Monday, 16 January 2012

Composers in Titanic's WSL songbook - Who made the list?

What was listed in the White Star Line MUSIC songbook? Part II

The composers of the 1910s era we continue to cherish to this day, among them Debussy, Fauré, Ravel, Delius, Mahler and Elgar were not well represented in Titanic’s request list - only Elgar’s music appeared. It seems as though the society of the golden age preferred their waltz kings and old “classic” standards to the hazy harmonies of French Impressionism.

It is also possible that music agents C. W. & F. N. Black were limited by the choice of sheet music available to them in arrangements for Titanic’s ensembles. In a way, this shows which composers were in demand enough (or had been around long enough) for their music to have been arranged. Even great composers have had a difficult time breaking into the larger market while alive.

As an appendix to my last post, here is a sampling of well-known composers represented in the WSL songbook, as well as one musical example (some composers were listed more than once). Composers who have fallen into obscurity have not been listed here. The composers’ years of death give an idea as to who was still alive in 1912.

Overtures 1-15 (WSL songbook numbers)
1. Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Rossini, 1868

Selections 16-80
17. The Night Birds, Johann Strauss, 1899
27. Samson and Delilah,, Saint-Saëns, 1921
29. Aida, Verdi, 1901
35. Orphee Aux Enfers, Offenbach, 1880
36.  Butterfly, Puccini, 1924
58. Carmen, Bizet, 1875
64. The Mikado, Sullivan, 1900
73. Tannhauser, Wagner, 1883

Suites, Fantasias, etc. 81-99
81. Casse-Noisette, Tchaikovsky, 1893
82. Peer Gynt, Grieg, 1907
85. Faust, Gunod, 1893

Waltzes 100-148 (plus additional unlisted waltzes)
115. Rosenkavalier, R Strauss, 1949
148. The Merry Widow, Lehar, 1948
J Strauss, 1899 (his unlisted waltzes were a category of their own, ex. Blue Danube, Emperor)
Waldteufel, 1915 (unlisted, ex. Ice Skater’s)

Sacred Music 149-156
149. Selections from Elijah, Mendelssohn, 1847
150. Selections from The Cross of Calvary, Gounod, 1893
152. Selections from The Messiah, Handel, 1759

Related Posts
Titanic's WSL songbook - Intermezzos and Popular tunes
The popular side of the WSL songbook
Did Titanic's band play music by memory?


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I love selections from Chocolate Soldier the operetta. The waltz is one of the most beautiful I've ever heard:
    Also, I like Zampa overture quite much. Rossini music I don't like too much, don't know why.
    Also, do you maybe know, about if the music book was updated every year, or two times a year, or how? Could you write something about that?

  3. Oscar Straus with his music, were often compared with Johann Strauss, because his waltzes has this elegant vienna style, especially in Walzertraum (A Waltz Dream) operetta. This was the greatest work of him.

  4. O. Strauss (who composed the Chocolate Soldier operetta) appears several times in the WSL songbook. A Waltz Dream by O. Straus (one "s") is listed in both the "Selections" section and the "Waltzes" section. "The Chocolate Soldier" by O. Strauss appears in the Selections section. Thanks for the link - it is very pretty!

  5. In A Night to remember, Hartley has the band play "No's 22, 18, and 24" what were these songs

    1. In my songbook (a replica assumed to have been used on Titanic), they are:

      22 The Count of Luxembourg ... Lehar

      18 The Siren ... Fall

      24 The Quaker Girl ... Monckton

      All from opera "Selections", which is conveniently pictured above!

  6. Rebeca, I just saw Titanic and it says the band played Valse Septembre in the Credits as the ship was sinking. Do you think that really happened? And, one of the musicisans is like "What's the use no one's listening" is that possible too

    1. Valse Septembre is in the movie. I've had such a busy month I haven't yet watched it this April, but I'll try to pay attention to that number and where it is played. That is one of my favourites. I thought someone else had said Valse Septembre was heard in a dining room scene.

      As far as the quote "What's the use, no one's listening," goes --- it was likely half true. Barkworth found the notes "jarring" on his way by, and another survivor said it was "ghastly" to hear the band continuing to play. But then there were the men who seemed to tap their toes to the end. We don't know their stories as they perished, and they were likely the ones listening to the band. The movie had the four string players on the outer deck at the end - and evidence from survivors who went down with the ship suggests they remained playing inside with the pianist to the last. The band that plays together stays together. Why would they abandon one of their own?