The word "number" as it refers to a music selection comes from books like the WSL songbook, where an ensemble's extensive repertoire was listed by number. The audience could participate in an informal performance, making requests by calling out the numbers of the music they wished to hear.
There is an older tradition in music for hymns to be numbered in hymnals and for composers to number pieces in a collection. Moreover, a composer's individual output is usually catalogued by Opus numbers. Opera (plural for opus) refers to a staged work with many numbers. But to use the word 'number' in the context, "The band played fourteen numbers last night," comes from the performance culture of request songbooks like the one used on Titanic.
When one considers how many serious classical pieces were listed in the songbook, it becomes even clearer why the band played from sheet music. It looks as though 241 out of the 341 listed numbers were classical (or written by classically trained composers), leaving about 100 selections of the "popular" variety. It is interesting that today's Titanic recordings tip the balance in favour of the popular-style music, when on the voyage in 1912, it is likely that more than half of the performances focused on the classical arrangements.
The first four pages of the WSL songbook cover opera, suites, waltzes and sacred music (stage, dance and concert works both secular and sacred) and were discussed in my last post. The remaining five pages cover two broader categories, with concert pieces that stood alone or filled in time between other larger works (Entr'acts and Intermezzos), and numbers from the Tin Pan Alley music industry, arranged from sheet music that had become popular. Here is a sampling from the WSL songbook (again, the date of death beside each composer lets us know which ones were alive in 1912):
Entr’actes, Intermezzos, etc.
175. Ave Maria, Gunod, 1893
177. Anvil Chorus from Il-Trovatore, Verdi, 1901
182. Fifth Hungarian Dance, Brahms, 1897
192. Prize Song from Die Meistersinger, Wagner, 1883
193. Serenade, Schubert, 1828
196. Spring Song, Mendelssohn, 1847
198. Traumerei, Schumann, 1856
200. Anitra's Dance, Grieg, 1907
202. Barcarolle, Tales of Hoffmann, Offenbach, 1880
214. Largo, Handel, 1759
215. Nocturne Op. 9, No. 2, Chopin, 1849
219. Rakoczy, Hungarian March, Liszt, 1886
237. Humoreske, Dvorak, 1904
239. Agnus Dei, Bizet, 1875
241. None but the weary heart, Tchaikovsky, 1893
259. Melody in F, Rubenstein, 1894
260. Salut d'Amour, Elgar, 1934
262. Menuet, Boccherini, 1805
Marches, Cake Walks, etc.
280. Alexander's Ragtime Band, Berlin, 1989
300. The Ladybird's Review, Moret, 1943
310. Le prophète, Meyerbeer, 1864
311. Tannhauser, Wagner, 1883
312. Pomp and Circumstance, Elgar, 1934
339. Stars and Stripes Forever, Sousa, 1932
Composers in Titanic's WSL songbook - who made the list?
What was listed in the White Star Line MUSIC songbook?
The popular side of the WSL songbook