April 15 is National Titanic Remembrance Day. It is dedicated in memory of the more than 1,500 people who died tragically 107 years ago. Then regarded as unsinkable, the RMS Titanic was on its maiden voyage when it hit an iceberg on the night of April 14, going down in the icy waters of the Atlantic by the morning of April 15. Many perished due to the insufficient number of lifeboats on board. The ship remains part of popular culture, with films, television shows, plays, books, and more written on the disaster.
In the world of music, more than 100 songs were written and produced between 1912-13 alone. Most praised the heroism of men like John Jacob Astor, who refused to leave the ship so long as seats were available for women. Some, however, used the tragedy to highlight the hubris of elites and social injustices against marginalized communities. Overall, these songs were more than exploitation – they were a heartfelt response to a colossal tragedy. Concerts were also held to raise funds. Sir Edward Elgar performed his Enigma Variations on May 24, 1912, to a packed Royal Albert Hall, raising funds for the families of musicians who died on the ship. Several plays and pieces continued to be written decades later.
The 1997 film Titanic, starring Leonardo di Caprio and Kate Winslet, brought the incident to the silver screen. Grossing more than 2 billion dollars, the film has since been selected as part of the National Film Registry, showcasing and celebrating the diversity of American cinema in popular culture. But who can’t think of the movie without its film score? James Horner’s soundtrack album sold over 30 million copies in 1997-98. Celine Dion’s single, “My Heart Will Go On,” won both an Academy and Golden Globe in 1998 for Original Song. Horner also created six leitmotifs, used throughout the film, that represents various characters, locations, and events. A second soundtrack album, Back to Titanic, was released in 1998 which includes unreleased pieces as well as new recordings. Both were re-released in 2012 as part of the 3D re-release of Titanic.
2012 coincided with the centenary of Titanic’s sinking. That same year, Robin Gibb (of the Bee Gees fame) and his son Robin-John composed Titanic Requiem. Premiered by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in April of that year, the program included music performed on the ship. Though panned by reviewers, Requiem remains a fitting tribute to the lives lost aboard that ill-fated voyage.
Click below to listen to a collection of Titanic-themed music, available on Spotify.