George P. Knauff's Virginia Reels and the History of American Fiddling

George P. Knauff's Virginia Reels and the History of American Fiddling

Chris Goertzen

Print publication date: 2019

ISBN: 9781496814272

Publisher: University Press of Mississippi


George P. Knauff's Virginia Reels (1839) was the first collection of southern fiddle tunes and the only substantial one published in the nineteenth century. Knauff's activity could not anticipate our modern contest-driven fiddle subcultures. But the fate of the Virginia Reels pointed in that direction, suggesting that southern fiddling, after his time, would happen outside of commercial popular culture even though it would sporadically engage that culture. This book uses this seminal collection as the springboard for a fresh exploration of fiddling in America, past and present. It first discusses the life of the arranger. Then it explains how this collection was meant to fit into the broad stream of early nineteenth-century music publishing. The book describes the character of these fiddle tunes' names (and such titles in general), what we can learn about antebellum oral tradition from this collection, and how fiddling relates to blackface minstrelsy. Throughout, the book connects the evidence concerning both repertoire and practice found in the Virginia Reels with current southern fiddling, encompassing styles ranging from straightforward to fancy—old-time styles of the Upper South, exuberant West Virginia styles, and the melodic improvisations of modern contest fiddling. Twenty-six song sheets assist in this discovery. The book incorporates performance descriptions and music terminology into his accessible, engaging prose. The book presents an extended look at the history of southern fiddling and a close examination of current practices.