What did people in 1912 relate to in the arts musicfilmliterature

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Martin Renner

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I'm reading a book at the moment about soldiers in the year 1918- the last of WW1. It occurred to me that I have no idea what made these people "tick"- what music they danced to, what books they read, what films (albeit a relatively new medium) they watched.......

Nowadays we can't go anywhere without hearing about Britney Spears etc...... what do you think (or know) the people of the Titanic might have cherished... i.e. what was "big" at the time? (of course, information/entertainment travelled MUCH slower then..........)

I'm guessing Jack London was big at the time, as well as Twain & Shakespeare.... I dunno... religious songs ala "Closer to God..." were also "big"?

Please help me out! Thanks!
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John Meeks

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Hi Martin,

Just reflecting on my (now long deceased) grandparents' memories...and from a British 'angle' only...I would suggest that Marie Lloyd, Vesta Tilley, Harry Tate and Harry Lauder (all music hall stars) were very much the order of the day - at least, among the Second and Third Class passengers.

Regards,

John M
 

Dave Gittins

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Apr 11, 2001
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In more serious music, it was a time of revolution. Important innovators included Richard Strauss, Arnold Schoenberg and Igor Stravinsky. The years between 1900 and WW I saw the most radical changes in serious music ever heard. Compositions first performed in 1912 included Petrushka and Pierrot Lunaire. Considerable controversy raged over the new music, which overlapped with the relatively conventional work of people like Elgar and Puccini. Tchaikovsky and Brahms had been dead for only a few years and Mahler for only one year. Some listeners were excited by the new developments and others were bewildered.

In more conventional music, the big singers were Enrico Caruso, Nellie Melba, Peter Dawson and John McCormack. In those days there was a great deal of overlapping between the 'classical' and the 'popular' and these singers recorded all kinds of popular trifles. There's a Caruso recording on this site and it has Titanic connections.

Some idea of the light music played for the upper classes can be gained from the recordings made in imitation of the Titanic's band. The most elegant of these is And the Band Played On by I Salonisti, the group that played for Cameron's movie.
 

Pat Cook

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Apr 27, 2000
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And, in case somebody hasn't mentioned them, Gilbert and Sullivan. While not performers, their works were immensely popular, with a couple of pieces (if memory serves) among the White Star bands repertoire. Lawrence Beesley even makes an allusion to one of them, when he wrote:

"...while 'in and out and roundabout' went a Scotsman with his bagpipes playing something that Gilbert says, 'fairly resembles an air'."

Beesley is referring to the Grand Inquisitor's song and Ellen M'Jones Aberdeen, both from the operetta writing pair.

Best regards,
Cook
 
Apr 11, 2001
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Martin- under the Gilded Age TOPIC are many threads on popular 1912 culture, song and dance, etc. as well as the stars of stage and screen- see Those Fabulous Ladies and others.
 
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Patricia Bowman Rogers Winship

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I caught a similar allusion in Lightoller's autobiography. In his account of the infamous Sydney Harbor prank he uses the phrase "With cat-like tread"-- which is from Pirates of Penzance-- in describing how he and his friends reconnoitered Fort Denison.

Pat W.

"With cat-like tread upon our prey we steal..."
 
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Martin Renner

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Thanks everyone for your replies.. very informative! I shall research more!

BTW, why did I write "Closer to God"?!? What was I thinking?!? Of course it's "Nearer......"
(*slaps self in face*)
 

Jim Kalafus

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Dec 3, 2000
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In the 1912-1918 period, the image of American movies was in transition. During, roughly, their first 15 years, films were definitely entertainment for the lower class and years of watching the films of 1894-1910 have given me insight as to why. As Mary Pickford related in her autobiography and several interviews even the stars found the motion pictures to be embarrassingly inferior to stage productions. However, by 1912 the superior Italian film Quo Vadis had been released with some success in America. Also in 1912 a few films with attempts at synchronised sound were released (at least one of which survives- a terrible adaptation of Jack and The Beanstalk) and such concepts as the close up and linear plotting were coming into vogue. Within three years of the sinking of the Titanic the US had been introduced to the Big Budget Epic Hit(Birth Of A Nation) and The Big Budget Fiasco (Judith of Bethulia) both from the same production company) and the gangster film (Regeneration- which has a sequence depicting the General Slocum fire, fairly well done). There was the bizarre Where Are My Children, in which a District Attorney with a wife who can't seem to get pregnant battles the abortion trade only to learn that his wife's prefered method of family planning is at odds with his own after A Terrible Tragedy, and the recently re-discovered Daughter Of The Gods which was a nudity laden action/fantasy film starring Olympic swimmer Annette Kellerman. Editorials decrying the effect that exposure to sex and violence on film was having on American Morals (sound familiar?) became increasingly common as the decade progressed, but the ongoing success of films featuring them assured that they would not be eliminated. Top stars whose names would have been familiar to the 1918 soldiers were Mary Pickford (the biggest box office draw at the time, and well into the 1920s who, by that year had already nearly died from a septic abortion and developed a drinking problem ) her brother, Jack Pickford (affectionately nicknamed 'Mr Syphilis' by those who knew him, and a multi-substance addict) his future wife Olive Thomas (also an addict, who committed suicide by drinking his syphilis medication) action star Wallace Reid (Morphine addict- dead by 1923) "Baby Sunshine" aka Pauline Flood (whose career ended at two years old in 1918 when she crawled in front of a moving truck) Mabel Normand (cocaine and opium addict) and Gloria Swanson (Health Food advocate who survived well into the 1980s, dying at 84, 89, 92 or 119 years old depending on which dates you choose to believe....just kidding about that last one, but she was ANCIENT) Also notable were Barbara LaMarr (dead of drug induced bulimia) and Alma Rubens (heroin addict, dead from drug-induced general dissipation as well) and Dorothy and Lillain Gish both of whom lead relatively scandal free lives. That gives you a basic overview of the state of film in 1918- draw what conclusions you will.
 
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I always like to go to Ebay and type in 1912 Magazines. The magazines of that year can tell you much about what was going on in people lives back then. One of the best magazines was McClures which is no longer around.
 

Dave Gittins

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Getting back to music, I think two things are worth saying about the period.

Firstly, music of all kinds was meant for an adult audience. Obviously there were songs for little children, but the modern practice of targetting the 'product' to specific age groups was unknown. The teenieboppers, tweenieboppers weenieboppers and all the rest were far in the future. Music marketing was not the cynical exercise that we see today.

Secondly, the people of 1912 were not mere consumers of music. They were frequently makers of music. Any home with any pretension to culture had a piano. Amateurs played anything from simple hymns and popular songs to four-handed arrangements of symphonies. Thousands of working class men, especially in Britain, played in brass bands, often attached to their workplaces. (Hence the Grimethorpe Colliery Band). From a slightly later period, there are moving stories from Neville Cardus and D H Lawrence about the deep love of music found in the coal miners and mill workers.
 

Inger Sheil

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Dec 3, 2000
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In 1910 one of the Titanic's officers wrote of a visit to New York and spending quite a bit of his time 'Down Town'. No theatres for him, as the cheapest seats were a dollar and "when one feels rather extrav. paying 2/5 in England one cannot be expected to pay 4/2 here!" Instead they contented themselves with what, according to him, the Americans called vaudeville, which was mostly "moving pictures", although some were like the British music halls. Not half as good, though, the spirit of parochialism moved him to add...

Music Halls were certainly the go for these sometimes cash-strapped young men, and prior to one long voyage in sail James Moody spent his last evening ashore in Liverpool in one - as he expressed it - drowning his sorrows.

Harold Lowe was fond of music and could sing quite well (although beyond hymns it has been difficult to find much specific on his preferences).
 
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Drowning his sorrows hey? That sounds a little depressing for someone who believed in making the best of a situation.

Quick question. Were there some lively songs then or were they all hymns and stuff? (Pardon my ignorance but the furthest back my mind can go is to the Jazz of the twenties (wasn't it the twenties?). But then that's pretty good for someone who was born in '84!
 

Dave Gittins

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Popular song of the day was often decidedly lively and even a bit naughty. Music hall songs were often full of double meanings and general sauciness. English songs often had a weird humour that anticipates the Goon Show. Take the lyrics of "The Houses in Between", which is a Cockney fantasy about transforming inner London into the countryside. The words are on the Internet somewhere. "Oh Timothy, Let's Have look at it" is a classic. It's not too clear what they want to have a look at!

Let's have a potato each and then we'll sling our hook.
We won't interfere with your mutton, old dear,
So Timothy, let's have a look!


You can get records of many old songs. Look for names like Harry Champion and Marie Lloyd for the silly stuff. Our own Peter Dawson recorded many Edwardian songs of the sentimental and patriotic kind. Many of them remained popular for years afterwards and some are being revived by singers such as Benjamin Luxon. In 1912, jazz was still in the embryonic stage, but ragtime was all the rage. Latin music was popular and the daring danced the sinful tango. You may have heard of Edith Russell's music box in the form of a pig. That played music for the Maxixe, which was a lively Brazilian dance. There were certainly plenty of fuddy-duddies and what we Aussies call wowsers, but they were offset by a lot of lively fun and games. That's one difference between 1912 and 2003. When did you last hear a new pop song that was fun?
 
Dec 2, 2000
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Easley South Carolina
>>When did you last hear a new pop song that was fun?<<

When did you last hear a pop song that used intelligable language?
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I guess we shouldn't get too smug though. A hundred years from now, I'm sure heavy metal will look downright conventional and Brittney Spears will be thought of as a diva!