Titanic sailed at a time in music history when there were few clear lines defining musical taste. There was little distinction made between music composed by major composers who were highly recognized in the public ear, and those who were well-liked from a minor output of popular tunes.
In university studies the entire British “waltz king” scene has usually been skipped over entirely, the focus on France, where the Impressionists composed undoubtedly the best music of the day. So for me, becoming interested in Titanic's music has opened up a whole new oyster shell of treasure. The music is light, and has a bright, airy resemblance to Mozart's divertimenti. (Well, few can equal Mozart's sense of joie de vivre.)
The WSL songbook reflected the mixed musical taste of Titanic’s clientele and was updated frequently as arrangements of new music came available. It is unclear when the term "popular" entered the vernacular as a term to describe music, but it did not appear in the WSL songbook. Indeed, numbers that would be identified as popular today were sprinkled throughout.
Here’s what is surprising about the songbook: the category “Entr’actes, Intermezzos, etc” was so broad that it encompassed such divergent pieces as Ave Maria by Gounod, The Teddy Bear’s Picnic by Bratton, Minuet by Boccherini, Glow Worm by Lincke, Song Without Words by Tchaikovsky, and Apple Blossoms by Roberts. A real tossed salad of music, because to Titanic's audience, all music was popular. Music was music.
In the category "Marches, Cake Walks, etc." the march Mosquitos Parade by Whitney (likely performed on Sunday afternoons on park bandstands) was listed along with Pomp and Circumstance marches No. 1, 2, and 4 by Elgar (part of the symphonic concert repertoire).
Here are favorites that have appeared in Titanic music recordings. The music is quite charming:
21. The Chocolate Soldier, O. Strauss, 1954
130. Wedding Dance, Lincke, 1946
136. Sphinx, Popy, ? date
188. Love's Dream after the Ball, Czibulka, 1894
To demonstrate that the line between classical and popular was blurry if it existed at all, here is a selection from the WSL songbook by a major composer, paraphrased by a popular songwriter who was to become a music icon of the Twentieth Century. Irving Berlin borrowed Mendelssohn's Spring Song tune because he knew it would be recognized - an early version of a cover. It became one of his first big hits.
196. Spring Song, Mendelssohn,
__ That Mesmerizing Mendelssohn Tune, Berlin, (1910 recording by Pat Phillips; the borrowed phrase is at 0:40 in the YouTube video)
__ That Mesmerizing Mendelssohn Tune, Berlin, (A track on Whitcomb's Titanic album. It was not listed in the songbook, but represents music passengers would have known)
Titanic's WSL songbook - Intermezzos and Popular tunes
Composers in Titanic's WSL songbook - who made the list?
Sheets, hymnbook or by heart? - Nearer, My God, To Thee
Here are links to sites where you can download Titanic recordings.
I Salonisti Two albums: The Titanic Band Nice and Cheery and White Star Line Songbook
Ian Whitcomb Titanic: Music As Heard On the Fateful Voyage