As the Titanic slipped beneath the icy North Atlantic waters in the early morning of April 15th, 1912, a group of musicians continued to play to calm the nerves of the frightened passengers. It’s likely that the performance helped to calm the musicians too as they accepted their fate.
The group is commonly referred to as the Titanic ‘band’ or ‘orchestra’, but they were actually two groups that may have never played together before this final performance. The group was led by Wallace Hartley, whose quintet performed at teatime and after dinner concerts. The other three musicians performed as a trio of violin, cello and piano; and performed in the ‘A La Carte Restaurant’ and the ‘Cafe Parisian’.
While no one can be 100% certain what the last song performed by the group, it was reported that the selection was ‘Nearer, My God, To Thee’, a familiar Christian hymn written by Sarah F. Adams in 1841. It should be noted that other reliable witnesses remember ‘Song d’Automne’ as being the final song they remember, but one can imagine the mayhem during those last few hours.
At the 100th anniversary of the sinking, a group of musicians from Konzerthaus Dortmund embarked on a journey to pay tribute to the brave musicians of the Titanic by performing ‘The Unfinished’. They journeyed from New York to the site of the last known position of the Titanic, and at 2:20am they played ‘Nearer, My God, To Thee’.
A crate carried along on the expedition contained a buoy shaped like a quaver note with the hymn “Nearer, My God, To Thee” stored on sd-chip inside. This was placed into the ocean the day after the performance.
People were able to follow the expedition in real-time via The Unfinished blog. A promotional mailing to solo superstars and orchestras prior to the event raised the profile of Konzerthaus Dortmund around the world.