Henri Rousseau (1844-1910)
For all his brilliance, the leading post-Impressionist rarely made much money from his paintings. As a result, he would often take to the streets of Paris and busk on his violin to earn a little extra income.
Albert Einstein (1879-1955)
Though a reluctant pupil when his mother sent him for violin lessons aged six, the great physicist was an enthusiastic player as an adult, playing regularly in chamber groups. It is no coincidence that Philip Glass’s 1975 opera Einstein on the Beach has a significant role for violin soloist.
Benito Mussolini (1883-1945)
The Italian dictator learned the violin as a boy, and continued to play it through adulthood. He did his playing largely behind closed doors and as a means of relaxation, and would often practise for hours.
Charlie Chaplin (1889-1977)
The English actor and director liked to do things differently, including playing the violin – his instrument was strung the wrong way round and he would bow with his left hand. You can see, but not hear, him play on his 1916 film, The Vagabond.
Marlene Dietrich (1901-92)
Before she made her name on screen, the German actress forged her career off it, playing the violin for silent film tracks. Her original dream was to be a concert violinist, but it was shattered by a wrist injury at 22.
And one who didn’t… despite the legend
The legend that Emperor Nero ‘fiddled while Rome burned’ in 64 AD ignores the fact that his death preceded the development of the violin by 15 centuries. He may possibly have played the lyre mid-inferno, but even this is unlikely.