From the Library — A Night to Remember

Thurs­day and Fri­day in our series From the Library we bring you a selec­tion of music that would like­ly have been famil­iar to the well-to-do ladies and gen­tle­men of the Vic­to­ri­an and Edwar­dian eras, with a pro­gramme rang­ing from Vien­nese waltzes to pop­u­lar songs of the last years of the 19th cen­tu­ry and the first decade of the 20th: some from the orig­i­nal record­ings; most from mod­ern record­ings that recre­ate the atmos­phere of the times. From vis­its to the Ball, the dance-hall, the the­atre or the music hall, to soirées at home around the piano, these were indeed the nights of mem­o­ries. Some songs are quite poignant, like Give Me A Tick­et To Heav­en, which jux­ta­pos­es steam tech­nol­o­gy with sen­ti­men­tal­i­ty in a unique­ly Vic­to­ri­an way.

But the phrase “A Night to Remem­ber” recalls some­thing else too. On April 14, 1912, just over 97 years ago to the day, the RMS Titan­ic struck an ice­berg in the North Atlantic and sank the next day with the loss of over 1,500 lives, mak­ing it the worst peace­time sea­far­ing dis­as­ter in his­to­ry. There has been a great deal of dis­cus­sion — and even con­tro­ver­sy — about the last piece of music that the eight-mem­ber band played on that fate­ful night, when the musi­cians helped keep up the spir­its of pas­sen­gers and crew, con­tin­u­ing to play even after it became evi­dent that the ship was going to sink with ter­ri­ble loss of life, like­ly includ­ing their own.

The band leader, Wal­lace Hart­ley, an expe­ri­enced on-board musi­cian, had told friends that if he was ever play­ing on a ship that was going down, he would play the hymn Near­er My God To Thee. How­ev­er, oth­er reports sug­gest that it might have been the pop­u­lar song Songe d’Au­tomne – a sug­ges­tion that appears in Wal­ter Lord’s book A Night To Remem­ber (on which the excel­lent 1958 movie of the same name was based) as being the account of wire­less oper­a­tor Harold Bride.

The sub­ject is com­pli­cat­ed by the fact that none of the band mem­bers sur­vived, and with accounts of sur­vivors of the dis­as­ter there are chal­lenges con­cern­ing what hymn tunes would have been known to British and US crew-mem­bers and pas­sen­gers, and how they would have referred to them.

Thanks to a tip from my col­league Dia­man­da Gustafson, we are able to give you a flavour of the music that was played on the voy­age – and per­haps in those last min­utes when band played on hero­ical­ly to the end. Includ­ed in today’s pro­gramme are tracks from the album by Mary Jane New­man and the Southamp­ton Pier Play­ers, Music from the Titan­ic: 21 Authen­tic Songs from the Epic Jour­ney. New­man keeps her options open, includ­ing both Song of Autumn and Near­er My God To Thee (to the tune Bethany), not to men­tion Heav­en­ly Father, Strong to Save (“For those in per­il on the sea”) for good mea­sure, along with many of the oth­er tunes that are believed to have been played by Wal­lace Hart­ley and the band dur­ing the course of the voy­age.

It has been said that the sink­ing of the Titan­ic rep­re­sent­ed the end of an era. Per­haps so, but even more so it was the Great War that would do that a scant two years lat­er. The Britain that emerged from World War I in 1918 was bereft of a great many of its young men, par­tic­u­lar­ly those who pow­ered the infra­struc­ture of Vic­to­ri­an and Edwar­dian soci­ety — the ser­vant and work­ing class­es. The coun­try would nev­er be the same again: a whole world had passed away, nev­er to return.

You can read more about Wal­lace Hart­ley here, and about the Titan­ic band here.

From the Library is pro­duced by Radio Riel in con­junc­tion with the Cale­don Library in Sec­ond Life. Today’s pro­gramme was pro­duced by Elrik Mer­lin.

For more infor­ma­tion on the Cale­don Library, cur­rent exhibits and the work of Sec­ond Life ref­er­ence libraries in gen­er­al, please vis­it the Cale­don Library Web site, or one of their loca­tions in-world.

You can lis­ten to the pro­gramme now at http://music.radioriel.org — the ide­al URL to plug into your home par­cel media address in-world — or sim­ply vis­it any Cale­don Library branch in-world and press Play on your embed­ded music play­er. (If you want to lis­ten off-world, eg in Winamp or iTunes, and the above address does­n’t work for you, click here.)

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