Autumn, heard the night of Titanic’s Sinking

There are conflicting reports among survivors regarding the last song the Band played as the Titanic was sinking. We know it was either “Autumn” or “Nearer My God to Thee.”

We will discuss the later song next time. Let’s take a look at “Autumn”. I’m familiar with this legend, but knew nothing about the song.


The belief that the song was “Autumn” comes from Harold Bride, the Titanic’s junior wireless operator. This is a brief part of his testimony: “From aft came the tunes of the band. It was a rag-time tune, I don’t know what. Then there was “Autumn”…The big wave carried the boat off. I had hold of an oarlock, and I went off with it…The ship was gradually turning on her nose—just like a duck does that goes down for a dive. I had only one thing on my mind—to get away from the suction. The band was still playing. I guess all the band went down. They were playing “Autumn” then…The way the band kept playing was a noble thing. I heard it 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 I cannot imagine.”

So what is this song “Autumn” that he referred to? We’re not sure! By that I mean it could have been two very different songs. Francois Barthelemon wrote a hymn tune titled “Autumn”. The commonly held belief is McBride was referring to “Songe d’Automne”.

Titanic Graves

The hymn, “Autumn” by Barthelemon is the version The Times assumed McBride was referring to at the time. However, this song was not very popular in British society at the time of the Titanic sinking. This tune was written in 1785. Barthelemon was a French born musician who was an associate of Franz Haydn. He wrote hymns, operas, and symphonies among other types of musical composition.

Song d’Automne” was a waltz written by Archibald Joyce in 1908, and this popular song is known to be in the White Star Line musical book. He was an English composer of popular music and known as the “English Waltz King”. This waltz was a hit in 1912 society and often referred to as “Autumn.” Many of the passengers that survived recounted hearing this song played a number of times throughout the voyage. Sometimes you’ll also find the piece referred to as “Dream of Autumn.”

The contemporary belief is that Harold McBride was referring to “Song d’Automne” but we’ll never know for sure. Based on the testimony of survivor, Algernon Barkworth, who also heard this song, the belief is upon the completion of this waltz, the band dispersed and moved to the safety of the stern, where they again resumed their playing.


Songs Heard on the Titanic

The White Star Line Songbook Had More than 150 Songs for the musicians to learn. The songs were mainly upbeat and consisted of ragtime and waltzes. Hymns would have been appropriate for Sunday services. The musicians were expected to know all of these songs by memory and play any of them upon request from a passenger.

Let Me Call You Sweetheart” is a very popular song. I have sung it numerous times while dancing with the residents. It was written by Leo Friedman and Beth Slater Whitson. The song was published in 1910.

An der schönen blauen Donau, Op. 314” (German for On the Beautiful Blue Danube) is better known as “The Blue Danube”. The waltz was written by Austrian composer, Johann Strauss II. Strauss composed the song in 1866. Strauss later made some changes. The words were added by Joseph Weyl, of the Vienna Men’s Choral Association’s poet at the time.

Alexander’s Ragtime Band” was written by Irving Berlin the year before in 1911. The song quickly became a hit.

Oh, You Beautiful Doll” was written by Seymore Brown and Nat D. Ayer in 1911. The 1911 composition is one of the first songs with a twelve bar opening.

Shine On, Harvest Moon” was written in the early-1900s by the vaudeville team Nora Bayes and Jack Norworth. The due debuted the song in the 1908 Ziegfeld Follies. This is just one of many Moon songs by the Tin Pan Alley composers.

Jeannie With the Light Brown Hair
Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair” was written by Stephen Foster and published in 1854. He wrote the parlor song with his wife in mind.

Londonderry Air” is a melody that originated in Ireland. The tune became popular around the world, and lyrics such as Danny Boy are set to the melody. The melody appeared in the 1855 book The Ancient Music of Ireland. The tune was contributed by Jane Ross, who heard the tune being played in the sreets and wrote it down. Other songs with this tune include Irish Love Song {words by Katherine Tynan Kinkson} in 1894, the hymn “I cannot tell” by William Young Fullerton, and “In Derry Vale.” Composer Dottie Rambo married the tune with her lyrics for “He Looked Beyond My Fault.”

To A Wild Rose” Was written by American composer Edward Alexander MacDowell. This short piece was very popular.

I Want A Girl (Just Like The Girl That Married Dear Old Dad)” was written by Harry Von Tilzer. He was considered one of the best Tin Pan Alley songwriters in the early 20th Century. Some of his other hits were “A Bird in a Gilded Cage”,”Wait ‘Til The Sun Shines Nellie”, “And The Green Grass Grew All Around”, and “The Ragtime Goblin Man”.

Come Josephine, In My Flying Machine” written in 1910 by Alfred Bryan and Fred Fischer.

The Man on the Flying Trapeze”, was a popular song from the early English music hall days. George Leybourne and Alfred Lee published the song in 1868.

Many of these songs can be found on Titanic compilation music CDs. How many of these songs do you know?

Heroes: The Titanic Band

“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.” -CHARLOTTE COLLYER, TITANIC SURVIVOR

We have all heard the stories of how the Titanic orchestra played until the ship went under. Still…little is known about these brave men.

A little bit about the band to start with. The band played for the First and Second Class passengers. The White Star Line provided a song book for the musicians. They were expected to memorize all of the songs and play for the passengers upon request. Third class passengers brought their own instruments and provided their own entertainment.

Who were these men?

Wallace Henry Hartley, Titanic’s bandleader, was born in Colne, Lancashire, England in 1878. He was introduced to music at an early age by his choirmaster father. He introduced the congregation of his church to the hymn “Nearer, My God, To Thee.” He worked for a bank for a short time before joining Huddersfield Philharmonic Orchestra. In 1903 he joined the Bridlington Municipal Orchestra and stayed there for six years. In 1909 he joined the Cunard Line and served on their liners RMS Lucania, RMS Lusitania and RMS Mauretania. During his stint with Cunard, the agency C.W. & F.N. Black, took over to supply musicians for the Cunard and White Star Lines. This bumped Harley and the other musicians up from crew to second class passengers. When he was assigned to lead the band on the new RMS Titanic, Hartley was hesitant to leave his new fiancée, Maria Robinson. He decided the opportunity and contacts was too great an opportunity to pass on. Hartley’s body was found two weeks after the sinking. He is buried in Colne, England and a huge memorial stands there in his honor. Wallace Hartley

Theodore Ronald Brailey was born in 1887 in Essex, England. He was the pianist on the ship. He served for the Royal Lancashire Fusiliers regiment from 1902-1907 in Barbados. In 1911 and early 1912 he played on the RMS Saxonia, and RMS Carpathia. He was 24 at his death and his body was never recovered.

French cellist, Roger Marie Bricoux, was born in 1891 in rue de Donzy, Cosne-sur-Loire, France. His father was a musician and the family moved to Monaco when he was a young boy. He learned music in the Italian Catholic Church and Paris Conservatory and won a prize at the Conservatory of Bologna for musical ability. He served with Theodore Brailey on the RMS Carpathia. He was the only French musician on the Titanic. His twenty year old body was never found. France did not declare him legally deceased until the year 2000.

John Law Hume, violinist, was born in Dumfries, Scotland in 1890. He was better known by his nickname, Jock. He had a good reputation as a musician and had previous been on at least five other ships. He died at the age of 21 and his body was recovered. He was buried in Fairview Lawn Cemetery, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. A memorial was erected for him in his hometown of Dumfries. He had no idea that his fiancée was pregnant with his child {a daughter} when he died. After the sinking his father was sent a bill from C.W. & F.N. Black for the uniform. He never paid the fine.

The Titanic Band

Georges Alexandre Krins was born in Paris, France in 1889 and was the Titanic’s violinist. In Belgium, he won first prizes and was held in high distinction as a violinist. After a number of other positions, he played at London’s Ritz Hotel for two years before joining the Titanic. He was the leader of the trio that played in the A la Carte restaurant. He was 23 years old when he died and his body was not recovered.

John Frederick Preston Clarke played the bass violin and viola. He was from Liverpool. He was 35 when he perished and his body was picked up and buried at Halifax Nova Scotia.

Percy Cornelius Taylor played the piano and cello on board ship. He was from London and his body was not found.
Titanic Musicians Memorial

John Wesley Woodward was born in England in 1879 and played the cello. He had been playing music on White Star Line ships since 1909 and was on Titanic’s sister ship, Olympic, when she collided in 1911 with the HMS Hawke. He was 32 years of age when he died.

Only the bodies of Wallace Hartley, John Law Hume and John Frederick Preston Clarke were recovered and identified. They were buried in the different cemeteries for Titanic victims. Wallace Hartley’s funeral was on the level of a State Funeral. Monuments have been erected and dedicated to several of these brave heroes.

More on songs played on the Titanic
More about Music on the Titanic

Christ Arose

Friday we discussed “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”. The good news is Jesus didn’t stay dead. On Easter Sunday one of the most common hymns you hear in a service is “Christ Arose.”

Christ appears to Mary Magdalena

The hymn was written by Robert Lowry, a pastor and musician. Lowry served churches in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. He was a graduate of Bucknell University, where he also served as a professor and received his doctorate.

While having his daily devotion at Easter time in 1862 the words to “Christ Arose” came to him. The hymn was inspired by Luke 24:6-8, specifically the part that says “He is not here, but is risen.” He immediately wrote out the words, and having an organ in his house, sat down and wrote the score. He said “My brain is sort of a spinning machine, for there is music running through it all the time.”

Jesus Christ Arose

“Christ Arose” was first published in 1875. The hymn shows the contrast between the moods of the death and resurrection, with a vigorous tempo used in the refrain to express that Christ was indeed risen.

Lowry’s songs often paint word pictures. He usually wrote the words and tunes at the same time. Others hymns include “Nothing But the Blood,” “I Need The Every Hour,” Marching to Zion,” and “Shall We Gather At the River”. Later in his life, after the death of William Bradbury, he became the editor of Biglow Publishing Company. His songbook, “Pure Gold”, sold more than one million copies.

Here Comes Peter Cottontail

As a child I learned to sing, Here Comes Peter Cottontail. So who is Peter Cottontail?

Thornton W. Burgess wrote a series of books using the name Peter Cottontail.

In 1957 Pricilla and Otto Friedrich wrote The Easter Bunny That Overslept. In 1971 an Easter television special was made based off of this novel. It was named, “Here Comes Peter Cottontail.”

When I Survey the Wondrous Cross

For Good Friday, I thought we would take a look at a song about Jesus death.

When I Survey the Wondrous Cross was inspired by Galatians 6:14: “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”

Isaac Watts, the author of the song, had been writing hymns since childhood. During two years of his childhood he wrote a hymn for every Sunday service. By the age of twelve, Watts had learned a number of languages including Latin, Greek and Hebrew.

After returning home from college, Isaac Watts felt a tug towards the ministry and wrote many songs. He preached his first sermon in 1698. A year later he became the assistant pastor of London’s Mark Lane Church. He became that church’s regular pastor in 1702.

The Crown of Thorns

Watts wrote When I Survey the Wondrous Cross in 1707. The inspiration came while he was preparing to serve communion to his congregation.

His brother, Enoch, encouraged him to publish his hymns, which he originally published in 1707. He sold the copyrights to his songs to the publisher, a Mr. Lawrence, for ten pounds. The hymnal, “Hymns and Spiritual Songs”, was an instant success and republished two years later.

When I Survey the Wondrous Cross was originally titled “Crucifixion to the World, by the Cross of Christ”.

Composer Lowell Mason married his tune “Hamburg” to the words in 1824. Mason originally arranged the tune from a Gregorian Chant he’d heard. The tune only consist of five notes and first appeared in 1825 in the “Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society Collections of Church Music.”

Christ on the Cross

Isaac Watts wrote over 600 hymns, including “O God, Our Help in Ages Past.” His songs have a strong and triumphant statement. He is known as the Father of English hymnody.

The fourth verse of “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” is often omitted today. Charles Wesley stated he wish he’d written this hymn over all of the ones he wrote. The theologian, Matthew Arnold, considered this hymn the “finest hymn in the English church.”

Easter Parade

With Easter closely approaching, I thought we’d take a look at some Easter songs.

The song, Easter Parade, was introduced in the 1933 musical, As Thousands Cheer. In the musical this song was sung by Marilyn Miller and Clifton Webb.

Irving Berlin wrote the song for the musical, As Thousands Cheer. The melody was written in 1917 under the title “Smile and Show Your Dimple.” At the time Berlin felt this set of lyrics did not work with the tune and filed it away. The song Easter Parade was included in two of Berlin’s other musicals, Holiday Inn with Bing Crosby and Easter Parade with Judy Garland and Fred Astaire.

The song was showcased in the 1976 special, The First Easter Rabbit.