The original key signature of Songe d’automne is c minor. The first three notes are as follows: G, F and E-flat above Middle C.
One reason I believe Titanic’s survivors heard this melody wafted on the air for one brief moment was because the instrument playing the tune was indeed the cello.
Here is the cello’s range. You can see that Songe d’automne’s opening phrase falls within its mid-to-high register.
|The cello's open strings and range|
(15ma indicates two octaves higher)
Compare that to the violin’s range, and the same notes would fall within this instrument’s low register.
|The violin's open strings and range|
The significance of this comparison has to do with each instrument’s ability to project within this specific range.
Because the cello is a much bigger instrument than the violin physically, G, F and E-flat above Middle C on the cello would carry with more volume of sound, and be more “dynamic” than the same pitches on the violin.
The sound of the solo cello in the mid-to-high register has a gripping, wrenching quality. In this range a single cello can be heard above an entire orchestra. It is the same with the violin in its own upper range. But the violin playing the pitches G, F, and E-flat above Middle C (the opening of Songe d’automne) would not have the same level of strength as the cello on the same pitches. The violin playing this music solo would have a deep-honey, fuzzy quality, and would not carry as well.
Dvorak Cello Concerto (the cello begins at 4:30) with notes in the mid-to-high register:
In the same way the cello can be heard above an orchestra, a cello playing the waltz’s introduction would have had the dynamic power to penetrate through the other noises on Titanic in her last moments.
It is true that most people have become accustomed to the idea that Titanic’s band played Nearer, My God, To Thee and that it was Wallace Hartley’s violin that carried the tune. But there is a real possibility that the last music truly played by the band was Songe d’automne and that it was Wes Woodward’s cello that carried the tune. It was the sound of the cello that carried over the glassy water with three recognizable notes that starry, fateful night. Three notes that, heard by listeners in drifting lifeboats, were interpreted as the first three notes of the famous hymn, Nearer, My God, To Thee.
Titanic's final number: Grand Acoustics
Titanic's final number: Three Note Theory
Titanic's quintet: Who was the cellist?