If you have ever seen a karaoke list you will be able to picture the music list in the White Star Line songbook. It was a stapled booklet, small enough to carry in your purse or pocket, with a faun-colored card stock cover and off-white inside pages. There were 9 pages of numbers listed.*
The musical selections were set by C. W. & F. N. Black, the agents who hired Titanic’s band. The agency created the list of requests, acquired the arrangements of music and likely also had the songbook printed. They chose music that was recognized and loved by the general public, again, like a karaoke list would be created today. One can see by the titles and composers represented that the public was literate in classics as well as the dance tunes that were popular in 1912.
It is interesting to note which composers made the list, and which did not (both Mozart and Beethoven were absent). The request list was divided into categories, beginning with opera. Overtures covered numbers 1 to 15, with Rossini (six numbers), Herold, Auber, Suppè (three numbers), Thomas, Flotou (?), Paer and Balfe. Today’s public audience would recognize only Rossini, but at the time these numbers were chosen because they were universal favorites.
The next category, Selections, 16-80, consisted of operatic numbers and arias. Of the famous composers who made the list, J. Strauss, Offenbach, Verdi, Wagner, Bizet and Sullivan, only two, Saint-Saëns and Puccini, were actually alive in 1912, with most of their productive years behind them. The rest of the listed composers (who may have been alive at the time) have faded to no more than printed names in books like these. Their music is no longer widely known. This follows throughout the rest of the songbook.
In all there were seven categories, some with appended sub-categories:
- Overtures (1 – 15)
- Selections (16 – 80)
- Suites, Fantasias, etc. (81 – 99)
National Anthems, Hymns &c., of all Nations (unlisted numbers)
- Waltzes (100 – 148)
Gung’l Waltzes (unlisted numbers)
Strauss Waltzes ( ” ” )
Waldteufel Waltzes ( ” ” )
- Sacred Music (149 – 156)
- Entr’actes, Intermezzos, etc. (157 – 279)
- Marches, Cake Walks, etc.
Waldteufel Polkas (unlisted numbers)
It would have been possible for the band to have accepted a request like “262” Boccherini’s Menuet, followed by “280” Irving Berlin’s Alexander’s Ragtime Band, then a selection like (for example) Comfort ye my people from “152” Handel’s Messiah, followed by “334” Sousa’s Hail, Spirit of Liberty, and so on. Musically speaking, the list shows that the public was knowledgeable across the genres and had eclectic musical taste.
- Composers in Titanic’s WSL songbook – who made the list?
- Titanic’s WSL songbook – Intermezzos and Popular tunes
- The popular side of the WSL songbook
*The replica songbook I obtained from the Titanic Historical Society in Indian Orchard, MA, is believed to have been the one in use at the time Titanic sailed.