“A haunting and evocative tone poem… In its mastery of orchestration and its originality of music image, Titanic proved to be a tremendously effective work.”
The Hartford Courant

Composed at the age of 25, during and after his period of private study with John Corigliano, Boyer’s tone poemTitanic was his first orchestral work to receive widespread national attention, garnering important awards. Born out of a childhood fascination with the maritime disaster, it was composed two years before the release of James Cameron’s blockbuster film of the same name. Boyer recorded Titanic with the London Symphony Orchestra in 2001 for his debut recording, and in 2005 it was recorded again by the Bamberg Symphony and conductor Gabriel Feltz for broadcasts on the renowned Bayerischer Rundfunk (Bavarian Radio).

Instrumentation

3(II,III=picc).2.corA.3(III=bcl).2.cbsn—4.4(IVoffstage).3.1—timp.perc(5)—harp—pft(upright&grand).cel—strings

Duration

13:00

Composition Date

Composed 1995

Awards

– Winner, 44th annual BMI Student Composer Awards, 1996
– Winner, BMI/Young Musicians Foundation Orchestral Premiere Award, 1997
– Winner, 14th annual FIRST MUSIC national composers competition, 1997

Critical Acclaim

“The ocean’s rolling immensity, the jaunty arrogance of the Gilded Age, even the fateful moment of impact with the iceberg, are all conveyed as vivid sonic images… Deftly orchestrated and concisely organized… (a) strikingly cinematic and imaginative work.”
— “Music in Concert,” American Record Guide

Titanic sails at hands of YMF Orchestra… Boyer’s evocative 13-minute piece shuffles a variety of themes, sometimes overlapping in an Ives-ian pile, with murmuring sound effects, and ‘Nearer, My God, to Thee’ placed as an eerie benediction.”
Los Angeles Times

“Soft gongs along with low rumblings in the strings and brass confront the listener in the eerie opening passages. Then, in an ever growing wave of elemental power, sounds grow inexorably until they are suddenly buried under devil-may-care music that represents the optimism of the Gilded Age. …(an) often fascinating piece of music. …It would have been interesting to have had the orchestra play it twice.”
The Toledo Blade

“Boyer’s talents as an orchestrator were evident from the outset… its effectiveness in performance left little doubt.”
Fresno Bee

“Written two years before the popular movie, Titanic works in ‘Alexander’s Ragtime Band’ and ‘Nearer My God to Thee’—played by the ship’s band—alternating with eerie undulating low brass and artful overlapping glissandi, including evocative use of the water gong. Less gimmicky and more musical than Gavin Bryars’ The Sinking of the Titanic, Boyer’s haunting work is the most successful composition to date inspired by the famous sea tragedy, with the final emergence of the hymn on a barely audible muted trumpet quite affecting.”
South Florida Sun-Sentinel

“Was dann nach dem Crash übrig bleibt, sind gespenstische Ruhe, Morsesignale, Bläserchoral. Selbst die zunehmende Schräglage des Schiffes scheint im chaotischen Tumult hörbar. Der Choral schließlich klingt wie aus der Ferne. Dann Stille. Tod. Danach fällt Applaus schwer. Und nach dieser gigantischen Leistung des Orchesters unter seinem Chef Gabriel Feltz bleibt nur eines zu wünschen: Dass das Werk vielleicht öfter in Deutschland und von diesem Orchester gespielt wird.”
Ostthüringer Zeitung (Germany)

View Performance History

— Premiered by the Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Michael Lankester, conductor, at The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, Hartford, February 22, 1997
— Performed by the Young Musicians Foundation Debut Orchestra, Bundit Ungrangsee, conductor, at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre, Los Angeles, May 4, 1997
— Performed by the Toledo Symphony, Andrew Massey, conductor, September 25 & 26, 1998
— Performed by the Fresno Philharmonic, Raymond Harvey, conductor, October 3 & 4, 1998
— Performed by the Philharmonic Orchestra Altenburg-Gera, Gabriel Feltz, conductor, October 13, 16, 17 & 18, 2002, Altenburg & Gera, Germany
— Performed by the Fort Wayne Philharmonic, Edvard Tchivzhel, conductor, November 15, 2003
— Performed by the Brown University Orchestra, Paul Phillips, conductor, March 6, 2004
— Performed by the Nashville Symphony, Byung-Hyun Rhee, conductor, October 21 & 22, 2005
— Performed by the Black Hills (South Dakota) Symphony Orchestra, Jack Knowles, conductor, October 13, 2007
— Performed by the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, Miguel Harth-Bedoya, conductor, at Bass Hall, Fort Worth, May 7 & 8, 2011
— Performed by the Yakima (Washington) Symphony Orchestra, Lawrence Golan, conductor, September 24, 2011
— Performed by the Butler County Symphony Orchestra, Matthew Kraemer, conductor, April 14, 2012
— Performed by the Lamont Symphony Orchestra, University of Denver, Lawrence Golan, conductor, May 31, 2012
— Performed by the World Youth Symphony Orchestra, Jung-Ho Pak, conductor, at the Interlochen Center for the Arts, July 1, 2012

— Hartford Symphony performance broadcast on Connecticut Public Radio stations, March 1997
— Fresno Philharmonic performance broadcast on KVPR, Fresno, October 1998
— Toledo Symphony performance broadcast on WGTE, Toledo, January 1999
— Recording by the Toledo Symphony released by the orchestra on commemorative compact disc, August 1999
— Recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra, Peter Boyer, conductor, at Abbey Road Studios, London, January 2 & 3, 2001; released on compact disc by Koch International Classics (#3-7523-2), June 2001; re-mastered and reissued on compact disc (and digital download) by Propulsive Music (PRM-607), June 2007
— London Symphony Orchestra recording broadcast on dozens of radio stations throughout United States since its release; including KUSC, Los Angeles; WGBH, Boston; KING, Seattle; WNED, Buffalo; WRR, Dallas
— London Symphony Orchestra recording broadcast nationally by Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) Classic FM, December 31, 2002
— Recorded by the Bamberg Symphony, Gabriel Feltz, conductor, January 2005 for broadcast by the Bayerischer Rundfunk (Bavarian Radio), Germany; broadcast premiere of this recording September 4, 2006 (multiple broadcasts)

Read Program Note

This work was premiered by the Hartford Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Michael Lankester, at the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, Hartford, on February 22, 1997. It won the BMI Student Composer Award in 1996, as well as the BMI/Young Musicians Foundation Premiere Award, which resulted in its West Coast premiere by the Young Musicians Foundation Debut Orchestra in Los Angeles. It was also the work responsible for my receiving the First Music commission in 1997. My composition preceded James Cameron’s film Titanic by more than two years—the two had nothing to do with one another—but it may have gotten a bit of a bump with the public frenzy of interest in the lost ship which followed the film.

Titanic is the only work of the six on my LSO recording which was not commissioned, but rather composed purely for personal reasons. The story of the tragic sinking of the great ocean liner R.M.S. Titanic on its maiden voyage in April of 1912 has fascinated me ever since I first heard it as a child. Probably what has intrigued me most about this tale is the false sense of security which mankind derived from its confidence that its continuing mastery of technology—exemplified in this case by the steel behemoth Titanic, the technological marvel of its age—could at last render man completely superior over the whims of the natural world. Thus the unbridled confidence of the Gilded Age led to an arrogance which asserted that “God himself couldn’t sink this ship”; which ignored the numerous warnings of “icefields ahead”; which took little notice of the woefully inadequate number of lifeboats aboard this floating titan. And so when this marvel was lost on its maiden voyage—taking with it over fifteen-hundred lives, from the luminaries of first class to the humblest of hopeful immigrants in third class—it became a wake-up call for the whole world, an abrupt and tragic end to the Gilded Age.

As a composer, what also fascinated me about the Titanic’s tale was the undisputed heroism of the ship’s musicians, who kept the crowd of passengers stranded on the deck calm—by playing ragtime, waltzes, and finally hymns—until the ship’s final moments. Survivors’ accounts mention two pieces of music specifically which were played by the band at this time, and I knew that I wanted to incorporate these into the orchestral fabric of my work. The first of these is Irving Berlin’s “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” which was one of the most popular songs of 1911-12, and which reflected the exuberance and optimism of the end of the Gilded Age. One account states that this was one of the tunes played when the lifeboats were first being lowered. The second and more significant piece of music here incorporated was mentioned in several survivors’ accounts: the hymn “Nearer, My God, to Thee,” which was said to be the last piece played by the band in the ship’s final moments.

In addition to these two pre-existing pieces of music, there are three significant structural elements of my own design, each of which serves as a sort of “character” in this “musical drama.” The first of these is a representation of the eternal sea on which the Titanic sailed, and to which it fell victim. This is accomplished through numerous overlapping slides, or glissandi, in the strings, timpani, trombones, horns, and the more exotic water gong, accompanied by tolling bells. The piece begins with three soft but faintly ominous strokes, initiating “waves” which grow steadily, over the course of two minutes, from mere murmurs to chaotic fury. This is the awesome power of nature so arrogantly tempted by man. This climax leads to the second major theme—fast, ornamented, and optimistic, played first by trumpets and percussion—which represents the Gilded Age. This is alternated, then combined, with fragments of “Alexander’s Ragtime Band.” This section subsides, and the “sea music” returns, which leads to a waltz, played by upright piano and solo violin, which is actually the “Gilded Age theme” in disguise. The waltz fades, and there is stillness. Then, just as an iceberg interrupted the Titanic’s peaceful night idyll, there is an enormous percussion crash, followed by three repeated blows. Out of this emerges the last major theme, a slow-moving passacaglia, or repeated motive in the bass, which to me represents the ship’s fate. As this passacaglia continues, the music above it grows increasingly agitated, leading to the work’s dynamic climax, a dissonant, desperate cry for help. Of course, this is not to be found, and out of this cry emerges the hymn, “Nearer, My God, to Thee,” a calm moment of faith in the face of the inevitable.

The final section of this work contains the most complex music I have ever written, and it was inspired by a specific moment, the ship’s very last. Just before the liner broke in two, so much water had flooded its bow that the steel behemoth literally stood upright in the water, its stern fully elevated a few hundred feet above the water’s surface. (This is recreated with frightening accuracy in James Cameron’s film.) At this moment, all the contents of the ship—from enormous boilers to grand pianos, furniture, china, passengers, luggage—came crashing down atop one another, and for one brief moment, things which were never meant to occupy the same place did just that. This inspired me to attempt the same phenomenon musically, and so all of the musical themes of the work, both original and “borrowed,” return simultaneously in their original keys and tempos, like “ghosts” crashing into one another. One by one, these “ghosts” fade, engulfed by the “sea music,” until it alone remains, eternal. An offstage trumpet plays the hymn a final time, like a spectral benediction, and the sea fades to silence.

The score’s dedication reads: “In memory of the 1,517 lives lost in the North Atlantic on April 15, 1912.”

Boyer: Titanic

London Symphony Orchestra
Peter Boyer, conductor

Titanic historical images, and photos from the LSO recording sessions at Abbey Road Studios (2001)