Over the centuries, we have seen violin repertoire expand in new, inventive directions, all led by some incredible composers with a mind for musical beauty and innovation.
Now when it comes to ranking them in a “Top 10 Violin Composers” post, you really can’t.
Hundreds of composers have left their mark on the standard violin repertoire, and without each one we wouldn’t have the violin music we have today.
Nonetheless, if you’re looking for a quick guide on where to start when looking for violin composers that both knew how to write for the instrument and left a legacy on the repertoire, then this post is for you.
Now in no particular order, let’s jump into who I believe standout as the top 10 violin composers of all time.
1. Johann Sebastian Bach
Kicking off this list is one of the most iconic composers of all time, ever.
That is Johann Sebasitian Bach, the defining composer from the Baroque Era.
While Bach is well known for his keyboard music, his concertos, his cantatas, and his cello suites, he also wrote a large number of works for violin, most notably his six Partitas and Sonatas for Solo Violin.
This suite, as well as his Six Sonatas for Violin and Harpsichord, have become some of the most commonly performed violin works of all time, thus making Bach one of the most prominent violin composers to have ever lived.
Violinist Adrian Butterfield offers wonderful insight into the performance element of Bach’s Violin Partita No. 1 in this tonebase lesson.
2. Eugène Ysaÿe
You can’t have a list about anything violin, much less violin composers, without “The King of the Violin” himself Eugène Ysaÿe.
Throughout his busy career as a violin virtuoso, Ysaÿe wrote 6 violin sonatas, 10 violin preludes, a number of violin sonatas, and several iconic cadenzas to the classic “Big Five” violin concertos (Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Mendelssohn, and Bruch/Sibelius).
While many of these pieces are incredibly demanding from a technical angle, they’ve managed to be some of the most performed and most admired violin pieces of all time.
Sometimes it takes a master at the instrument to really know how to write for it, and Ysaÿe is definitely an example of that.
Check out Eric Gratz’s course on Ysaÿe’s Sonata No. 3 for some in-depth commentary on the composer’s influences and technical advice for any violinist looking to learn more about his work.
3. Charles Auguste de Bériot
When I think of people who have contributed greatly to the violin concerto repertoire, I think of Charles Auguste de Bériot.
Bériot wrote 10 violin concertos, as well as other notable violin pieces such as his Air with Variations and his 4 duo concertantes.
On top of making his mark on the concert violin repertoire, he is also known for his violin methods and other pedagogical resources. Excerpts from his concertos show up very frequently in violin auditions.
One of those frequent audition excerpts is from Bériot’s Violin Concerto No. 9:
4. Grażyna Bacewicz
Polish composer and violinist Grażyna Bacewicz’s career consisted of one major violin work after another.
With 7 violin concertos, 5 violin sonatas, 7 string quartets, and plenty more violin focused works, she was able to incorporate her background as a violinist into her music and write incredibly idiomatic violin music.
And it’s not only her background as a violinist that makes her compositions so impressive.
Her music really brought together the tradition of string writing, Polish folk music and a raw, intuitive sense of lyricality and orchestration.
And when you consider the intensity of the situation in Poland at the time and her persistence through these struggles, her career becomes even more impressive.
Here is one of my favorite works by Bacewicz, her Quartet for Four Violins:
5. Fritz Kreisler
It’s not an overstatement to say that Fritz Kreisler was one of the greatest violinists of all time.
Through his career, he performed with the world’s greatest orchestras and premiered some of the most iconic violin works, including the Elgar Violin Concerto in 1910.
However, his legacy might be best defined by the immense body of work he left behind, mostly consisting of works for violin.
6. Niccolò Paganini
Niccolò Paganini, the early Romantic composer/violinist, arguably changed the world of violin forever when he composed his 24 Caprices for solo violin.
These pieces are known for their amazing displays of virtuosity, lyricality, and just general technical prowess.
They have also managed to become some of the most performed violin pieces of all time.
Paganini’s writing extends beyond these Caprices, as his other violin pieces have also made their mark.
Other violin works by Paganini include his Capriccio in G Major and his Duo Merveille.
Check out violinist Eric Silberger’s tonebase course on the Paganini Caprices:
7. Max Reger
Max Reger wrote a lot of violin music.
This includes 9 violin sonatas, 4 solo violin sonatas, 7 Sonatas for solo violin (different from the 4), 8 Preludes, Fugues and Chaconnes, 7 Prelude and Fugues, and more.
However, in my opinion despite this sheer volume of music, his writing never gets boring.
Whether it’s a lengthy concerto or a prelude and fugue, he approaches the assignment with care and diligence, writing a piece that entices the audience and performers alike.
Be sure to give a listen to his Violin Concerto in A Major, Op. 101:
8. Ludwig Van Beethoven
Beethoven’s legacy on the violin, nonetheless classical music as a whole, is so big it can’t really be summed up in one small section of a blog post.
His violin sonatas and concertos are some of the most commonly performed and referenced violin pieces of all time, and for good reason.
Beethoven pioneered the German Early-Romantic sound, all while writing pieces for the violin that displayed an incredible understanding of harmonic rhythm and emotional power.
His symphony excerpts have also managed to become some of the most popular audition material, so if you’re an aspiring violinist be sure to keep these in your back pocket!
Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D Major, taught by Augustin Hadelich:
9. Giuseppe Tartini
Going back a hundred years, we have the legendary Baroque composer and violinist Giuseppe Tartini.
Tartini was known to have possessed a raw passion for the more delicate side of violin playing, and his fascination with this can be heard in much of his violin music.
Pieces like his 50 Variations on a Gavotte by Corelli, as well as his numerous violin Sonatas, show off his attention towards sporadic motion and fragile, whimsical gestures.
However, none of his pieces have seen the public infatuation that his Devil’s Trill Sonata has.
The story goes that this piece was based on a dream Tartini had in which he made a pact with the Devil to be at his service on all occasions, and afterwards heard the Devil play a beautiful violin solo that he would try to transcribe from memory after waking up.
While this is a fun story, and to the modern ear the little nuances of “devil-like” material are easy to miss, it’s still a remarkably emotional piece that is definitely a stand-out violin work from the Baroque Era.
Here is Ruggiero Ricci performing all 50 of the Tartini Variations:
10. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Last on the list is the great Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
On top of being one of the biggest names in Classical music of all time, his contributions to the violin repertoire were huge.
His 5 violin concertos and his 35 violin sonatas are some of the greatest Classical Era pieces and are worth the attention of all music lovers, not just aspiring violinists.
Click here to check out Philadelphia Orchestra concertmaster David Kim’s course on the Mozart Violin Concerto No. 4.
There you have it, the 10 best violin composers (in my opinion).
As I mentioned in the introduction, it’s important to realize that there are really no “best 10 violin composers”, as one can measure the merit of a composer in many different ways.
So treat this like a guide on where to look when searching for violin pieces, or just for trying to understand more about the world of violin music as a whole.
I hope you enjoyed, happy practicing! :)
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