Titanic - Minute By Minute
The Band Played On. Jeremy Vine, Dermot O'Leary and Penny Smith and guests mark the moment the Titanic foundered, and eventually sank on a cold night in April 1912, 100 years ago.
Jeremy Vine, Dermot O'Leary and Penny Smith, and guests, mark the moment the Titanic foundered, and eventually sank on a still, cold night in April 1912, exactly 100 years ago. The story is set to a soundtrack of live music reflecting the band of musicians who valiantly played on until they were silenced by the water.
As the Titanic sank it was to a surreal soundtrack of popular songs. While the boats were lowered Alexander's Ragtime Band echoed around the decks and over the water. Because the ship's engines had stopped, and the night was so still, the music could be heard over a mile away. This was surely one of the most poignant musical performances in history.
Now, Radio 2 offers a completely new take on one of the most infamous disasters in history, using the music of the ship's orchestra as a framework around which to build a powerful narrative which takes the audience through the events of the night, minute by minute.
Before the voyage, bandleader Wallace Hartley and the other musicians had never played together, but were expected to know all the 341 songs in the White Star Line's music book. The first and second class passengers could call out any number from the book, so they had to be highly proficient. "Nothing was more popular on board than the orchestra" wrote one passenger, "everyone asked them for their favourite hit".
Wallace and his men performed over 30 tunes that night, finding it increasingly difficult to play as the angle of the deck became steeper. Their final piece was Nearer My God To Thee - a hymn for the fleeing passengers but perhaps also for themselves, it was traditionally played at musicians' funerals. They performed as the water rose around them, some still smoking. One eye-witness wrote: "Only the engulfing ocean had the power to drown them into silence."
Jeremy Vine, Dermot O'Leary and Penny Smith talk to Titanic experts about why the ship sank and how the reaction of some of those on board demonstrated a code of honour very different to our own. Half an hour after the Titanic struck the iceberg, the band was asked by the ship's captain to play to keep the passengers calm. According to a steward they ran for their instruments and were laughed at by some members of the crew who didn't realise how bad the situation was. What they performed as the ship sank is a fascinating snapshot of British and American tastes - two societies that were increasingly sharing musical styles thanks to the increased travel between the Old and New World.
As the programme draws to a close we hear the moving eye witness accounts of the ship disappearing beneath the waves to a poignant new string arrangement of Nearer My God to Thee.