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On The Titanic
By Roger Lee Hall
The year 2012 marks the 100th anniversary of one of the greatest sea tragedies in modern history -- The sinking of the Titanic at 2:20 a.m. on 15 April 1912.
With the release of several popular films, especially A NIGHT TO REMEMBER (1958) and the multi-Oscar-winning TITANIC (1997), there continues to be a dispute as to what was the last tune played on that fateful night when the Titanic sank within only a few hours and over 1,500 passengers perished, many of them never recovered.
One of them was George Quincy Clifford, a 40 year old businessman from Stoughton, Massachusetts. The above picture is from the CD booklet: TITANIC - Music As Heard On The Fateful Voyage.
As it turns out, none of the films used what is believed to be the correct tune as the last one played on the Titanic.
The Titanic had two different groups of musicians that played on that first and last voyage: a trio of violin, cello and piano who played just outside the A la Carte Restaurant and Cafe Parisien; and a quintet of musicians who played at other locations. All the musicians were led by violinist Wallace Hartley. These musicians in the above picture were [from top to bottom]:
Fred Clark, Percy Taylor, G. Krins, Wallace Hartley [center of the picture], Ted Brailey, Jock Hume, George Woodward, and Roger Bricoux [not shown].
The most popular myth has been the final tune played by the musicians was a hymn tune, either one titled "Autumn" [shown above] which begins: "God of mercy and compassion," or "Nearer My God To Thee," which has three different tunes (one American and two British) associated with it.
The American version is Lowell Mason's 1856 hymn tune, "Bethany." The British versions are J. B. Dyke's 1861 hymn tune, "Horbury," and Sir Arthur Sullivan's 1872 hymn tune, "Proprior Deo," which was a favorite of Titanic bandmaster Wallace Hartley. In her interesting article, "A Hymn To Remember," in The Hymn from January of 1976, Jessica M. Kerr believes that if it was a hymn played it would have been "Horbury" which was well known by the British passengers. She writes:
The eight members of the ship's band - all British-born except one who was a Frenchman - could have only played, at such a moment, a hymn which sprang spontaneously from their religious background, and they would not have known any other tune but Dykes' tune "Horbury."
But actually, according to the authoritative book by Walter Lord, The Night Lives On, apparently it was NOT a hymn tune.
Instead, it was most likely a popular waltz tune that was played as the final number by the Titanic musicians.
That tune was "Songe d'Automne (Dream of Autumn) - how appropriate that this beautiful and very melancholy tune would be the last piece. It was in a sense -- a sad farewell waltz.
According to Walter Lord's book (Chapter XI) the Second Wireless Operator, Harold Bride, mentioned hearing the tune played by the ensemble:
"Songe d'Automne," was generally known simply as "Autumn." Composed by Archibald Joyce, it was never very popular in America, but was a major hit in London in 1912. Played at roller-skating rinks, cafes, and the like, Harold Bride would probably have known it, and he might well have assumed that his American interviewers understood what he meant. Certainly Bride never referred to "Autumn" as a hymn in his original interview of April 19. He specifically mentioned the tune three different times, but always casually, like a popular song that need no further explanation.
Why did some passengers claim to have heard "Nearer My God To Thee"? One reason might be it seemed an appropriate tune to play at that time of desperation. But the fact there were different American and British versions seems to discount everyone heard the same hymn tune. But the melodies of "Songe D'Automne" and "Nearer My God To Thee" are both beautiful but rather melancholy, especially when played at a slow tempo.
Though I would imagine most people would prefer to believe the "Nearer My God To Thee" claims, I believe Harold Bride's statement is the most accurate one since he was closest to the band of musicians.
So, most likely "Songe d'Automne" was the last tune played on the Titanic.
There was quite a lot of music available to the Titanic musicians. What about other music possibly played during the voyage? See what follows...
Popular Songs On The Titanic
Besides British light classical tunes such as "In The Shadows" and the lovely waltz, "Destiny," there were American popular song hits, "Oh, You Beautiful Doll," "Shine On Harvest Moon," and several Irving Berlin hits, "That Mesmerizing Mendelssohn Tune" and "Alexander's Ragtime Band."
Another popular American song the musicians probably played on the Titanic voyage was...
"Waiting For The Robert E. Lee"
This song was published in 1912 with words by L. Wolfe Gilbert and Lewis F. Muir. It was introduced at the Winter Garden in New York by popular singer, Al Jolson, who became famous for his starring role in the first film with spoken dialogue and songs, THE JAZZ SINGER (1927). This song was sung in that film but by Bobbie Gordon instead of Jolson. It was later sung by Judy Garland in the Hollywood musical. BABES ON BROADWAY (1941), and by Jolson's dubbed voice in THE JOLSON STORY (1946).
Hear "Waiting For The Robert E. Lee" and "Songe d'Automne" on these two recommended CDs:
TITANIC - Music As Heard On The Fateful Voyage
The White Star Orchestra, conducted by Ian Whitcomb
(The best recorded version of "Songe d'Automne")
"Waiting for the Robert E. Lee" is included in this sheet music collection:
Peg o' My Heart and
Other Favorite Song Hits
Hear the chamber music group, I Salonisti,
play both "Songe d'Automne and
"Nearer My God To Thee" (Lowell Mason version)
on this 2 CD set:
Titanic (Anniversary Edition)
Other Tributes on AMP
(also Elmer Bernstein, Aaron Copland, Jerry Goldsmith,
Miklos Rozsa, Dimitri Tiomkin, and others)
Film Star Centennials
"Easy to Love" -- James (Jimmy) Stewart
"They're Either Too Young Or Too Old" -- Bette Davis
"True Grit" -- John Wayne
"Ac-cent-tchu-ate The Positive"
Johnny Mercer in Hollywood
"I Hear Music"
A Centennial Tribute To Frank Loesser
"The Last Roundup" -- A Tribute To Billy Hill
"Moon River" - Memories Of Henry Mancini
"River Of No Return" -- Ken Darby