The orchestra playing in First class

The orchestra of the Titanic was a group of musicians who played aboard the ship to entertain the first class passengers. They are known for playing throughout the ship's sinking.

There was also a string trio that catered to the super wealthy passengers who dined in the A La Carte Restaurant. They played in the corridor outside.

History[edit | edit source]

On Wednesday April 10th, 1912, the band would set up in the 1st-Class Reception Room on D-Deck at 11:30 am and play for boarding 1st-Class passengers. Each passenger was issued a White Star Line request booklet to request a song at any time. They would simply call out the number they would want to hear and the band would respond to the request. The White Star Line Songbook consisted of the following:

  • 01-15: Overtures (Italian and French)
  • 16-80: Selections from popular Operas and Operettas (Italian and French some English)
  • 81-99: Suites and Fantasias
  • National Anthems, Hymns, &c., of all Nations
  • 100-148: Waltzes
  • Josef Gung'l waltzes, Johann Strauss II waltzes & Emil Waldtufel waltzes
  • 149-156: Sacred Music
  • 157-279: Entr'actes and Intermezzos
  • 280-352: Ragtime, Cakewalks, Marche
  • Waldtufel Polkas r

eThe band's schedule on the Olympic might have been similar, the band could play past the scheduled times if desired:

  • 10:00am-11:00am = Aft 2nd-Class Entrance, C-Deck
  • 11:00am-12:00pm = 1st-Class Grand Staircase, Boat Deck
  • 4:00pm-5:00pm = 1st-Class Reception Room, D-Deck
  • 8:00pm-9:15pm = 1st-Class Reception Room, D-Deck
  • 9:15pm-10:15pm = Aft 2nd-Class Entrance, C-Deck
  • 10:15pm-11:00pm = 1st-Class Reception Room, D-Deck

The string trio, which played outside the Café Parisien and in the corridor leading to the Restaurant had a permanent location and a separate schedule with its own repertoire. Playing mostly French melodies to blend in with the French atmosphere of the A La Carte Restaurant, the atmosphere would have been refined enough for Titanic's highest paying passengers.

  • 11am-1pm for background music and Luncheon
  • 4pm-6pm for Afternoon Tea in the Restaurant Reception Room
  • 8pm-? After Dinner

It is quite possible the string trio could have played in the restaurant reception room as the disaster progressed.


During the day, the quintet played in both 2nd-Class and in 1st-Class venues such as the 1st-Class Dining saloon, The 2nd-Class Entrance on C-Deck, or the 1st-class D-Deck Reception Room. They would play Overtures during Afternoon Tea from 4:00 pm-5:00 pm in the 1st-Class Reception Room on D-Deck. In the evening, they performed in the Reception Room again and held a concert from 8:00 pm-9:15 pm. They would then return to 2nd-Class and perform until 10:15 pm thus returning to 1st-Class for an encore performance ending at 11:00 pm. On the morning of Monday, April 15th, 1912, they played Ragtime numbers first in the 1st-Class Lounge to keep people calm. Then they played around the Grand Piano on the Boat Deck level of the Grand Staircase before the request of the captain, they came out on the deck outside the 1st-Class Entrance on the port side and played waltzes, ragtime, popular songs, marches and hymns to avoid the panic rising. But no one listened to them, so they continued to play to "keep warm." Their final score is interpreted Nearer My God to thee though some say different. They all perished in the sinking.

After the Titanic hit an iceberg and began to sink, Wallace Hartley and his fellow band members started playing music to help keep the passengers calm as the crew loaded the lifeboats. Many of the survivors said that he and the band continued to play until the very end. None of the band members survived the sinking and the story of them playing to the end became a popular legend. One survivor who clambered aboard 'Collapsible A' claimed to have seen Hartley and his band standing just behind the first funnel, by the Grand Staircase. He went on to say that he saw three of them washed off while the other five held on to the railing on top the Grand Staircase's deckhouse, only to be dragged down with the bow, just before Hartley exclaimed, "Gentlemen, I bid you farewell!" A newspaper at the time reported "the part played by the orchestra on board the Titanic in her last dreadful moments will rank among the noblest in the annals of heroism at sea."

Though the final song played by the band is unknown, "Nearer, My God, to Thee" has gained popular acceptance. This song comes in three main versions (and five other alternate versions): the American version ("Bethany"; used in the 1943 film Titanic, the Jean Negulesco's 1953 film Titanic and James Cameron's 1997 Titanic.), the British version ("Horbury" version was played in Roy Ward Baker's 1958 movie about the sinking, A Night to Remember) and the British Methodist version ("Propior Deo"; currently not yet played in any Titanic movie to this date).

Sometime around 2:05-2:10 AM as the Titanic began its last plunge into the icy North Atlantic, the sounds of ragtime, familiar dance tunes and popular waltzes that had floated reassuringly across her decks suddenly stopped as Bandmaster Wallace Hartley tapped his bow against his violin. Hartley and his musicians, some of them wearing their lifebelts now, were standing back at the base of the second funnel, on the roof of the First Class Lounge, where they had been playing for the better part of an hour.

There were a few moments of silence, then the solemn strains of a hymn began drifting across the water. It was with a perhaps unintended irony that Hartley chose a hymn that pleaded for the mercy of the Almighty, as the ultimate material conceit of the Edwardian Age, the ship that “God Himself couldn't sink,” foundered beneath his feet. As the band played, the slant of the deck grew steeper, while from within the hull came a rapidly increasing number of thuds, bangs and crashes as interior furnishings broke loose, walls and partitions collapsed–the Titanic was only three minutes from breaking apart, then the entire band was washed away by a sudden wave.

At first, it was said that the last music played by the Titanic‘s band was either the Episcopalian hymn “Autumn” or the popular waltz “Songe d’Automne.” However, the evidence for this rested solely on the uncorroborated testimony of wireless officer Harold Bride, who told a reporter for the New York Times that the last song he remembered the band playing was called “Autumn.” 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 go 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."

Bride, though, was the only person with that recollection, he only mentioned it once, and he never specified if he meant the hymn or the waltz. Moreover, despite the credence given to him by some later historians, Bride was never the most reliable or consistent witness, and here his “memories” have to be taken with a rather large grain of salt. Tellingly, neither piece of “Autumn” music, the hymn or the popular waltz, is listed in the White Star Line’s music book for 1912. Also significant is that the hymn is not called “Autumn,” only the melody (much like the melody of the hymn “O God, Our Help in Ages Past” is known as “St. Anne’s”), and usually only a professional musician will refer to a piece of music that way–certainly not an 18-year old wireless operator. So without some sort of supporting or collaborating evidence, any piece of music named “Autumn” can be dismissed as the Titanic‘s orchestra’s last musical performance.

A very strong case can be made, however for “Nearer, My God, to Thee,” which legend has always said was the last music played aboard the Titanic. It is commonly believed to be the last song because there are a number of accounts of survivors who recalled hearing the hymn “Nearer, My God, to Thee,” and therein lies a tale. Commentators who have rigidly committed to the “‘Autumn theory’” are quick to point out that there are two melodies associated with “Nearer My God to Thee;” one (“Bethany”) is American, the other (“Horbury”) is British, the two sound distinctly different from each other and are impossible to confuse–yet both American and British survivors claimed to have heard “Nearer My God to Thee” being played by the ship’s orchestra. What those same commentators fail to mention is that there is a third melody for “Nearer My God to Thee,” called “Propior Deo,” composed by Sir Arthur Sullivan, and it is here that the mystery of the last music played by Wallace Hartley and his fellow musicians finally begin to unravel itself. The melody “Propior Deo” would have been well known to the British passengers aboard the Titanic, and in passages it sounds very similar to “Bethany”–and nothing at all like “Horbury.” In the noise and confusion of the night, it would hardly be surprising if both Americans and Britons, hearing only snatches of music, would both believe that they were hearing the version of “Nearer, My God, to Thee” with which they were most familiar. All the members of the Titanic's band, save for one French member, were British. Thus the American version is out of the question. The leader of the band, Wallace Hartley, was a Methodist, and so was yet another member of the band. And so the possible versions of "Nearer My God To Thee" that could have been played that night are the British and the British Methodist versions.

Moreover, “Nearer My God to Thee” was known to be a favorite of Hartley’s–who was also a friend of Sir Arthur Sullivan and who liked Sullivan’s music–and it was the hymn played at the graveside of all deceased members of the Musician’s Union. Perhaps most convincing of all is a report in the Daily Sketch on April 22, 1912, where a colleague of Hartley’s recalled how some years earlier, while working aboard the Mauretania, he asked Hartley what he would do if he found himself on the deck of a sinking ship. Hartley replied that he would assemble the ship’s orchestra and play “O God Our Help in Ages Past” or “Nearer, My God, to Thee.” Somehow, taken all together, “Nearer, My God, to Thee” seems definitive enough.

Songs played historically[edit | edit source]

  • Elite Syncopations by Scott Joplin
  • Alexander's Ragtime Band by Irving Berlin
  • Nearer My God To Thee

Songs played in the 1997 movie[edit | edit source]

(Some songs were played multiple times during the movie)

  • Marguerite Waltz from Faust by Charles Gounod [As Rose is unpacking her paintings]
  • Wedding Dance by Paul Lincke [In a deleted scene: The First]
  • Wedding Dance by Paul Lincke [During the Cherbourg scene]
  • Wedding Dance by Paul Lincke [During dinner before Rose's attempted suicide]
  • Marguerite Waltz from Faust by Charles Gounod [When Cal gives Rose the Heart of the Ocean]
  • Marguerite Waltz from Faust by Charles Gounod [In a deleted scene Rose's Dreams]
  • Poet and Peasant Overture by Franz Von Suppe [During Afternoon Tea with Ruth and the Countess]
  • Oh You Beautiful Doll by Nat. D. Ayer [When Jack tries on a dinner suit in Molly Brown's Stateroom]
  • On the Beautiful Blue Danube by Johann Strauss II [When Jack goes down to Dinner]
  • Song Without Words by Felix Mendelssohn [As Jack and Rose descend the Grand Staircase for Dinner]
  • Estudiantina by Emile Waldtufel [During the Dinner scene]
  • Valse Septembre by Felix Godin [After Dinner as Molly regales a funny story]
  • Marguerite Waltz from Faust by Charles Gounod [When Rose meets Jack at 9:00pm before the 3rd-Class Party]
  • Estudiantina by Emile Waldtufel [In a deleted scene "Shooting Star"]
  • Eternal Father, Strong to Save [During the Sunday Service]
  • Vision of Salome by Archibald Joyce [During Afternoon Tea before the "I'm Flying" Scene]
  • Come Josephine In My Flying Machine [After the "I'm Flying" Scene before the sketch scene]
  • Meditation from Thais by Jules Massenet [After the sketch scene]
  • Titsy Bitsy Girl by Lionel Monckton [During the chase scene]
  • Alexander's Ragtime Band by Irving Berlin [in the 1st-Class Lounge before Rose discovers the truth about the ships fate]
  • Wedding Dance By Paul Lincke [As the band sets up on deck]
  • Oh You Beautiful Doll by Nat. D. Ayer [As Boat 7 lowers]
  • Sphinx by Francis Popy [In a deleted scene where Bruce Ismay panics and when Molly enters Boat 6]
  • Barcarole by Jacques Offenback [During the loading of the lifeboats]
  • Marguerite Waltz from Faust by Charles Gounod [When Rose and Jack search for any remaining lifeboats]
  • Orpheus by Jacques Offenbach [As Cal bribes William Murdoch]
  • Estudiantina by Paul Lincke [As Rose prepares to step into Collapsible D]
  • Valse Septembre by Felix Godin [As Tommy and Fabrizio prepare to enter a lifeboat]
  • On the Beautiful Blue Danube by Johann Strauss II [As Captain Smith retreats into the wheelhouse on the bridge]
  • Nearer My God to Thee [The final song played by the band]
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