Composers Datebook®

Bryars and Horner on the Titanic

Composers Datebook - April 15, 2024


At 2:20 a.m. on this date in 1912, the luxury liner S.S. Titanic sank after hitting an iceberg in the North Atlantic. Of the 2201 people of on board, only 711 reached their intended destination in New York. Eight British musicians, members of the ship’s band, stayed on board, reportedly playing a hymn tune as the ship went down.

In 1969, British composer Gavin Bryars prepared a multimedia musical work, The Sinking of the Titanic, which incorporated spoken interviews by Titanic survivors with a set of variations on the hymn tune played by the ship’s band. In 1985, the sunken wreck of the Titanic was rediscovered, and renewed interest led to a 1990 revival performance and recording of Gavin Bryars’s score.

A few years later, composer James Horner wrote an Oscar-winning film score for director James Cameron’s Titanic — an incredibly successful cinematic dramatization of the story.

Horner wrote other famous film scores like those for Aliens and Braveheart — but none quite as successful as Titanic. That film grossed more than $600 million at the domestic box office and more than $1.8 billion worldwide. Ironically, considering this “titanic” success, the first film for which Horner composed a score was The Drought.

Music Played in Today's Program

Gavin Bryars (b. 1943): The Sinking of the Titanic; Gavin Bryars and ensemble;
Point Music 446 249

James Horner (1953-2015): Titanic sountrack; Studio Orchestra; James Horner, conductor; Sony Classcial 63213

On This Day


  • 1688 - German composer Johann Friedrich Fasch, in Buttelstadt;


  • 1738 - Handel: opera "Serse" (Xerxes), in London at the King's Theater in the Haymarket (Gregorian date: April 26);

  • 1739 - Handel: oratorio "Israel in Egypt" (Julian date: April 4);

  • 1902 - Ravel: "Pavane pour une infante défunte" (Pavan for the Dead Princess, or perhaps more accurately: Pavan for a Princess of the Past), in Paris, by Ravel's friend Ricardo Viñes;

  • 1915 - de Falla: ballet "El Amor brujo" (Love the Magician), in Madrid;

  • 1918 - Prokofiev: Piano Sonata No. 3 and "Visions fugitives" Op. 22, in Petrograd (St. Petersburg), by the composer;

  • 1926 - Douglas Moore: opera "The Pageant of P.T. Barnum," by the Cleveland Orchestra, Nikolai Sokoloff conducting;

  • 1927 - Converse: orchestral fantasy "Flivver Ten Million" (celebrating the ten millionth Ford automobile produced), by the Boston Symphony, Serge Koussevitzky conducting;

  • 1931 - Copland: "A Dance Symphony," by the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Leopold Stokowski; This work incorporates material from Copland's 1923 ballet"Grohg," which had not been produced; The symphony was one the winners of the 1929 Victor Talking Machine Company Competition Prize; The judges of the competition decided that none of the submitted works deserved the full $25,000 prize, so they awarded $5000 each to four composers, including Copland, Ernest Bloch, and Louis Gruenberg, and gave $10,000 to Robert Russell Bennett (who had submitted two works);

  • 1976 - William Schuman: "Concerto on Old English Rounds" for viola, women's chorus and orchestra, in New York City;

  • 1979 - John Harbison: Quintet for Winds, at Jordan Hall in Boston, by the Aulos Quintet;

  • 1980 - Paul Creston: Piano Trio, Op. 112, in Grinnell, Iowa, by the Mirecourt Trio;

  • 1981 - Stanislaw Skrowaczewski: Clarinet Concerto, in Minneapolis, by soloist Joseph Longo and the Minnesota Orchestra, with the composer conducting;

  • 1989 - Andrew Lloyd Webber: musical "Aspects of Love," in London; The musical premiered on Broadway on April 8, 1990;

  • 1994 - Michael Torke: "Bone" for mixed ensemble, at the Rensselaer (N.Y.) Polytechnical Institute, by the Dog of Desire ensemble, David Alan Miller conducting;

  • 1998 - Philip Glass: "digital" opera "Monsters of Grace," at UCLA, by the Philip Glass Ensemble, Michael Riesman conducting, to computer animated images created by Robert Wilson;

  • 2000 - Steve Mackey: "Tuck and Roll" (Concerto for Electric Guitar and Orchestra), in Miami with the composer as soloist with the New World Symphony conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas;


  • 1847 - American premiere of Verdi's opera "Ernani," at the Park Theatre in New York City;

  • 1971 - Igor Stravinsky's funeral mass held at Santi Giovanni e Paolo in Venice; Stravinsky is buried on the island of San Michele.

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

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