Great Violinists Playing as Kids: Itzhak Perlman, Anne-Sophie Mutter, & More

For most chil­dren the word “play­ing” brings to mind things like wif­fle­ball or hide-and-seek. But for a very few tal­ent­ed and ded­i­cat­ed kids it means Mozart, or Mendelssohn. Today we bring you four videos of famous vio­lin­ists play­ing when they were incred­i­bly young.

Itzhak Perl­man, age 13: “When I came to the Unit­ed States, ” Itzhak Perl­man told Pia Lind­strom of The New York Times in 1996, “I appeared on The Ed Sul­li­van Show as a 13-year-old and I played a Mendelssohn Con­cer­to and it sound­ed like a tal­ent­ed 13-year-old with a lot of promise. But it did not sound like a fin­ished prod­uct.” In the clip above, Perl­man plays from the third move­ment of Felix Mendelssohn’s Con­cer­to in E minor dur­ing his debut Sul­li­van Show appear­ance in 1958. The young boy was an instant hit with the audi­ence, and Sul­li­van invit­ed him back. Encour­aged by his sud­den celebri­ty, Perl­man’s par­ents decid­ed to move from Israel to New York and enroll him in Jul­liard. But despite his pre­coc­i­ty, Perl­man mod­est­ly asserts that he was no child prodi­gy. “A child prodi­gy is some­body who can step up to the stage of Carnegie Hall and play with an orches­tra one of the stan­dard vio­lin con­cer­tos with aplomb,” Perl­man told Lind­strom. “I could­n’t do that! I can name you five peo­ple who could do that at the age of 10 or 11, and did. Not five, maybe three. But I could­n’t do that.”

Anne-Sophie Mut­ter, age 13:

One vio­lin­ist who cer­tain­ly was able to per­form at a high lev­el at a very ear­ly age was the Ger­man vir­tu­oso Anne-Sophie Mut­ter, shown here per­form­ing the Médi­ta­tion from the Jules Massenet opera Thaïs with Her­bert von Kara­jan and the Berlin Phil­har­mon­ic in 1976, when she was 13. Mut­ter began play­ing the vio­lin at the age of five, and by nine she was per­form­ing Mozart’s Sec­ond Vio­lin Con­cer­to in pub­lic. Kara­jan took her under his wing when she was 13, call­ing her “the great­est musi­cal prodi­gy since the young Menuhin.”

Jascha Heifetz, age 11:

Jascha Heifetz was indis­putably one of the great­est vio­lin­ists of the 20th cen­tu­ry. His father, a music teacher, first put a vio­lin into his hands when Heifetz was only two years old. He entered music school in his home­town of Vil­nius, Lithua­nia, at the age of five, and by sev­en he was per­form­ing in pub­lic. At nine he entered the St. Peters­burg Con­ser­va­to­ry, where he stud­ied with Leopold Auer. In this very rare audio record­ing from Novem­ber 4, 1912, an 11-year-old Heifetz per­forms Auer’s tran­scrip­tion of Wolf­gang Amadeus Mozart’s Gavotte in G from the opera Idome­neo. It was made by Julius Block on a wax-cylin­der Edi­son phono­graph in Grünewald, Ger­many. Heifetz is accom­pa­nied by Walde­mar Lia­chowsky on piano. At the end of the per­for­mance the young boy’s voice can be heard speak­ing in Ger­man. Rough­ly trans­lat­ed, he says, “I, Jascha Heifetz of Peters­burg, played with Herr Block, Grünewald, Gavotte Mozart-Auer on the fourth of Novem­ber, nine­teen hun­dred and ten.” A week ear­li­er, Heifetz made his debut appear­ance with the Berlin Phil­har­mon­ic. In a let­ter of intro­duc­tion to the Ger­man man­ag­er Her­man Fer­now, Auer said of Heifetz: “He is only eleven years old, but I assure you that this lit­tle boy is already a great vio­lin­ist. I mar­vel at his genius, and I expect him to become world-famous and make a great career. In all my fifty years of vio­lin teach­ing, I have nev­er known such pre­coc­i­ty.”

Joshua Bell, age 12:

The Amer­i­can vio­lin­ist Joshua Bell began play­ing when he was four years old, and made his debut as a soloist with the Philadel­phia Orches­tra when he was 14. The video above is dif­fer­ent from the oth­ers, in that it does­n’t present a pol­ished per­for­mance. Instead, we watch as the leg­endary vio­lin teacher Ivan Galami­an con­ducts a les­son in 1980, when Bell was 12. Bell spent two sum­mers study­ing at Galami­an’s Mead­ow­mount School of Music in the Adiron­dack Moun­tains of upstate New York. In the video, the elder­ly teacher works with Bell as he plays from Pierre Rode’s Etude No. 1.

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Comments (6)
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  • emmaillyee swanson says:

    As a 11 year,myself, i start­ed play­ing the vio­lin at age 10. i fell in love with it the instant moment that i strung the string i fell in love with it. I was play­ing for it and played until my fin­gers start­ed bleed­ing. For Christ­mas i asked for m own vio­lin. To read about these kids in love with the vio­lin is very inspi­ra­tional.


  • Doris Ann Loomis says:

    I would like to view the videos of the vio­lin­ists above play­ing as chil­dren, but don’t under­stand what is meant by sign­ing in so I can see the video. Please tell me what I need to do in order to accom­plish sign­ing in for that pur­pose. Thank you. Doris Ann Loomis

  • John Sankey says:

    Perl­man insists that he was­n’t a ‘child’propdi­gy’ I agree: lis­ten to Menuhin, Midori or Rabin as pre-teens. Perl­man was gift­ed, but he did every­thing he achieved by hard work. For­get the ter­mi­nol­o­gy — Perl­man’s play­ing is for the ages now.

  • John Sankey says:

    Perl­man insists that he was­n’t a ‘child’prodi­gy’ I agree: lis­ten to Menuhin, Midori or Rabin as pre-teens. Perl­man was gift­ed, but he did every­thing he achieved by hard work. For­get the ter­mi­nol­o­gy — Perl­man’s play­ing is for the ages now.

  • Kyoko says:

    Thank you for shar­ing the amaz­ing infor­ma­tion about Heifet­z’s 1912 record­ing I was look­ing for! Does any­one know if this is/was avail­able in SP/LP/CD?

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