What was the violin hymn played at the sinking of the Titanic?

18 March 2020, 16:06

What was the violin hymn played at the sinking of the Titanic?
What was the violin hymn played at the sinking of the Titanic? Picture: PA

By Rosie Pentreath

It has become legend that the chamber group performing on the Titanic the night it sank played until the very end. But, what were they playing and who wrote it?

The moment ‘the violins kept playing’ has become one of the enduring legends of the sinking of the Titanic.

On top of these musicians’ heroic contribution in trying to instil calm to the very last moment, what they played is still known to this day.

The string players performed ‘Nearer, my God, to thee’, a 19th-century hymn published in Hymns and Anthems – a tome used at South Place Chapel, Finsbury, London – in 1841.

The Hymn, which was written by Sarah Fuller Adams (see below), is a retelling of Jacob’s Dream from Genesis 28:11–12 of the Bible.

Various survivors’ accounts reported that the ship’s string players continued to perform a version of the hymn as the ship was sinking, although others contradicted this and stated it was Archibald Joyce’s waltz, Autumn Dream.

Whatever the final, final piece they played, ‘Nearer, my God, to thee’ has been immortalised in the narrative of that tragic day in 1912 – largely due to it featuring in film retellings, including James Cameron’s 1997 epic, Titanic, starring Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio.

Read more: Rare ‘Titanic’ violin played by ship’s bandleader goes on public display >

Who wrote ‘Nearer, my God, to thee’?

The hymn is attributed to English poet and hymn writer, Sarah Fuller Adams. Adams was the daughter of the radical journalist and editor, Benjamin Flower, famous for opposing England’s involvement with the Napoleonic Wars, among other things.

Read more: The story of the Titanic violin is unbelievable and emotional >

What are the lyrics to ‘Nearer, my God, to thee’?

Nearer, my God, to thee, nearer to thee!
E'en though it be a cross that raiseth me,
still all my song shall be,
nearer, my God, to thee;
nearer, my God, to thee, nearer to thee!

Though like the wanderer, the sun gone down,
darkness be over me, my rest a stone;
yet in my dreams I'd be
nearer, my God, to thee;
nearer, my God, to thee, nearer to thee!

There let the way appear, steps unto heaven;
all that thou sendest me, in mercy given;
angels to beckon me
nearer, my God, to thee;
nearer, my God, to thee, nearer to thee!

Then, with my waking thoughts bright with thy praise,
out of my stony griefs Bethel I'll raise;
so by my woes to be
nearer, my God, to thee;
nearer, my God, to thee, nearer to thee!

Or if, on joyful wing cleaving the sky,
sun, moon, and stars forgot, upward I fly,
still all my song shall be,
nearer, my God, to thee;
nearer, my God, to thee, nearer to thee!