Titanic: Music as Heard on the Fateful Voyage
Millvina Dean, the last survivor of the 1912 sinking of the RMS Titanic died last week at 97. She was nine weeks old when the liner sank after hitting an iceberg in the early hours of 15 April 1912. The disaster killed 1,517 people in the north Atlantic while 706 others, including Dean, survived. While in the aftermath of the incident blame fell on many of the players in the Titanic tragedy, the reputation of the ship’s White Star Orchestra members who perished that night soared.
The seven men, Wallace Hartley (violinist and bandmaster), Jock Hume (violin), George Krins (violin), George Woodward (cello), Roger Bricoux (cello), Percy Taylor (piano), Ted Brailey (piano and electric organ), and Fred Clark (double bass) were fashioned into folk heroes for their actions that night, as tales of their bravely playing on to keep passengers calm as the ship slowly sank beneath the waves continued to circulate in newspaper accounts of the tragedy.
As survivor Harold Bride later testified, "From aft came the tunes of the band. It was a ragtime tune--I don't know what. Then there as ‘Autumn’...The way the band kept playing was a noble thing...The last I saw of the band, when I was floating out to sea with my life belt on, it was still playing ‘Autumn’. How they ever did it I cannot imagine."
The body of the 33 year old bandmaster Wallace Hartley was retrieved still wearing his bandsman’s outfit and with his violin case strapped to his chest by the Mackay–Bennet as body number 224 almost two weeks after the Titanic’s sinking. It is not known if the bodies of the other 7 members of the orchestra who'd died alongside him were also recovered. However, what is known is that these musicians were honored with more memorials than any of the famous names who died in the disaster, with plaques mounted in their honor in New York, Boston, and Liverpool and up to 30,000 mourners attending the funeral of Wallace Hartley. Unfortunately his employer White Star Lines was less gracious—they initially offered no compensation to any of the musician's bereaved families. In fact, someone went so far as to send violinist Jock Hume's father a bill for the loss of his uniform.
A year after the sinking the "Titanic Relief Fund" did come to the rescue, deciding that the bandsmen should be counted as official members of the Titanic's crew and therefore entitled to remuneration—until that time the tightfisted White Star Line had continued to classify the musicians as Second Class passengers, as this is how they’d been counted when boarding in order to avoid paying the men the standard union rate for their services.
That the band was treated so shabbily by their employer was typical of the relationship between master and hireling in those days. Non-celebrity musicians were considered mere functionaries and therefore came in through the back door servant's entrance and were expected to be heard by their patrons but surely not seen---it was expected that they’d play discreetly from behind some potted plants (hence the term 'Palm Court music').
There were happily no such distinctions made between highbrow and lowbrow musical tastes of the day, however. During Edwardian times organ-grinders could play Brahms and Bizet while English composer Sir Edward Elgar could write the waltzes that comprised the era’s dance tunes and classically trained musicians could dabble in musical comedy while no less of a personage than Queen Victoria could delight in the music hall number “Come Where the Booze is Cheaper.” A bandleader such as Wallace Hartley was counted on to offer up a mixture of opera, orchestra, and intermezzo sprinkled with march, musical hall, the latest hits from the musical comedy stage as well as some ragtime tunes. The vast repertoire orchestra members were expected to be versed in (no less than 352 tunes were listed in White Star Line’s music book) had to be learned by heart and known by number. (This is why even today songs are referred to as ‘numbers’.)
While we can never know for certain what the passengers on the RMS Titanic heard the White Star Orchestra play during their 5 days voyage, for the 1997 Rhino release “Titanic: Music as Heard on the Fateful Voyage” Grammy winner Ian Whitcomb assembled from research and passenger accounts a playlist of the authentic period music selections from the White Star Line music book as well as other popular songs of the era that would likely have been expected to be requested of the White Star Orchestra by the First and Second Class passengers they catered to. As many Third Class passengers also brought their own instruments and played popular music of the time, the release also includes a sampling of music hall and vaudeville numbers performed by the Musical Murrays.
To sample some of the songs of the release, try the following clips:
British light music:
“Lily of Laguna” by Leslie Stuart, 1898, performed here in the early 30’s by Jimmy Carlton: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R6l6djoLPRE
Music from the Continent:
“The Merry Widow Waltz” from the operetta “The Merry Widow” by Franz Lehár, written in1905, performed here by Daniel Tringov with Angels Trio: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ZU6T2XgC6c
Marches from America:
“Silver Heels” composed by Neil Moret in1905 and performed by the Edison Military Band: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SH5sk7-S9mQ
Ragtime from America:
“Oh, You Beautiful Doll”, written in 1911 by Seymour Brown and music Nat D. Ayer, here performed by Arthur Collins & Al Campbell:
Music from the American vaudeville stage:
“Shine On Harvest Moon”, written in 1908 by Jack Norworth and Nora Bayes, here performed by Ruth Etting from the Ziegfeld Folllies of 1931: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D7Mu9fh23dY
Music from the British Music Hall:
“If Those Lips Could Only Speak”, written in 1905 by Charles Ridgewell and Will J. Godwin, here performed by Peter Dawson: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xXalz9AFrdM
And finally, “Songe d'Automne (Dream Of Autumn)”, perhaps the last selection Wallace Hartley’s White Star Orchestra played aboard the Titanic, written in 1908 by Archibald Joyce. This clip also includes footage of the building and maiden voyage of the RMS Titanic: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=667B7U-R2M0