The popular side of the WSL songbook.

What was listed in the White Star Line MUSIC songbook? Part IV

Titanic sailed at a time in music history when there were few clear lines defining musical taste. There was little distinction made between music composed by major composers who were highly recognized in the public ear, and those who were well-liked from a minor output of popular tunes.

In university studies the entire British “waltz king” scene has usually been skipped over entirely, the focus on France, where the Impressionists composed undoubtedly the best music of the day. So for me, becoming interested in Titanic‘s music has opened up a whole new oyster shell of treasure. The music is light, and has a bright, airy resemblance to Mozart’s Divertimenti.

(Well, few can equal Mozart’s sense of joie de vivre.)

The WSL songbook reflected the mixed musical taste of Titanic’s clientele and was updated frequently as arrangements of new music came available. It is unclear when the term “popular” entered the vernacular as a term to describe music, but it did not appear in the WSL songbook. Indeed, numbers that would be identified as popular today were sprinkled throughout.

Here’s what is surprising about the songbook: the category “Entr’actes, Intermezzos, etc” was so broad that it encompassed such divergent pieces as Ave Maria by Gounod, The Teddy Bear’s Picnic by Bratton, Minuet by Boccherini, Glow Worm by Lincke, Song Without Words by Tchaikovsky, and Apple Blossoms by Roberts. A real tossed salad of music, because to Titanic‘s audience, all music was popular. Music was music.

In the category “Marches, Cake Walks, etc.” the march Mosquitos Parade by Whitney (likely performed on Sunday afternoons on park bandstands) was listed along with Pomp and Circumstance marches No. 1, 2, and 4 by Elgar (part of the symphonic concert repertoire).

Here are favorites that have appeared in Titanic music recordings. The music is quite charming:

To demonstrate that the line between classical and popular was blurry if it existed at all, here is a selection from the WSL songbook by a major composer, paraphrased by a popular songwriter who was to become a music icon of the Twentieth Century. Irving Berlin borrowed Mendelssohn’s Spring Song tune because he knew it would be recognized – an early version of a cover. It became one of his first big hits.

Related Posts


Here are links to sites where you can download Titanic recordings.

24 thoughts on “The popular side of the WSL songbook.

  1. Also, I have a question. I Salonisti for 'Titanic' the movie recorded many songs (all recorded are included in 'The Titanic Band' album). We can see, that all these songs are included also in WSL music brochure, but the one which intrigue me is 'Titsy Bitsy Girl', waltz from 'Girls of Gottenberg' the musical comedy with music by L.Monckton and I.Caryll. In 'Selections' and 'Waltzes' categorys is absent. Is it maybe included in 'Entractes, Intermezzos', Rebekah? If no, so I wonder what was the reason to record this one for the movie.


  2. I've thought about that one too. I don't see it in my songbook, though it is possible mine is only a variation of the songbook that was actually used on Titanic. It was updated fairly regularly. Ian Whitcomb also included several numbers on his album that do not appear in the songbook. I'm not sure – is their reasoning that the band would have been open to playing unlisted numbers by request? My belief is that the band would have played exclusively from their sheets, no exceptions, and would have adhered to the numbers in the songbook. If someone requested a title they didn't have they would simply have said, \”We don't have that one, but this one (insert title of piece) is similar, would you like to hear it instead?\” For a long time it was believed that the band could just improvise any number, or could play the sets by memory. It would have been highly unusual to have found five musicians with that facility. Improvisation was simply not taught at this point in the classical tradition. These were classically trained musicians. Any albums made in the future would be wise to stick to the playlist in the interest of being authentic. Also, every single number they played was arranged. Not one piece in the songbook was originally composed for quintet or trio. Anyone who still believes the band played by memory simply doesn't understand how much work (or time) it would have taken to memorize that much music. There would not have been a single moment when the band played (as an ensemble) without their arrangements in front of them. A possible exception: If \”Cello Man\” played a solo, he may have played something from his own personal repertoire that he had memorized. So, to answer your question, Titsy Bitsy Girl doesn't appear in my reproduction of the songbook. If I Salonisti saw it in another reproduction, fine. If it was added as a possible extra the band played, it was an assumption on the part of the producers of the album that the band played off the list. I believe they stuck to the list.


  3. Also, it is quite strange, for example, when you are listening to \”Songe d'Automne\” by Joyce, you are thinking that this waltz is quite depressing. But in that time it was \”pop\” music. It it is strange discord in your head.


  4. Have you ever heard Prince's \”Nothing Compares 2 U\” sung by Sinead O'Connor? That's depressing pop music. In Songe d'automne you're referring to the minor key. It makes music sound sad.


  5. Actually, I think now that if producers of all these Titanic music albums were really studying this White Star Line brochure? I don't think so. So this is the reason of presence of many songs signed as \”Titanic Music\” and not included in White Star Line Song Book for 1912. I think that they simply choose some songs which were popular in that time and recorded. Maybe that's the way it is? The Girls of Gottenberg is one of British musical comedys, a type of theater play which was very popular in that time in UK, so I think it would be known, but not as much as such titles like \”Miss Hook of Holland\”, \”Our Miss Gibbs\”, \”The Country Girl\” or \”The Quaker Girl\”.What about the requests: I personally think that White Star Line Music brochure specified which songs orchestra is obligated to play, and, hence that which songs passengers could ask for. Orchestra was obligated to play any requested song which was included in brochure, BUT I think that they could play also music not included in the brochure (not by request also) if they knew how to. But, as you say, that they were playing with music sheet and it is difficult to play in an ensemble by heart, it was very unlikely.


  6. Marches, Cake Walks, etc. 280-341Then at the end of the category is \”Waldteufel Polkas.\” – meaning there were so many to choose from they didn't bother listing them all, assuming passengers would know them by name. Hope this helps!


  7. The musical selections in the unnumbered categories are not included when the 341 titles are listed. There were 341 specific song names or works. Some of these were categories on their own, like \”Selections from The Messiah by Handel\” – this is 152, but within this listing it is suggested that there were several pieces of music the band could have played from Messiah (the word \”selections\” suggests this). In all there may have been as many as 500 (or perhaps even more) separate titles available to the band to perform, including operatic \”selections,\” unlisted waltzes, polkas, hymns, national anthems. Unlisted pieces were not numbered at all, not included in the sum of 341.


  8. I need to add that there is some misunderstanding about what the \”White Star Line MUSIC Songbook\” looked like. This was not a music notation book. There were only titles and numbers listed, no words to the songs and no print music. The only purpose for the songbook was for passenger requests. The band did not use this book for reading music. They had sheets. I don't want people to believe that the songbook contained music and that a piece that was not included in the songbook was somehow played from memory. This was not a music or lyric book – only a book of titles.


  9. This may be slightly irrelevant but would you happen to know where one can find the sheet music for the \”Wedding Dance\” by Paul Lincke? All the other pieces played by the WSL or Titanic orchestra can be found somewhere online, either as a print copy or hard cover. This song, on the other hand, has no record at all. I find this odd because the \”Glow Worm\” from the same composer still widely popular today, yet the \”Wedding Dance is unfortunately almost non-existent.


  10. That and \”Songe D'automne\” or roughly \”Autumns Dream\” by Archibald Joyce are very difficult to find. Nevertheless, there are a few people out there on YouTube who play it and therefore have some copy of Songe D'autmne, but again I can't say the same for the Wedding Dance. It's really unfortunate that most of these early 1900 songs are not very old or new enough to have a decent record online or in a library. They're left from that awkward period in time where all the printed copies were dispersed and never heard from again. At least that's what I imagine happened to the majority.As a result, these and many other tunes are likely laying around on a shelf with no access by anyone who wants to enjoy them. Perhaps they are part of a larger work, or came with a series of songs. One can only imagine how annoying it must be to have such a source of beautiful music, only to be never heard again because no one knows where they are – and forget.Maybe creating a sheet music section on this blog for the Titanic orchestra could be something to consider. The blog looks nice and is up and running with good SEO so this could attract a broader \”niche\” of titanic and music lovers. In theory it sounds easier to achieve that as having a number of followers could yield help in collecting some of these songs. Just maybe.Or perhaps there is, but I'm just yet to discover.


  11. Good and bad news! I've found the Wedding Dance Waltz! But the down side is that its only one line for preview purposes. It is, however, the original one as it's from a scanned sheet. I'll put the link below. At least we can see what key it's in, too. I've contacted them about the whole piece and I'm waiting for a reply.


  12. Thank you. I just may look in to that. I'll let you know if I create some sort of sheet music blog! As for that song, there is a copy of it in a library in Alaska. After I've found a few more songs available in different libraries, I'll do an interlibrary loan and keep a copy of each, likely after the summer. (That is, if I'm allowed to.)Thanks again, and let me know if you do come across anything!


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