Monday, 23 January 2012

Sunday Night Part I How do we interpret accounts?

When reading interpretations of Titanic survivors’ accounts one needs to sift through the information carefully. Just because a survivor mentioned a performance by the band on Sunday night, it does not necessarily mean it was at the time Titanic was sinking. Here is one example:

Violet Jessop, who was a First Class stewardess on Titanic, wrote that she had heard the band in passing on Sunday evening. “It was all so happy and peaceful. If the sun did fail to shine so brightly on the fourth day out, and if a little cold nip crept into the air as evening set in, it only served to emphasize the warmth and luxuriousness within. On that Sunday evening, the music was at its gayest, led by young Jock....”

Some have wondered how the music could have been at its ‘gayest’ on Sunday evening, assuming Jessop may have been writing about the band’s performance as the ship was sinking. However, in her memoirs she clearly organized her chapters* into two sections: Titanic, Chapter 20 - her memories of the voyage prior to the collision and the collision itself, and Chapter 21, Into the Lifeboat - her experiences as the ship was sinking.

The quotation of the lively performance was written in Chapter 20 along with her other recollections of the waning daylight hours of April 14 on board the Titanic. So to me it seems fairly clear that Jessop had heard the band perform just before dusk, perhaps between 5:00-7:00 p.m. Dusk in mid April at that latitude would have crept in at around seven o’clock, with darkness falling by about 7:15 p.m.

When Jessop’s words are considered in the context of an early evening performance there is no reason to question the liveliness of the music or mood. In fact, the scene builds up a sense of complete wellbeing, and serves as a contrast to what was about to happen. The reader feels the dramatic irony of the upbeat atmosphere. If every soul felt most fortunate to be on board the steamer built to be the epitome of human accomplishment, in just a few short hours they were about to learn the tragedy of human error and the unforgiving supremacy of nature. Such is the feeling Jessop’s words instill as she paints the picture of the band’s animated evening concert.

So, back to the matter of interpreting accounts. Keep in mind that the band (meaning both the quintet and trio) did perform on Sunday evening before the collision. It is important to consider any mention of the band in context of the timeframe of a survivor’s complete story.
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Related Posts
Sunday Night Part II How accurate are passenger accounts?
Titanic's final number: Logistics, proximity and a good ear
Titanic and the Science of Memory

*Jessop’s memoirs were published in Titanic Survivor, edited by John Maxtone-Graham; published by Sheridan House, 1997.

2 comments:

  1. Countess de Rothes evidenced that Offenbach's 'Barcarolle' was played on Sunday (as far as I remember it was after the dinner), and at Titanic the movie the band played 'Barcarolle' during evacuation.

    Also, I have two questions:
    1) Did orchestra was playing in first class didnig saloon during meals? I read on encyclopedia-Titanica.org that didn't.
    2) Was sunday night during sinking the first time when both ensembles on Titanic were playing together?

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    Replies
    1. These are good questions and I'm preparing blog posts dedicated to discussing them.

      As far as I can tell (from my reproduction book) Offenbach is listed several times. In "Selections" (opera numbers), Les Contes D'Hoffman (sic)/Offenbach is listed, and in "Entr'actes, Intermezzos, etc" Barcarolle, Tales of Hoffmann (sic)/Offenbach is listed, (listed in French and in English - the titles on the arrangements were likely printed that way).

      I have long wondered whether "Selections" refers to a category, meaning that with the listing of the opera the band was able to play several unlisted selections from it upon request, and because the public was so literate in this music, the individual names of the songs or arias were not printed in full. It would be like "James Cameron's Titanic" being a listing in a music list today and a person knowing from their own experience that "My Heart Will Go On" was a song from the movie, without seeing its title listed.

      The Countess was a bit vague, and mentioned that she had requested something from The Tales of Hoffman, but not the precise number. Barcarolle is the most likely choice, but she might have requested something else from the opera.

      Later renditions of the WSL songbook are much more detailed and seem to list every number, and don't assume the public knows as much about music.

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