The Music of the Titanic
There will probably be more written about the RMS Titanic this month than in the past 100 years. This blog entry is my contribution to the literature of the steamship and its connection to music.
The sheet music cover above (from The New York Public Library’s Digital Gallery) — is one of the most frequently reproduced images concerning music and the Titanic. While the juxtoposition of the sinking ship with the Yiddish lettering attracts visual attention, the song is actually not about the disaster in general, but about the loss of Isidor Straus (founder of Macy’s Department Store) and his wife Ida. Their vestigal images are seen in the center of the sheet music cover, being crowned with a wreath from an angel. (The Manuscripts Division has a large archive of personal papers from the Straus family, including much material about Isidor.)
There have been a few CDs supposedly containing music played on the Titanic, such as this one.
In fact, these compilations are really just recordings of works from the collections of music that the White Star Line distributed on its ships. Like any dance band, this collection contained about 150 various works, from light classics to popular music, from which band leaders could make a selection. (The Music Division does have the actual music programs played on a contemporaneous steamship — that will be a future blog entry.)
One of the more unique items in the Music Division is a list of music related to the Titanic. This list was compiled by Solomon Goodman.
There is an ample obituary of Goodman telling of his many accomplishments. Among those accomplishments was his expertise in music related to the Titanic. Mr. Goodman — who used to come to the Music Division nearly every day for years — went through the United States Copyright registers and compiled a list of music relating to the Titanic. His first list, written by hand, contained just over 100 items. A subsequent list (which we received in 1992) contains many more works, including works which do not appear in the U.S. copyright catalogs. (It also was made on computer, making for easier reading.)
This second list (along with another version of the handwritten list) are among the numerous items concerning music and the Titanic, all stored in our clipping file.
So for all those who are and who will be fascinated by the tragic steamship, know that the Music Division has ample material on the Titanic and its relationship to music.