The Titanic has attracted a considerable number of musical pictures and other
commemorations. There is something hypnotically attractive about the mixture
of tragedy, the ultimately unequal battle between natural forces and the
heights of human endeavour represented by this giant amongst liners. The
film and the Celtic-inflected score by Jerry Goldsmith has attracted considerable
popular attention. Also notable were the 1950s film A Night To Remember (with
a score by William Alwyn). Since those innocent days when people felt no
embarrassment about calling ships Titanic, Irresistible and Indefatigable
we have become more realistically cautious about naming things.
This giant 5-movement poem may well interest those made curious by the current
media surge about the Titanic phenomenon. Magill was born in Sheffield in
1954. Britten was his musical mentor but his music does not bear any real
sign of Brittens voice. He studied with David Parkhouse (piano) and
Philip Cannon (composition) He wrote this piece, in five pictures, in 1988.
The first piece is dark and rumbling - setting off deep vibrations. It is
entitled Lamentation for the Dead and was originally inspired by a
the death of a friend killed in a boating accident in Brittany. The second
picture is The Departure which opens in swirling cascades of notes
to the accompaniment of deeper bass figures signifying the vessel and a siren.
The rumbling colossal power of the vessel is strongly evoked.
The third picture is The Voyage. This is subdivided into 10 episodes.
By this time we know that the music is suggestive rather than epic-melodic.
The voices of Ravel, Debussy, Sorabji and Szymanowski are the nearest parallels
I can come up with. The piano work is imaginative in its presentation of
textures, echoes, rumblings and moods glimpsed rather than confronted. An
exception is the Chopin-like and delicate Waltz (in picture 10) dedicated
to William Hartley and his band all of whom were drowned. The Fourth picture
is a portentous depiction of the iceberg in starry bright and ice-cold angular
figures and clusters of notes. All the time the left-hand notes suggest depth
and massive implacable scale.
There are five other related pieces on the disc. Archibald Joyces charming
salon pieces, Remembrance and Songe dAutomne are played in
Magills arrangements. Magill also arranged the touching and fragile
Irish melody The Lass of Aughrim and dedicated it to the 50 Irish
victims of the iceberg. Magills really rather fine The Titanic Waltz
returns to close the disc in affectingly grand style.
Aficionados of Titanic culture should seek out this disc. Also anyone at
all interested in contemporary piano literature would do well to track it
down. For the more general listener I can only suggest that you sample this.
Certainly if you enjoy the music of the composers I have mentioned (and perhaps
I should add Medtner as well) then you will want this disc.