Sinking of Titanic in Organ Music
After a recent organ concert which contained music by Sigfrid Karg-Elert, John Apple was talking with Stefan Engels, and he related a short story about the Titanic, “Nearer My God to Thee,” and a friend of Karg-Elert. I had not heard this, and so I thought a post would be an interesting project to share this with you. The story is that Karg-Elert had a close friend who played in the orchestra on board the ship. This was part of the motivation for the composition. Of course, the choice of tune and the very many different versions of the music written soon after the sinking was made to increase sales, but there was also the motive of remembering his friend.
Here is a brief version from the excellent Karg-Elert Newsletter, Issue 69, January 2012:
And among the human remains lying at that enormous depth was someone Karg-Elert knew well: Alfred Jochade. He was an oboist with whom Sigfrid had become friendly when he joined the town band of Markranstädt near Leipzig, when in his 20s. They had both left the town after a disagreement with the band’s directors, intending to emigrate to North America. While Sigfrid remained in Magdeburg, Jochade went to Kiel and was then hired as a member of the Titanic’s orchestra. No doubt he took part in that final performance on the Titanic’s deck of a hymn popularly supposed to have been ‘Nearer, my God, to Thee’. Researches since then indicate that the music played was actually that of the less familiar tune Autumn which, at one point, sets the words ‘Hold me up in mighty waters, keep my eyes on things above’. (The Titanic: End of a Dream – Wyn Craig Wade p210)
Read the entire issue:
Just for fun, here is a less-than-positive extract from the column, “Church and Organ Music,” by Harvey Grace in The Musical Times from July 1, 1918, entitled “Programme Music for the Organ.”
Of course, I offer restorations of both Karg-Elert’s and Bonnet’s compositions:
Also, I offer for free a restored online version of an article by Grace from The Musical Quarterly which comments on Karg-Elert.
Last, I’d like to share with you the tune that many believe was the tune that was played and heard as “Nearer My God to Thee.” Archibald Joyce’s “Songe d’Automne” was included in the White Star Line Songbook and was known by the musicians. Playing on deck with a steep angle would have meant that the musicians needed to rely on their memories, and Lowell Mason’s tune was just not well known by the musicians of the orchestra. Listen to “Songe d’Automne” on an Edison cylinder from 1912. This music was a perfect fit for a dance band aboard ship because it was a waltz (terribly popular then) and had no lyrics, so the listener could make of “Dream of Autumn” what they desired — including a familiar text of comfort, “Nearer, my God, to Thee.” Below is a modern rendition of it.
Somewhere along the line, it was suggested that the hymntune, Autumn, by François Hippolyte Barthélemon was what was played. Well, no. Visit hymnary.org and see if you think a group of musicians could play this from memory in the last minutes of their lives.