And the Band Played On


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Corinda Rich

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After perusing several threads and their posts, I have yet to find the answer to a question that has lingered in the back of my mind. If there is such a thread, forgive my being redundant.
Just what was the last song played on Titanic? Was it "Autumn" or was it "Nearer My God to Thee"?
Walter Lord was certain it was "Autumn" whilst many survivors were certain it was the other. Has this ever been resolved?
Regards,
Corinda
 

Dave Gittins

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The question is ultimately impossible but I'll stick my neck out and say that it wasn't Autumn. The only witness to this tune, whether it was a hymn, Archibald Joyce's tune or the tune the cow died on, was Harold Bride. Bride was one of the most unsatisfactory witnesses involved, even in his own field. I haven't time to list all his varied tales.

There may be some substance to the playing of NMGTT. It was reported early, by people who were not swimming for their lives at the time. The problem of the various tunes may be imaginary. I have definite proof that the 'American' tune, Bethany was known in Australia at the time, and I'd bet that it was known in Britain also. (Australia then was a branch office of Britain). American evangelists were active in Britain for many years before 1912. I think that people may well have known it from organisations such as the Salvation Army, whose bands were well-known in the streets.

Finally, movie makers would be lost without it, which is important these days.
 
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I also would bet it was not the hymn tune Autumn. Americans never- in my years of church experience-call hymns by their tune name. This is truly a British thing. About the only tune Americans then or now might know is The Old Onehundredth. Looking through the English Hymns Ancient and Modern, it would seem in the tradition of the Church of England and the system of boy choir schools and cathedral choirs, the population often knows the tune, for example Parry's "Jerusalem"- which is so well known it is a national hymn. Often the tune is the same but the text can be different. I cannot imagine Bride, speaking to American reporters, would toss out the name of a hymn tune. "God of mercy and compassion, look with pity on my pain"- which begins the hymn tune "Autumn" is a rather complicated , both in text and musically,as a selection to be played under extraordinary circumstances such as the sinking ship posed. The chances that most would know it, or the text is more remote still. So far I have unearthed six tune variations of Nearer my God to Thee- same text on all. There may be more. I suspect that the musicians, at a time like THAT, would have opted for the one they knew the best- the British version. Am also supportive of the notion that Songe d'Automne could have been the song in the mind of Harold-being a popular selection of the time. Who can say with any certainty what the last piece was-it is all relative to where one was and when one left the ship. This is certainly ONE question I should like to know if heaven is ever attained!
 
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Corinda Rich

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Thank you all...
And, thank you, Bill...that was interesting reading from Mr. Behe.
Well, the romanticism from the tragedy would point to "Nearer My God, to Thee, (six variations????); it would have been poignant for the moment. The band would have known by then that they were going to perhaps perish. Personally, I would have rather heard that, at that moment, than some rag-time number, something that was lively and upbeat...I certainly wouldn't have been in the mood!
Regards,
Corinda
 

Dave Gittins

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Shelley is one up on me. I only know five variants.

Bethany. (Two versions, in 4/4 and 6/4)
Propior Deo. (Sullivan)
Horbury. (Dykes)
Communion. (Wesley)
 
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Dave- there's actually 7 if one counts Sullivan's other setting (St. Edmund's)and Lowell Mason's 1856 tune (text by Sarah Adams, 1840).
 
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Am afraid to post the scan of St. Edmund's as it may still be copyrighted-it appears in the Methodist Episcopal Hymnal of 1905 and then again in the 1925 revised hymnal (one of the few benefits of working in a church!). Bethany is on the following page as tune 2- the version we all know in America. If you want a copy I can send the scan to private email.
 
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There is a very nice Edison molded cylinder recording by the Edison quartet of the Mason Bethany from 1904 which can be heard at this link. There is also a click on link to popular songs of 1912 with cylinder recordings. There are optional players for windows or Real players so most computers should be able to process this. Was interested to note Edison carried the Bethany title in inventory lists since 1899.

 

Dave Gittins

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Shelley, don't bother, thanks. I found the score and a MIDI online at the Cyberhymnal. Sullivan should have stuck to comedy. It's a pretty poor tune, like Wesley's banal effort.

I think that for congregational singing Bethany is the best and I'll stick to my opinion that the band and the British passengers may well have known it.

The original tune seems to have vanished. It was by Sarah Flower Adams's sister.
 
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Rumor has it there are 10- am in hot pursuit of the 10th, the organist at Christ Church Westerly has one version which sounds like a new one-I agree about St. Edmund's- ghastly. Yes- we resort to the cyberhymnal frequently at choir practice! Did not know the original tune was by Sarah's sister. Hmmm..hers WOULD make 10-which means there may be 11! The thrill of the chase. . .
 
Sep 20, 2000
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Hi, all: There's a very interesting research paper available online, complete with imbedded (MIDI) tunes and analyses -- the result of a study done by a musicologist a few years back in an attempt to resolve this very question. (Interestingly, its title matches this topic's exactly.)

"And the Band Played On:
Hypotheses Concerning What Music Was Performed
Near the Climax of the Titanic Disaster"
presented at the October, 1999 meeting of the Southwest Regional Chapter of the
American Musicological Society, Rice University, Houston
by
J. Marshall Bevil, Ph.D.
http://home.earthlink.net/~llywarch/tnc02.html.htm

If you haven't already seen it, it's well worth the read (and listen). It delivers a pretty thorough analysis of the "Autumn" versus "Nearer..." contentions, and also investigates in depth the issue of *which* NMGtT tune(s) would have been likely. Quite an admirable and convincing piece of research, I think.

Myself I think it's quite possible that *both* "Songe d'Automne" and "Nearer My God to Thee" could have been played (in that relative order), but that Harry Bride was too waterlogged to *hear* the final, brief hymn. (I believe that was also the paper's conclusion, though it has been a while.)

I definitely think accepting Harry Bride's singular assertion of "Autumn" as THE final piece too readily dismisses *numerous* other witnesses who clearly recalled "NMGTT". And that's just way too unbalanced, from my perspective. (But I *can* see that it might have been Harry's "last" song.)

Cheers,
John
 

Kyrila Scully

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Actually, I read somewhere that Wallace Hartley stated to a friend (or relative) that he would like to have NMGTT played at his funeral, as it was his favorite hymn. (Sorry, can't remember which book I got that from.) It could be projected that it makes sense he played his own funeral song. So I tend to lean towards NMGTT myself, even though it's for sentimental reasons.

Kyrila
 
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Corinda Rich

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Wow, Kyrila,
That certainly makes sense then, having NMGTT as the last song...how poignant and tragic. I would love to know which book that came from (but, I also know how busy you are, so if you come across it, that would be great, otherwise, don't start digging on my account!).
Thanks for that tidbit,
Cori
 

Dave Gittins

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The Hartley story was in The Daily Sketch on April 22 1912.

Like all comments after the event, it must be taken with a grain of salt. In the same story, Hartley was said to have also considered O God, our Help in Ages Past a suitable hymn to sink by.
 
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Re: Hartley's statement that he would like to have NMGTT at his funeral.

There is not a reference to this in either of Lord's books, Wade, or Marcus. I do find a reference to it in Eaton & Haas' Titanic: Triumph & Tragedy, bottom of page 159.
 
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