Topical Press Agency/Getty Images
A London newspaper boy sells copies of the Evening News with a story about the sunken ship.
A London newspaper boy sells copies of the Evening News with a story about the sunken ship. Topical Press Agency/Getty Images
Gavin Bryars' first major composition, The Sinking of the Titanic, still sounds as vital, fresh and forward-thinking as it did when it was written in 1969. In a concert from the Wordless Music Series, recorded by WNYC, the piece was performed live by the Wordless Music Orchestra on Jan. 16, 2008, at the Church of St. Paul the Apostle in New York City. Conductor Brad Lubman led the ensemble.
Inspired by firsthand accounts of the event, The Sinking of the Titanic is a multimedia piece centered on a report of a "band having played a hymn tune in the final moments of the ship's sinking." That tune was reportedly the Episcopal hymn "Autumn," performed here by strings and echoed throughout the orchestra. The composition itself has changed over the years to reflect new stories surrounding the tragedy, as well as new technology.
The Wordless Music Orchestra focuses heavily on the string arrangements, achieving the droning bliss of the composition, but it also layers sounds of the sea — roaring waves and what sound like whale songs — with field recordings of a woman recalling the events and metallic clangs of the ship's hull collapsing. The ensemble captures the swarm of the ocean enveloping man's attempt to thwart nature.
Hear other pieces from the concert: Jonny Greenwood's Popcorn Superhet Receiver and John Adams' Christian Zeal and Activity.
Webcasts of the Wordless Music Series are produced by WNYC and hosted by Jad Abumrad.