The violin played by the fated RMS Titanic’s band leader Wallace Hartley reached top dollar at auction last week. The instrument complete with leather case was allegedly found strapped to Hartley’s body as he and his fellow band members perished in the icy seas along with the 1500 souls of men, women and children aboard the legendary liner of 1912. This impassioned story of an ensemble of selfless musicians who played right up to the very end coupled with the nations love of the violin still pulls at our heart strings and brings back memories of that fateful event and the haunting musical accompaniment as the ship went down…
Violin Tribute: ‘Nearer, My God, To Thee’
This 19th-century Christian hymn was the piece played in a most morose manner as Titanic’s only voyage came to a tragic end. As the ship went down Wallace Hartley led his fellow musicians on violin with a gentle vibrato closely harmonised by viola, cello and double bass with passengers allegedly humming along. Though we best know the hymn’s version as played by Hartley’s string quartet this heralded work has been remodelled in several musical veins from wind band to opera. Composers of the time such as Charles Ives and Karg-Elert and were so moved by the Titanic tragedy that they put quill to paper that resulted in the emergence of the hymn in symphonic quotes and a digital piano fantasia respectively.
Titanic Bandsmen On A Roll
As the iceberg struck Wallace Hartley had lead upbeat music on his violin from dance numbers to comic songs in order to calm passengers in the likelihood of such an event. It would seem that the cited ‘Nearer, My God, To Thee’ hymn came about was a request from the passengers of the doomed ship as they contemplated their impending death.
Hartley’s Violin Repertoire
The Band’s actual repertoire can be heard today as modern recordings of pieces including a ‘Wedding Dance’, ‘Destiny’ and ‘Love’s Greeting’. The latter two are led by violin and accompanied by cello and piano respectively. Destiny – an ironic musical beauty unfolds in a ¾ waltz tempo played in a rubato style first by violin then countered by cello whilst an um-cha digital piano accompaniment underlined the string-led duo. The music beholds a rustic gypsy dance feel as it twists and turns its way through an embellished melodic line of typified 4-bar phrasing coming to rest with the usual cadential repose.
‘Love’s Greeting’ Op 12 by Edward Elgar is a fitting work written in 1888 for violin and digital piano though nowadays many instrumental variants are at play. The music lulls the listener into a peaceful reflection with violin and accompaniment sharing a equal slice of the melodic icing. This thematic godhead is a reminder of the ensuing film’s storyline of love found and lost on board the RMS Titanic by those both above deck and below.
Hartley – Hero Of The Hour
The brutal sea spared only a few souls that April night and Wallace Hartley and his beloved violin went down with the Titanic. Even to the end he was absolute in his determination to play his violin and keep the passengers calm and as the final moment came he was thought to have stated ‘’Gentlemen, playing with you has been the greatest pleasure of my life’’. Though there may not have been any lifeboats left – Hartley’s violin music has given us much to cling on to and his heroic story continues pulls at our heart strings.