There are conflicting reports among survivors regarding the last song the Band played as the Titanic was sinking. We know it was either “Autumn” or “Nearer My God to Thee.”
We will discuss the later song next time. Let’s take a look at “Autumn”. I’m familiar with this legend, but knew nothing about the song.
The belief that the song was “Autumn” comes from Harold Bride, the Titanic’s junior wireless operator. This is a brief part of his testimony: “From aft came the tunes of the band. It was a rag-time tune, I don’t know what. Then there was “Autumn”…The big wave carried the boat off. I had hold of an oarlock, and I went off with it…The ship was gradually turning on her nose—just like a duck does that goes down for a dive. I had only one thing on my mind—to get away from the suction. The band was still playing. I guess all the band went down. They were playing “Autumn” then…The way the band kept playing was a noble thing. I heard it while still we were working wireless, when there was a ragtime tune for us, and the last I saw of the band, when I was floating out in the sea with my lifebelt on, it was still on deck playing “Autumn.” How they ever did I cannot imagine.”
So what is this song “Autumn” that he referred to? We’re not sure! By that I mean it could have been two very different songs. Francois Barthelemon wrote a hymn tune titled “Autumn”. The commonly held belief is McBride was referring to “Songe d’Automne”.
The hymn, “Autumn” by Barthelemon is the version The Times assumed McBride was referring to at the time. However, this song was not very popular in British society at the time of the Titanic sinking. This tune was written in 1785. Barthelemon was a French born musician who was an associate of Franz Haydn. He wrote hymns, operas, and symphonies among other types of musical composition.
“Song d’Automne” was a waltz written by Archibald Joyce in 1908, and this popular song is known to be in the White Star Line musical book. He was an English composer of popular music and known as the “English Waltz King”. This waltz was a hit in 1912 society and often referred to as “Autumn.” Many of the passengers that survived recounted hearing this song played a number of times throughout the voyage. Sometimes you’ll also find the piece referred to as “Dream of Autumn.”
The contemporary belief is that Harold McBride was referring to “Song d’Automne” but we’ll never know for sure. Based on the testimony of survivor, Algernon Barkworth, who also heard this song, the belief is upon the completion of this waltz, the band dispersed and moved to the safety of the stern, where they again resumed their playing.