The Sinking of the Titanic
composer: Gavin Bryars
for digital tapes and ensemble
In 1990 I re-recorded the piece ‘live’ at the Printemps de Bourges festival when the availability of an extraordinary space – the town’s disused water tower dating from the Napoleonic period – and the rediscovery of the wreck by Dr Ballard made me think again about the music. In any case the piece has always been an open one, being based on data about the disaster but taking account of any new information that came to hand after the initial writing. This version forms the basis for the recent recordings on the Point label.
All the materials used in the piece are derived from research and speculations about the sinking of the 'unsinkable' luxury liner. On 14 April 1912 the Titanic struck an iceberg at 11.40 pm in the North Atlantic and sank at 2.20 am on 15 April. Of the 2201 people on board on board only 711 were to reach New York. The initial starting point for the piece was the reported fact of the band having played a hymn tune in the final moments of the ship’s sinking. A number of other features of the disaster which generate musical or sounding performance material, or which ‘take the mind to other regions’, are also included. The final hymn played during those last five minutes of the ship’s life was identified in an account by Harold Bride, the junior wireless operator: '... from aft came the tunes of the band... The ship was gradually turning on her nose – just like a duck that goes down for a dive... The band was still playing. I guess all of the band went down. They were playing ‘Autumn’ then. I swam with all my might. I suppose I was 150 feet away when the Titanic, on her nose with her afterquarter sticking straight up in the air, began to settle slowly... The way the band kept playing was a noble thing... the last I saw of the band, when I was floating out in the sea with my life belt on, it was still on deck playing ‘Autumn’. How they ever did it I cannot imagine'.
This episcopal hymn, then, becomes the principal element of the music and is subject to a variety of treatments and it forms a base over which other material is superimposed. Gavin Bryars
Premiere: December 11, 1972 London, Queen Elizabeth Hall (UK) · Conductor: Gavin Bryars · Music Now Ensemble
March 14, 1997 Glasgow (UK) · Conductor: Martyn Brabbins · BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra (world première of the revised version)
Orchestra instrumentation: flexible instrumentation · possible materials include digital tapes, str ens, perc, low brass, brass qrt, bcl, taped speech, keybd, visible sound effects, music box
Publisher: Schott Music Ltd., London
Duration: 40' 0''
Year of composition: 1969, rev. 1996
Material on hire
Bryars · The Sinking of the Titanic · sound clip
Show more recordings
Have a look at our help section for answers to the most frequently asked questions.