 years old.

Apart from his solo playing, he also formed chamber groups with Arthur Rubinstein, Emanuel Feuermann, and William Primrose — all outstanding artists in their own right. You will certainly enjoy these recordings:

  • Heifetz Rediscovered (BMG Classics)

  • Tchaikovsky, Wieniawski, Sibelius: Violin Concertos (Naxos Historical)

  • Vieuxtemps: Violin Concertos Nos. 4 and 5 (Naxos Historical)

Stéphane Grappelli (1908–1997)

Grappelli began playing the violin at age 13, and he picked it up with little formal instruction. Such formal instruction as he did have was on the piano at the Paris Conservatoire for four years (1924–1928), and he played the piano for silent movies to earn some much‐needed money for his family. Give these two a listen:

  • Nuages (ASV), with Django Reinhardt

  • Menuhin & Grappelli Play . . . (EMI Classics), with Yehudi Menuhin

David Oistrakh (1908–1974)

Oistrakh was a great musician whose rich and bold violin sound pleased thousands of audiences in concert halls and on disc. He took part in all aspects of music‐making: as soloist with orchestra, as collaborative artist with a pianist for sonatas, in chamber music, as orchestral conductor, and as a teacher, passing on his art to a new generation of violinists. The box set David Oistrakh: The complete EMI recordings gives you an idea of his tremendous scope.

Yehudi Menuhin (1916–1999)

Yehudi Menuhin was a child prodigy with an old and beautiful soul. His natural and direct expression of the music won hearts wherever he played. He founded the Yehudi Menuhin School for gifted young musicians and became involved worldwide as a humanitarian and musical ambassador. Check out the following albums:

  • Bach: Sonatas & Partitas for Solo Violin (EMI)

  • Yehudi Menuhin: The Violinist (EMI Classics)

  • Paganini Concerto No.1, etc. (EMI) — recorded in one take!

  • The Young Yehudi Menuhin (Biddulph Records)

Itzhak Perlman (1945–)

Known as much to concertgoers worldwide as to the preschool crowd who watch PBS’s Sesame Street, Perlman has perhaps the most universal appeal of any classical violinist in history. He is also an ambassador for music who has made historic visits to all parts of the world.

Apart from his beautiful, warm, and rich tone, Perlman has brought classical violin to huge audiences by appearing on The Tonight Show. Explore Perlman’s playing with these recordings:

  • The Perlman Edition (EMI Classics)

  • The Art of Itzhak Perlman (EMI Classics)

Nigel Kennedy (1956–)

The most famous alumnus of the Yehudi Menuhin School, Kennedy has popularized classical music while crossing over to different styles such as rock and jazz. Onstage, he’s more like a rock star than a classical wonk, eschewing tailcoats for stylish outfits. His landmark recording of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons has sold more than 2 million copies, reputedly the best‐selling classical record of all time.

  • Nigel Kennedys Greatest Hits (EMI Classics)

  • Vivaldi: The Four Seasons (EMI Classics)

Natalie MacMaster (1973–)

Natalie MacMaster is a fiddler from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, who can step dance while she fiddles. Born into a musical family, she’s a worldwide ambassador for traditional East Coast music. She picked up her first fiddle at the age of 9, and she’s been putting her amazing energy into her playing ever since. Listen to the following MacMaster albums:

  • Blueprint (Rounder/UMGD)

  • Natalie MacMaster Live (Rounder/UMGD)

Rachel Barton Pine (1974–)

Rachel Barton Pine, who hails from Chicago, is an extremely talented and versatile violinist. In addition to her classical career, which began in earnest when she soloed with Chicago Symphony at the ripe old age of 10, she enjoys a parallel career in rock music, playing her 6‐string Viper electric violin with the thrash/doom metal band Earthen Grave from 2008 until the group disbanded in 2014.

Oh yes, and she’s the first living composer and the first woman to be published by Carl Fisher! Check out these recordings:

  • Stringendo: Storming the Citadel (Cacophony Records)

  • Earthen Grave: Dismal Times (Earthen Grave)

  • A German Bouquet (Cedille Records)

  • Capricho Latino (Cedille Records)