ABSTRACT

J. Marshall Bevil,

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.

Full text, with illustrations, available online.

 

 


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        This forensic musicological investigation is an effort to resolve disputes that began within days after the sinking of the Titanic. Reports of the playing of "Nearer, My God, to Thee" by the ship's string orchestra under the leadership of Wallace Hartley gave rise to an enduring legend but were countered by the conclusion that the sacred piece was the hymn tune "Autumn." The issue is further complicated by there having been at that time four frequently used settings of "Nearer, My God, to Thee," no one of which would have been familiar to all reporting witnesses. A more recent hypothesis is that "Autumn" was not the hymn tune but the waltz "Songe d'Automne," by Archibald Joyce.

        The investigator examines previous views, extra-musical factors, and the results of computer-assisted analyses of the various pieces reported or postulated. The conclusions are  1) that "Autumn" was, in fact, "Songe d'Automne,"  2) that there emerged both a rationale and a brief opportunity for the subsequent playing of "Nearer, My God, to Thee," most likely to Sir Arthur Sullivan's "Propior Deo," and  3) that "Propior Deo," if it was played, was recognized for what it was by British survivors and, at the same time, confused with Lowell Mason's "Bethany" by both American and Canadian survivors. The analytical procedure, developed by the investigator in connection with his doctoral dissertation on oral-aural melodic transmission, points up substantial, if not striking, similarities of not only period openings and closings but also complete contours at surface-, middle-, and deep-structural levels.

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1999 J. Marshall Bevil

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