Friday, 30 March 2012

Titanic's second class pianos

There were two Steinway pianos in Titanic’s Second Class, both Model K uprights. The difference in size between the First Class Model R uprights and Second Class Model K uprights was two inches, at 54” and 52” respectively. Even though both sizes were quite large by today’s standards (for home pianos), and therefore also quite resonant, there would have been a slight difference in the dynamic capability of sound. The larger pianos would have had a fuller sound.

The main difference would have been in the bass range. The taller the upright, the longer the bass strings. As bass strings are strung diagonally from the upper left to the lower right, each vertical inch added to the height of a piano could add several inches in length to the longest string. The longer the bass strings, the closer they can vibrate at the true frequency of their pitch (the length of the string corresponding with the length of the soundwave it produces). This impacts the quality and fullness of sound. In the First Class Model R pianos the bass strings would have been closer in length to those found inside a mid-sized grand piano.

However, the Second Class pianos were nothing to sniff at, after all they were Steinways.

The performance piano was located in the Second Class entrance foyer on C Deck. Passengers who walked through the entrance from the Port side, or descended the stairs from the landing between B and C Decks, would have seen it well. The piano was tucked in the Port side of the main mast which penetrated the decks just aft of the Second Class Library door.

Second Class Entrance Foyer on Olympic (photo taken between B and C Decks).
This Model K6 upright had been ordered from the Steinway factory in Hamburg and delivered to the Harland & Wolff shops in Belfast. The piano had been completed in the Steinway factory all but the French finish, which was applied post delivery to ensure the wood stain on the piano matched the décor of the entrance hall.

This photo shows detail of the piano as well as a chair or two for sitting musicians, and a standard conservatory-style folding music stand. The Second Class Library door is visible in the wall just forward of the mast.

Steinway Model K6 piano, possibly three musicians' chairs (two stacked in the
corner behind the piano) as well as a folding conservatory music stand. 

Titanic's Second Class also had a piano in their Dining Saloon on D Deck. This one resembled the First Class pianos in that it was “art case,” meaning finished by craftsmen who designed the cabinet with a unique style not available in factory built models. While not as ornate as the pianos in First Class, it was finished with carvings and veneers to complement the alcove in which it was installed.

Second Class passengers would have been well satisfied with the pianos afforded them. In any setting a piano adds a touch of class, and on Titanic only served to enhance the wondrous experience of traveling on the world's finest liner, even in Second Class.

Related Posts
Titanic's First Class pianos
March 1912: Titanic's musicians and pianos in place
Did Titanic have 'palm court' performances?

Images from TITANIC The Ship Magnificent, Beveridge, Klistorner, Hall, Andrews. All rights reserved. Many thanks to the authors for permission.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Titanic's first class pianos

Titanic’s First Class was provided for with three elegant Steinway pianos, two Model R uprights and one Model B drawing room grand.

In 1912 recorded music had not entirely replaced sheet music. It was a time when many people had reached a decent level of literacy and performance proficiency. People liked their pianos and they liked them big. Perhaps in your family you have a large upright piano from this era that has been passed down from a great aunt or grandmother. Some of these heirloom pianos are finished quite beautifully, with carved wooden applique details, styled legs, fancy book rests, and true to the era, ivory keys.

The musical taste of the time was for pianos to sound very resonant or “wet,” meaning that a key struck would produce a tone that would ring with a bell-like quality and a lingering reverberation. The size of the pianos contributed to this reverberant sound, as well as the dampers (the felted mechanism that deadens the sound once the depressed key is lifted). At that time piano makers placed the dampers in a sweet spot of the strings' frequency so they would continue to vibrate with a slight ring even after dampened. Today’s pianos have a much drier sound, the dampers placed to stop resonant ringing.

Titanic’s three First Class pianos were the zenith of early Twentieth Century piano culture. All three were “art case” pianos, meaning they had been ordered rough or unfinished from the Steinway factory, and then finished by master craftsmen who added a level of detail rarely seen in factory-finished models.

First Class Entrance Hall piano on Olympic.

Titanic’s first Model R upright was on the Boat Deck level of the forward Grand Staircase. It was installed against the forward Port side corner, and passengers ascending the top side-flight of stairs would have seen it directly ahead. The bench was upholstered with fabric that matched the chairs.

The other two First Class Steinways were both found on D Deck, the model R upright in the Dining Saloon and the Model B grand just forward in the Reception Room. Both were finished with the same exquisite details, with barley twist legs and marquetry in artfully inlaid wood veneers.

First Class Dining Saloon piano on Olympic.

At 6’10.5", the grand was the crowning glory of Titanic’s pianos, a showcase of workmanship, and it stood out against the white Jacobean walls of the Reception Room. It was located in the forward Starboard corner, almost adjacent to the fanned bottom of the Grand Staircase. The matching music stands stood on barley twist posts. There was also a complementary cabinet for the band's sheet music storage.

Detail of Reception Room piano, music stands and cabinet on Olympic

Wider view of First Class Reception Room on Olympic.

Although it is completely conjecture to say, if the pianos on Olympic are any indication as to the style of Titanic’s pianos, it seems as though the two D Deck pianos, the Reception Room grand and the Dining Saloon upright, were both completed by A. Heaton & Co. Both were finished by craftsmen who possessed the skills to create barley twist legs and designs within the wood veneer. If this is true it means the Model R upright in the First Class Entrance would have been finished by the craftsmen at Harland & Wolff yard.

Titanic was designed to impress, and the pianos played their part to appeal aesthetically to the great expectations of the contemporary world's wealthy travellers.

Related Posts
Titanic's final number: Three Note Theory
Titanic's second class pianos
March 1912: Titanic's musicians and pianos in place

RMS Titanic: Five Steinway Pianos for the Ages - Steinway and Sons
Steinway art case pianos
Images from TITANIC The Ship Magnificent, Beveridge, Klistorner, Hall, Andrews. All rights reserved. Many thanks to the authors for permission. Limited Edition here shown (two volumes).

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

March 1912: Titanic's pianos and musicians in place

By mid-March 1912 plans for Titanic’s music were all beginning to come together.

C. W. & F. N. Black, music agents who organized and hired musicians for seagoing liners, had been considering bandsmen at least since December 1911, mulling over their choices. It is known that cellist Seth Lancaster from Colne was asked to join Titanic’s band at that time.

By mid-March the Black brothers began pinning down some names and penciling in others for Titanic’s list of musicians. With about a month to go before the maiden voyage, Wallace Hartley had already been confirmed as one of the bandleaders. Hartley even tried to convince Ellwand Moody, fellow bandsman on board Mauretania, to join Titanic’s band. But Moody was finished with the sea and didn’t fancy a big liner like Titanic.

Violinist Jock Hume, who had sailed on sister ship Olympic’s maiden voyage the previous year, was aboard Carmania for a monthlong trip to the Mediterranean in March. His fiancé, Mary Costin, had just found out she was expecting.

On Monday, March 18 Roger Bricoux, a cellist on Carpathia, told his parents in a letter that he had accepted a position on Titanic. “I love this life…” he said. Also on board Carpathia was pianist Theo Brailey. When the two returned to New York from their Mediterranean trip they were to meet up with Hartley aboard Mauretania and travel back to Southampton to join Titanic’s maiden voyage.

Titanic at the Harland & Wolff yard, March 8, 1912,
final preparations underway

That same day in March, as Bricoux was writing his letter nearing Gibraltar, the last of Titanic’s six pianos was being moved on board in Belfast.

The year before, in March 1911, five of the pianos had been shipped straight from the Steinway factory in Hamburg, Germany. They were initially delivered to two finishing shops: one in the Harland and Wolff shipping yard itself, and the other, A. Heaton & Co. In the year between March 1911 and March 1912 master craftsmen had worked to finish four of the pianos as few have ever been finished, applying veneers in exotic woods, carved details and elaborate legs and book rests.

First Class pianos
Three pianos were destined for Titanic’s First Class public rooms: two Model R upright pianos, 54” in height, and a Model B drawing room grand, 6 ft 10 ½”. All three were ‘art case’ pianos, elaborately finished to match the grand atmosphere of the rooms. The grand and one upright had been moved on board on March 14, 1912, the remaining First Class upright, March 18.

Second Class pianos
Two pianos were slated for public rooms in the Second Class. Both Model K and 52” in height, the first was ordered rough and finished in the ‘art case’ fashion, and the second was ordered finished in light oak (raw), with only the French polish remaining to be added. Both were moved on board Titanic on March 14, 1912.

Third Class piano
A piano of unknown manufacture was installed in the Third Class, possibly another Steinway, though likely a standard factory-finished model. Little is known about this piano, and its boarding date is unknown.

The pieces were coming together. The musicians were moving about the globe, the Titanic in their thoughts, conversations and letters. There was a plan in place to bring them together. And the pianos were moved into place, only to wait in silence.

Related Posts
Maintaining Titanic's shipboard pianos
To craft a Steinway
Titanic's Third Class General Room and piano

Monday, 19 March 2012

Titanic's final number: Concise summary

In 1957 a man named Fred Valance sat down and read Walter Lord’s A Night to Remember. In it Lord had attempted to pin down the identity of Harold Bride’s ‘Autumn.’ Valance wrote several lengthy letters to Lord in response. In 1912 he had been bandleader on the Laconia and he recalled how popular Songe d’automne had been that year. In his own opinion the mournful opening of this number could have been mistaken for a hymn tune and the jerky part, for ragtime. After Titanic sank there had been general agreement amongst the musicians Valance knew that Bride had been referring to Songe d’automne, Dream of Autumn, by Archibald Joyce.

Period sheet music cover for Songe d'automne

By special request this post will provide my readers with a concise overview of my thoughts on Titanic's last number, with links to the blog entries that offer more detail (the links appear in orange type). To take it one step further than Valance’s idea that Songe d’automne could be mistaken for a hymn, my theory compares its melody and rhythm to Nearer, My God, To Thee, with surprising results.

I began with the same questions Lord and other historians have asked:
What did Bride mean by 'Autumn?'
Which version of Nearer, My God, To Thee was heard?
Why did some survivors from lifeboats hear Nearer, My God, To Thee as Titanic’s final number and survivors who went down with the ship not hear it too?

For a background on the work of Walter Lord and other historians:
Titanic’s final number: A century of debate

To explain how survivors in lifeboats heard music from the ship:
As evidence shows that the musicians performed inside the ship to the end, was it possible for survivors in lifeboats to hear anything from across the water? If so, how clearly? My theory does account for survivors hearing faint and fragmentary strains of music. However, complete melodies would not have been heard from across the water.
Titanic’s final number: Grand Acoustics
Titanic’s final number: Cello penetrates other sounds

On the accuracy of survivor accounts in the press:
It is possible that reporters attributed to survivors untrue or exaggerated statements regarding the bravery of the band as they played the hymn. It is also possible that survivors got caught up in the emotion of the aftermath of the tragedy and made up that they had heard the hymn. Or, possible that their memories began to recall that they had heard the hymn even though they had not.
Titanic and the Science of Memory
Titanic’s final number: Logistics, proximity and a good ear
Titanic’s final number: Paddy Dillon's Testimony

On Nearer, My God, To Thee:
There were two survivors who initially identified the hymn by name to a reporter, Carlos Hurd. He collected accounts on Carpathia, the ship that carried Titanic’s survivors back to New York.
Carpathia accounts: Nearer, My God, To Thee
Carlos Hurd: Nearer, My God, To Thee
Titanic: Who heard Nearer, My God, To Thee?

Focus on Nearer, My God, To Thee in the press:
But once the information was printed in the press it gained wide acceptance. This could have been because survivors and the public at large needed something positive to cling to.
Press Reports: Nearer, My God, To Thee
Titanic’s final number: The healing power of music

On survivors who remained on the ship to the last:
Over time the hymn gained the support of moviemakers and became the public favorite to represent Titanic's final number. But historians must take into account the statements of survivors who remained on board the ship to the end, who heard the music of the band up close. These survivors did not hear Nearer, My God, To Thee just before Titanic sank, but ‘Autumn,’ a waltz, or music of the band which was not identified other than to confirm it was not a hymn.
Harold Bride New York Times: ‘Autumn’
Barkworth: Titanic’s last waltz
Gracie: The truth about Titanic's last number

Three Note Theory:
Both Nearer, My God, To Thee and Songe d’automne were heard moments before Titanic sank, but there could not have been two final numbers. My theory uses music – notes and rhythms – to show that both pieces begin with identical melodies. My theory proposes that both groups of survivors – in lifeboats and on board – heard the same number, but interpreted it differently.
Titanic’s final number: Three Note Theory
Carlos Hurd: Nearer, My God, To Thee


Secondary Theory: Hartley Solo Theory
Several years ago when I began to research music for my Titanic piano books I was curious about the questions surrounding Titanic’s final number. I included both Songe d’automne and Nearer, My God, To Thee in my arrangements. But with the captions for the hymn I was careful to say only that survivors from lifeboats had claimed they had heard it. That much is true.

I went through a spell when I believed that Songe d’automne must have been the final number played by the complete band and that Wallace Hartley had then played Nearer, My God, To Thee as a solo after the musicians disbanded. Even after I had changed my mind, I still thought this theory might be interesting to consider, so I included it in my blog. I added several posts to explain why I had changed my mind:

On the circumstances Titanic’s band could have played Nearer, My God, To Thee:
Movies have depicted Titanic's band picking up their instruments and playing the hymn by ear or by improvisation. In 1912 classically trained musicians were not taught the art of improvisation, which makes it unlikely they could have played together as an ensemble without sheets. If Hartley had the melody memorized it would have been possible for him to play a solo.
Sheets, hymnbook or by heart? – Nearer, My God, To Thee
Titanic’s final number: Hartley Solo Theory

Is there evidence against the hymn?
There is a violin that may have been Wallace Hartley's instrument on Titanic. If he had taken the time to pack it in his instrument case it is unlikely he would also have had the time to play a solo of the hymn. Also, the only man to claim to have heard a violin solo of the hymn may not have given the most accurate account.
Titanic’s final number: Hartley’s violin
Titanic’s final number: Paddy Dillon's Testimony

Additional words on Titanic's final number:
By survivor accounts alone, it would seem as though there is much more anecdotal evidence to support Nearer, My God, To Thee. However, this cannot be a numbers game. Statistically there were more survivors in lifeboats than stayed on the ship to the end. So to have even one witness from the ship who heard the band’s final piece, identified it by name and then survived, is actually quite a valuable piece of evidence.

How appropriate would Nearer, My God, To Thee have been as a final number?

A romantic illustration of
Titanic's last moments

According to one survivor, Colonel Archibald Gracie (a stout Christian), the hymn would have been a tactless warning of immediate death and would have caused a panic. While the idea of the hymn gave comfort to those in lifeboats, to the public, and is dramatically poignant in a movie scene, to those who were in a state of high alert on board the sinking ship trying to save themselves, the hymn would have sounded like a foregone conclusion of death. As the passengers did not want to give in to death so easily, the hymn would not have been well received on board.

How appropriate was Songe d’automne as the final number?
Survivor accounts indicate that the band played for as long as they possibly could. At the British Inquiry survivor Steward Brown was asked how long he had heard the band play. Brown replied, "I do not remember hearing them stop." Logistically the band did not keep playing until water engulfed them, but his words testify that the band did play as long as was humanly possible. Had Titanic lasted longer, they may have played 'Autumn' and then kept going with more numbers.

It is possible the band didn’t know that Songe d'automne was their final number. Therefore, it is moot to ask how appropriate it was as Titanic's musical postlude. That being said, it certainly does have a tragic quality, infused by the minor key signature and rather sombre introduction. Songe d'automne was simply a popular number played by Titanic's dedicated band, which they began to play at around the time the last lifeboat was lowered, and continued to play until it became logistically impossible. While all others on board were fighting a grim destiny, Titanic's band played and played on.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Titanic: Who heard Nearer, My God, To Thee?

In search of two ladies

Survivors in Titanic’s lifeboats would not have heard music from the ship well, not well enough to recognize complete phrases of any tune. Yet, news spread that survivors had heard Nearer, My God, To Thee.

Colonel Archibald Gracie, who was adamant that the band had not played the hymn, said, “I know of only two survivors whose names are cited by the newspapers as authority for the statement that this hymn was one of those played.”

Carlos Hurd, the reporter who first broke the news of Nearer, My God, To Thee, said, “Several persons told of having heard this music from their boats, but, because of distracting noises, they could not be sure what the melody was. Two women, who professed familiarity with sacred music, said it was “Nearer, My God, To Thee.” The statement appeared in my report and gained general currency."

According to Gracie and Hurd the idea had originated with two survivors (assuming they spoke of the same two), specifically two women. The only question that remains is this: is it possible to narrow down which two survivors were the first to believe they had heard Nearer, My God, To Thee?

Survivor Caroline Bonnell did not make the claim that she had heard the music herself, but explained that those who had heard the band’s last number were in lifeboats close to Titanic. This is an interesting clue. She said, “…those that were in the lifeboats which were close to the vessel say that the orchestra played till the very last and that the men went down into the sea singing "Nearer My God to Thee."”

It is the opinion of the author that the band did not actually play Nearer, My God, To Thee, but another piece with an identical melody at the beginning, Songe d’automne, which was heard from a distance and mistaken for the hymn. It was a distinct musical similarity between the two pieces of music that led Titanic’s survivors to believe they had heard the hymn.

Titanic’s final number: Three Note Theory

In the attempt to narrow it to two women one must study the press reports, the passenger lists of the lifeboats that would have been relatively close to Titanic in her last moments on the ocean’s surface, as well as passenger profiles to determine which ones were musical.

Survivors who claimed to see the band kneeling, marching, or playing until the water was up to their knees are not here included; it is assumed by such accounts that these survivors were either misquoted by the press or that they were caught up in the emotion of the event and stretched their imaginations to paint the band's last moments.

Candidates for the two survivors:

Mrs. Vera (A. A.) Dick, Boat 3 Starboard, lowered at 1:00am
April 19, 1912, New York Herald:
"As the steamship went down the band was up forward and we could faintly hear the start of 'Nearer My God to Thee.'"

This is the most interesting account from any of Titanic's lifeboat survivors. Dick alluded to the timing of the performance of the hymn, saying it was played as the ship went down. Some have interpreted this to mean that the band played as the ship slipped beneath the waves, engulfing the musicians in water, but it has already been discussed in one post that it would have been logistically impossible for the band to continue playing with the deck at such an extreme angle. Dick's words could instead refer to the period of time when Titanic's bow settled into the waves, when the deck had a slight forward angle but was solid enough to provide steady footing for the bandsmen.

The location of the band was pinpointed, "up forward." The First Class Entrance Hall at the Boat Deck level of the forward Grand Staircase was one of the quintet's regular performance venues. It was located just aft of the bridge, forward on the inside of the ship, where the band had access to a performance piano. In this detail Dick's account concurs with accounts of those survivors who remained on board the ship, who also suggested the band performed in a forward location until the end.

Dick admitted the music was heard "faintly." From lifeboat 3, gazing at the ship across Atlantic waters, her account is much more believable than those in lifeboats who claimed that they had heard Nearer My God to Thee clearly. The idea that the music was heard faintly also supports the theory that the band continued to perform inside the ship with their pianist.

It is interesting that Dick specified that they had heard the "start" of the hymn. That, together with the admission that the music was heard "faintly," leads one to believe that she truly did hear strains of music from the band's final performance. From a distance the opening phrase of Songe d'automne sounded like the "start" of Nearer, My God, To Thee. As Dick was Canadian, she was likely unfamiliar with Songe d'automne, a popular number in British dance halls. When she heard the phrase of music her mind turned instead to the hymn, which was familiar to her.

It is the opinion of this author that if there were only two ladies who identified the band's final number to reporter Carlos Hurd, that Vera Dick was one of them. Other survivors had also heard the music, but "...because of distracting noises, they could not be sure what the melody was..." (Hurd). A melody faintly heard through distracting noises would have been difficult to identify. The fact that survivors were uncertain from the beginning is a testament that none of the music was heard clearly. It was the hymn Dick thought she heard and identified by name to Hurd.

May Futrelle, Collapsible Boat D, lowered at 2:05am
Date unspecified, written in the United States:
“She sank to the requiem of “Nearer My God to Thee” played by the band.”

Though Futrelle was in one of the last lifeboats to leave the ship, and therefore would have been one of the closest, it would have been unlikely that she heard the phrase of music identified as Nearer, My God, To Thee. The band likely played the introduction to Songe d’automne right around the time her lifeboat was lowered. The music may have been audible but with all the activity, indistinct.

It is important to differentiate between survivors who gave accounts directly after the disaster with qualifying terms like "faint" and "start" and other accounts written after Nearer, My God, To Thee had already become popular legend as the band's last number.  In her exact wording Futrelle stated that the band played the hymn as though it was common knowledge and did not make the claim that she, herself, had heard it. She is not likely one of the two who reported the hymn information to Hurd.

Charlotte Collyer, Boat 14 Port, lowered at 1:30am
April 21, 1912, letter to her mother:
“When the band played Nearer, My God, To Thee I know he [husband Harvey Collyer, lost] thought of you and me, for we both loved that Hymn….”

Date unspecified, account written shortly after the disaster:
“We had gone perhaps half a mile when the officer ordered the men to cease rowing…. No sound reached us except the music of the band, which I seemed, strange to say, to be aware of for the first time. Oh, those brave musicians! How wonderful they were! They were playing lively tunes, ragtime, and they kept it up to the very end. Only the engulfing ocean had power to drown them into silence…. The band was playing “Nearer My God to Thee”; I could hear it distinctly. The end was very close.”

At half a mile from the ship and sitting without rowing, it is possible that Collyer heard strains from the band that reminded her of Nearer, My God, To Thee. She noted that the music was played when the end was close – there would have been a time lapse between the phrase that sounded like the hymn and the final plunge. However, as her account is overly sentimental, and it was given at a very intense time after news of the hymn had already hit the press, it is possible that her memory was influenced by, and possibly overwritten and altered with, the added information of the hymn.


This article is a stub and an ongoing effort. Readers are invited to add information on lifeboats (which ones remained close to Titanic), on passengers (which people in those lifeboats had a musical ear or knowledge of hymns), and any press reports not here included.

Related Posts
Titanic's final number: Cello penetrates other sounds
Titanic’s final number: Grand Acoustics
Titanic’s final number: The healing power of music

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Gracie: The truth about Titanic's last number

Survivors from the Water Part II

The story of Titanic’s band playing Nearer, My God, To Thee had several vocal detractors amongst the survivors, none as adamant as Colonel Archibald Gracie. He wrote a book (published posthumously) about Titanic’s maiden voyage and sinking. In Chapter II, Struck by an Iceberg, he set out his thoughts on the matter.

Archibald Gracie, Titanic survivor. 1913. The Truth About the TITANIC:
“If, as it has been reported, ‘Nearer, My God, To Thee’ was one of the selections, I assuredly should have noticed it and regarded it as a tactless warning of immediate death to us and one likely to create a panic that our special efforts were directed towards avoiding, and which we accomplished to the fullest extent. I know of only two survivors whose names are cited by the newspapers as authority for the statement that this hymn was one of those played. On the other hand, all whom I have questioned or corresponded with, including the best qualified, testified emphatically to the contrary.”

According to Walter Lord, Titanic survivors Peter Denis Daly and Richard Norris (Dick) Williams II were two who agreed with Gracie about the hymn. Both were First Class passengers and would have been in the same First Class area of the ship where the band’s music was heard.

It is certain that Daly and Williams were on the ship to the last and were close enough to have heard whether the band played the hymn or not. The band was playing at the top of the Grand Staircase, at the Boat Deck level near the forward part of the ship, and the men who were working to launch the collapsible boats were within earshot, at the forward corner of the Boat Deck or on top of the officers' quarters. Even if they were busy with the task of survival, strains of the band’s music would have been audible.

Both Daly and Williams were saved on Collapsible A, the last boat away from Starboard. It was swamped with water as Titanic’s Boat Deck became flooded, cast off so late that the men ran out of time to raise the “collapsible” sides.

It is known that Gracie was on board Titanic in the First Class area until the end; in fact he held on to a rail as the ship sank and was pulled deep under the water before he let go and swam back to the surface. In his last speaking engagement before he passed away, Gracie reiterated his stance on Nearer, My God, To Thee at the University Club in Washington DC.

Archibald Gracie, Titanic survivor. November 23, 1912. University Club, Washington DC:
“If the band had played that familiar hymn, panic would have resulted. Fixing in the minds of the passengers on the possibility of their being nearer to God, and I say it seriously, would have been the last thing they wanted.”

Related Posts
Titanic’s Final Number: Logistics, proximity and a good ear
Barkworth: Titanic's last waltz

Peter Denis Daly

Richard Norris (Dick) Williams II

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Barkworth: Titanic’s last waltz

Survivors from the Water Part I

The survivors who watched Titanic sink from their lifeboats were the ones who claimed that they had heard Nearer, My God, To Thee from across the water. There are many questions that surround Titanic’s final number. This one stands out: Did survivors who stayed on the ship to the end, who went down with her, also hear the hymn?

Walter Lord, Titanic historian, interviewed survivor Spencer Silverthorne on July 14, 1955.
“Rowing away, he was struck by the fantastically clear night. So sharp and clear that it affected not only sight, but hearing. The music from the band drifted clearly across the water. [He did not] know what they were playing, but [at least at that early stage in the sinking, near 1:00AM] it certainly wasn’t “Nearer My God to Thee.”

Silverthorne was lowered in a lifeboat at around 1:00am, more than an hour before Titanic sank. The fact that he didn’t hear the hymn at that time in the sinking is interesting but does not help solve the question of Titanic’s final number. This series of posts is going to focus on survivors who remained on the ship to the last, who insisted they did not hear Nearer, My God, To Thee.

Barkworth's Accounts of the Band
 A. H. (Algernon) Barkworth, Titanic survivor. April 26, 1912, Evening Banner (reprinted from April 25, 1912 New York Sun)
“I have read several accounts of how the band played while the ship went down 'Nearer My God to Thee'. I do not wish to detract from the bravery of anybody, but I might mention that when I first came on deck the band was playing a waltz. The next time I passed where the band had been stationed, the members of it had thrown down their instruments and were not to be seen. But I shall never forget the fierce jarring notes of that waltz they played.”

It has been suggested that Barkworth was here referring to a trip to his cabin earlier in the sinking, and that the bandsmen had simply set down their instruments for a break and then returned to resume their performance. While this is possible, it seems as though Barkworth was making a special effort to explain that he did not feel the band went down playing Nearer, My God, To Thee. As he was on the ship to the end, he felt he was qualified to say he had not heard the hymn.

In the same vein that Silverthorne knew he had not heard Nearer, My God, To Thee when he left the ship, Barkworth knew he also had not heard the hymn before he jumped. Neither one described their last moments on Titanic in terms of timing by the clock. Walter Lord added that Silverthorne had left in the lifeboat at about 1:00am. Both recalled hearing the band's music in direct association with what they were doing. Their actions measured the time. Barkworth measured his last moments on Titanic, and the band's last number, by his final trip to his cabin.

A. H. (Algernon) Barkworth, Titanic survivor. May 18, 1912, interviewed in England.
"Questioned as to the band on the Titanic playing up to the last minutes after the boats had been lowered away, Mr. Barkworth said: 'I returned to my cabin to try and get some things but found the door locked. The band at that time was playing a waltz tune; but when I returned from the cabin, their instruments were thrown down. This was some little time before I left the ship; whether the band commenced to play again I cannot say, for they were on the opposite side of the ship to that I climbed over. They might have returned to their instruments.'”

First Class Cabin A23
Barkworth had been berthed in First Class cabin A23 on A Deck forward, which would have stayed above water until very late in the sinking, so it is conceivable that he would have still been able to go to his cabin door even within fifteen minutes of the final plunge, and possible that his last visit coincided with the band’s final number.

To retrace his steps that night, he would have been outside on the Boat Deck or on the A Deck Promenade and gone inside the First Class Entrance. This was the Grand Staircase, which had entrances from both levels. Once inside he heard the music at full volume, for it was here on the Port side of the Boat Deck, at the top of the Grand Staircase where the band played. Barkworth’s cabin was on A Deck, one deck lower than the band, but the music would have carried down the staircase and he would have heard it quite clearly.

At this point the water was rising up the stairwell level by level, and would have been visible to the bandsmen had they but looked over the rail, for the stairs were designed to have an open view down through the ship. The rising water would have indicated to the bandsmen how much time they had.

Barkworth found his cabin door locked and ran back up the stairs to the Boat Deck level of the Grand Staircase before returning to the outer deck. This is known because he described seeing the abandoned instruments. He jumped from the ship on the Starboard side, and after she had sunk, swam across to Collapsible B (Port side), which was upside down.

A letter he dictated to a friend suggests he had returned to his cabin twice, the first time shortly after midnight to put on his lifebelt, which was during the time that the steam was escaping.

A. H. (Algernon) Barkworth, Titanic survivor. Dictated to Mrs. Francis.
"The forecastle made a heavy list to the starboard. I was there found by several friends and we went up to the boat deck and heard the order given to put on our life belts. We returned to our cabins and put them on and went up again on deck. Again, I noticed that the band was playing a waltz tune. Soon afterwards we went to see the boats lowered. The escaping steam making a deafening sound, women and children were put into the boats first."

Barkworth's Waltz
Both times Barkworth passed the band on his way to his cabin he heard them playing a waltz. As there were many waltzes in the White Star Line Songbook it is most likely he heard two different numbers. The interesting point to take from his accounts is that he felt the band’s last number was not a hymn, but a waltz. He also described the music as having “fierce, jarring notes.”

Marconi operator Harold Bride had heard the same band playing only moments before Titanic sank. He identified the number he heard as ‘Autumn.’ Barkworth identified the music he heard as a ‘waltz.’ It is possible that Bride’s ‘Autumn’ and Barkworth’s waltz are one in the same number. Songe d’automne is a waltz.

But could this number fit the description of "fierce" or "jarring?"

Songe d'automne is written in Rondo Form, and with the introduction the music sections are thus: Intro, ABACA. The Introduction is the slow section which begins with notes identical to Nearer, My God, To Thee. The A sections have the main, slow C minor melancholic theme. These A sections alternate with the contrasting lively sections B and C.

Listen to this recording of Songe d’automne. At 1:47 you will hear the lively B section, and at 3:00, the C section which has angular, wide leaps. To someone who was concerned with survival, the themes in B and C might have had a jarring or fierce effect.

If Barkworth heard the C section on his way to his cabin, it is possible that while he was there the band abruptly ended their performance before they reached the end of the printed music. It is possible that, in the middle of the music, they had suddenly "thrown down their instruments."

Related Posts
Van Anda New York Times: ‘Autumn’
Titanic’s Final Number: Three Note Theory
Titanic’s Final Number: Hartley's Violin
Titanic’s Final Number: Logistics, proximity and a good ear

Spencer Silverthorne: A Tale Retold, 1955 Walter Lord interview
Barkworth account Evening Banner/New York Sun
Barkworth Letter dictated to Mrs. Francis

Friday, 9 March 2012

Titanic Press: Nearer, My God, To Thee

Once the press got hold of the information that Titanic's band had perished in the service of comforting passengers by playing Nearer, My God, To Thee, the story was given extensive coverage.

The story was first reported by Carlos Hurd in the Evening World on the evening of April 18, 1912. Although passengers generally did not mention the hymn in letters they had written to loved ones while on board Carpathia, many found ways of including mention of the hymn in their accounts to the press, even when they had not personally heard the music.

Caroline Bonnell, Titanic survivor. April 19, 1912, Christian Science Monitor:
“And those that were in the lifeboats which were close to the vessel say that the orchestra played till the very last and that the men went down into the sea singing "Nearer My God to Thee."”

“Quartermaster Moody.” April 19, 1912, The Evening World:
“The band had broken out the strains of “Nearer, My God, To Thee” some minutes before Murdock lifted the revolver to his head, fired and toppled over on his face. Moody saw all this in a vision that filled his brain, while his ears drank in the tragic strain of the beautiful hymn that the band played as their own dirge, even to the moment when the waters sucked them down.”
Note: There was no quartermaster by the name of Moody on board Titanic.

Mrs. A. A. Dick, Titanic survivor. April 19, 1912, The Evening World Page 3:
"Mr. and Mrs. A. A. Dick of Calgary, Canada, first cabin passengers, left in the second boat. Said Mrs. Dick:
It seemed the people were so stunned and dased [sic] that the first few boats were filled indifferently. As we got into the boat and it was guided away, the band was playing ‘Nearer My God to Thee’ and the lights were burning brightly. We drifted around in the boat, it seemed, about four hours until dawn."

Mrs. A. A. Dick, Titanic survivor. April 19, 1912, New York Herald:
"We heard several rounds of shots echoing across the water and learned afterward that many men were shot down as the last boat put away. There were three men shot in the steerage by the second or third officer, we understand. As the steamship went down the band was up forward and we could faintly hear the start of 'Nearer My God to Thee.'

Ada Clarke, Titanic survivor. April 20, Cleveland Plain Dealer:
"Oh, they were brave and splendid, all the men. They died like brave men. At the last, all the men were kneeling and there floated out across the water the strains of ‘Nearer, My God, to Thee.’ I could hear it and saw the band men kneeling, too."

Caroline Brown, Titanic survivor. April 20, 1912, Worchester Evening Gazette:
“The band played marching from deck to deck, and as the ship went under I could still hear the music. The musicians were up to their knees in water the last I saw them.”

Carlos Hurd, Carpathia passenger. April 19, 1912:
"As the screams in the water multiplied, another sound was heard, strong and clear at first, then fainter in the distance. It was the melody of the hymn, ‘Nearer, My God, To Thee,’ played by the string orchestra in the dining saloon. Some of those on the water started to sing the words but grew silent as they realized that for the men who played, the music was a sacrament soon to be consumed by death. The serene strains of the hymn and the frantic cries of the dying blended in a symphony of sorrow."

Thomas Patrick "Paddy" Dillon, Titanic survivor. April 28, 1912, Plymouth, England:
"There was one musician left. He was the violinist and was playing the air of the hymn 'Nearer, My God, To Thee.' The notes of this music were the last thing I heard before I went off the poop and felt myself going headlong into the icy water with the engines and machinery buzzing in my ears."

Reporter. Date unknown, 1912, London Daily Mirror:
"In the whole history of the sea, there is little equal to the wonderful behaviour of these humble players. In the last moments of the great ship's doom, when all was plainly lost, when braver and hardier men might almost have been excused for doing practically anything to save themselves, they stood responsive to their conductor's baton and played a recessional tune."

It is difficult to ascertain by these accounts which ones are accurate. Bonnell said only that the band played to the end and that the men were singing Nearer, My God, To Thee (which does not specifically say the band was playing the hymn).

Mrs. A. A. Dick's accounts actually conflicted. In one account it was said she heard the hymn as the second lifeboat was lowered away (early in the sinking), and in the other that it was faintly heard as the ship went down (at the end).

Clarke saw the bandsmen kneeling as they played the hymn while Brown saw them marching from deck to deck. Dillon painted a picture of a solo violinist, while a Daily Mirror reporter painted the opposite picture of a band playing under a conductor's baton (there was no conductor on Titanic).

Is this a matter of confused memories? Creative reporters? The vast variances in these accounts would seem to cast doubt on them all.


Related Posts
Carlos Hurd: Nearer, My God, To Thee
Titanic's Final Number: False testimony?
Carpathia Accounts: Nearer, My God, To Thee

Caroline Bonnell account
Quartermaster Moody account
Mrs. A. A. Dick account (World)
Mrs. A. A. Dick account (Herald)
Ada Clarke account
Caroline Brown account
Carlos Hurd account

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Carpathia accounts: Nearer, My God, To Thee

The Carpathia arrived at the scene of Titanic’s sinking in the early morning hours of April 15 and boarded survivors from Titanic’s lifeboats, which slowly gathered to her side.

The survivors were alive but coping with the trauma of the event they had just witnessed. They were chilled or had frostbite. Some collapsed from exhaustion and stress. The gravity of the loss slowly descended upon them and yet there was still the hope that others had survived and would be found by another steamer. It took a whole day for survivors to pick up their pens and write letters to loved ones in an attempt to describe their experiences.

The purpose of this post was to compile first-person accounts of Titanic survivors who mentioned that the band had played Nearer, My God, To Thee as the final number the night Titanic sank, with a focus on the earliest recorded memories written on board Carpathia. The best source for survivor accounts written on Carpathia is George Behe’s book On Board RMS Titanic, Memories of the Maiden Voyage.

It was on April 16 that the first written accounts appeared, personal letters written by survivors to loved ones. I searched the accounts as printed in Behe’s book for mention of the hymn, but most mention only that music was heard and that the band played to the last.

Alice Leader. April 16, 1912, on board Carpathia:
“I shall never forget the sight of that beautiful boat as she went down, the orchestra playing to the last, the lights burning until they were extinguished by the waves.”

Edwina Troutt. April 16, 1912, on board Carpathia:
“The band was playing until the last.”

Emma Schabert. April 18, 1912, on board Carpathia:
“As we went down to our life boats the orchestra was playing in the drawing room. The men who played knew they must sink any minute. That was real heroism.”

William Sloper. April 18, 1912, on board Carpathia:
“Some of the rescued people who were the last to leave the ship told me that when they left the orchestra was playing in the “Lounge,” and that it was brave but ghastly to hear them.”

Laura Cribb. April 18, 1912, on board Carpathia:
“We were so fascinated by the sights on the Titanic, however, that we could not keep our eyes off her until the last lights went out and the final notes of the band were drowned in the hiss and roar that came with the final plunge of the great ship as she sank bow first.”

Marie Young, Titanic survivor. April 18, 1912, on board Carpathia:
“Her wireless call rent the sky, rockets blazed, illuminating the huge iceberg on the starboard side, and her cannon boomed again and again for succour. The incredible sound of music reached us, and with disappearing lights, the roar of explosions and the wail of 1600 agonizing souls, was mingled the heroic music played by what trembling hands God only knows.”

Only one letter written on the Carpathia mentioned Nearer, My God, To Thee by name, and it was written by Second Class passenger Kate Buss. Interestingly, she, herself, had not heard the hymn. She wrote that it was being said that the hymn had been heard.

Kate Buss. April 16, 1912, on board Carpathia:
“Everything has gone, every single thing but my life.
“The musicians were such nice men. I asked one night for a ‘cello solo, and got it at once. Mr. N[orman] told me on Sunday night that the last thing they played was at his request, and I hear that they were playing “Nearer My God to Thee.”

Buss penned these words on April 16, one day after the event. It is known that Carlos Hurd, a reporter who was a passenger on board Carpathia through all this, was mingling with survivors collecting first-person accounts. By Buss’s letter it can be surmised that she overheard (or took part in) a conversation between Hurd and several passengers in which the hymn was discussed.

However, in her letter Buss confused the final number from the band’s regular evening performance (the unknown, unnamed piece Norman requested) with the final number the band played before the ship sank (said to have been the hymn). How is this certain? Norman and Buss had parted ways when she entered the lifeboat and he remained on the ship. They would never have had the chance to speak about Titanic's last number from the April 15th performance. She lived, he perished.

It is quite surprising that more evidence in favor of the hymn did not surface from letters written on Carpathia. One wonders how extensively the hymn was discussed between survivors en route to New York. There is something strange about the discrepancy between the first writings and the later press reports; the lack of evidence from the earliest recorded memories and the frequent mention in the later press coverage which emerged after Carlos Hurd's first newspaper report of the hymn on April 18, 1912.

If the band truly had played Nearer, My God, To Thee and the music had had an impact on the listeners in lifeboats, wouldn't the hymn have surfaced in more writings on Carpathia?

If any readers have additional letters written on Carpathia which mention the band, the music or even Nearer, My God, To Thee specifically, you are invited to share.

Related Posts
Titanic’s final number: Three Note Theory
Sunday Night Part II How accurate are passenger accounts?
Titanic and the Science of Memory
Carlos Hurd: Nearer, My God, To Thee

Monday, 5 March 2012

Harold Bride New York Times: 'Autumn'

The last lifeboat had been lowered, the captain had released the Marconi operators of duty, and Jack Phillips, Titanic’s senior wireless operator, continued to send messages for the next ten to fifteen minutes. Junior operator, Harold Bride, watched him standing over the key, unable to leave his post. Water began to flood the Marconi room. When the operators finally abandoned their post Bride watched Phillips run aft in an attempt to save himself. At that moment he heard the band playing 'Autumn'.

When Carpathia docked in New York at the Cunard Pier with Titanic’s survivors on Thursday, April 18, 1912, New York Times' managing editor Carr Van Anda, by stroke of luck or genius, found his way on board. With Mr. Marconi he visited the Marconi room and interviewed Titanic’s surviving wireless operator, Harold Bride. The interview was published the next day, and was reprinted by public demand on April 28.

In the printed interview, which seemed to be a verbatim retelling of his oral account, Bride first described his time on board Carpathia.
“When I was dragged aboard the Carpathia I went to the hospital at first. I stayed there for ten hours. Then somebody brought word that the Carpathia’s wireless operator was “getting queer” from the work. They asked me if I could go up and help. I could not walk. Both my feet were broken or something, I don’t know what. I went up on crutches with somebody helping me. I took the key, and I never left the wireless cabin after that.” (Van Anda)

When Bride’s story turned to the Titanic he explained that the wireless had broken down on Sunday, April 14, early enough in the day for Phillips to fix it. Bride was asleep when Titanic struck ice and felt no jolt. When Captain E. J. Smith stuck his head in the door of the wireless room and informed them that the ship had struck ice it was the first they were aware of the problem. Phillips, Bride and Captain Smith shared a laugh when the first C. Q. D. and S. O. S. messages were sent.

Although his story was not told completely in chronological order, it is interesting to note that his first mention of the band came after the Captain had released Bride and Phillips of duty, saying it was “Every man for himself.”

“From aft came the tunes of the band. It was a rag-time tune, I don’t know what. Then there was 'Autumn.' Phillips ran aft, and that was the last I ever saw of him alive.” (Van Anda)

Bride was washed off the bow holding on to an upturned collapsible lifeboat that was never properly launched.
“I had only one thing on my mind – to get away from the suction. The band was still playing. I guess all of the band went down. They were playing 'Autumn' then.” (Van Anda)

Bride described the harrowing night balancing on the upside-down lifeboat with a number of men, and then his dedicated work on Carpathia sending wireless messages of grief to family and friends. In conclusion his thoughts returned to the two things that stood out most to him about the night Titanic sank.
“The way the band kept playing was a noble thing. I heard it first while still we were working wireless, when there was a ragtime tune for us, and the last I saw of the band, when I was floating out in the sea with my lifebelt on, it was still on deck playing 'Autumn.' How they ever did it I cannot imagine. That and the way Phillips kept sending after the Captain told him his life was his own, and to look out for himself, are two things that stand out in my mind over all the rest.” (Van Anda)

To analyze Bride's memories of the band's music, it would seem as though the operators worked in isolation for most of the sinking, with only occasional visits from the Captain to update them on the situation for the purpose of sending accurate messages. The band was performing at the top of the Grand Staircase, aft, just a turn or two down the corridor of the officers' command rooms, and beyond one closed door which separated the staircase where passengers traversed and the area where officers worked. With the doors to the staircase and the Marconi room closed the operators would not have heard the band's music.

However, near the end it is likely that the doors were left open, the decorum relaxing as the state of the situation worsened. Bride's exact wording was, "I heard it first while still we were working wireless..." which suggests it was after they had been released. It was an upbeat number that he couldn't name.
“From aft came the tunes of the band. It was a rag-time tune, I don’t know what." (Van Anda)

Songe d’automne is about six minutes long if performed to the end. From Bride’s account we can gather that his memory of watching Phillips running aft was tied in with hearing Songe d’automne, perhaps the music near the beginning of the piece.
"Then there was 'Autumn.' Phillips ran aft, and that was the last I ever saw of him alive.” (Van Anda)

As he floated away from the ship he was still able to hear the band playing this number.
"... it was still on deck playing 'Autumn.' " (Van Anda)

According to Nader’s theory on the science of memory* it is the act of recalling and discussing memories that leaves them open to adaptation. Bride was separate from the other survivors for the duration of the voyage on Carpathia. It was unlikely he had discussed his memories with anyone until asked by Van Anda in the New York harbour. This point adds weight to the accuracy of his account.

Related Posts
*Titanic and the Science of Memory
Titanic's Final Number: Three Note Theory
Titanic's Final Number: Logistics, proximity and a good ear

Harold Bride’s account reprinted in full in the New York Times on April 28.
Harold Bride’s statement.