In the 105 years since its doomed trip across the Atlantic, just seeing the name dredges up morose terms: panic, death, drowning, hypothermia. Another word that always emerges in my mind is arrogance, which is illustrated by the razor sharp contrasts of the ship’s reputation from the day the keel was laid in Belfast to the day it sank below the black waters and tumbled 2.4 miles to the bottom of the North Atlantic.
Opulence to tragedy.
Leisure to chaos.
Unsinkable to death trap.
I’ve had a fascination with Titanic since the pitiful remains of the ship were found on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean on 1985. I’ve accumulated a vast collection of books, watched movies and documentaries, and visited the traveling exhibits of relics pulled from the wreckage. I even touched a chunk of ice the same temperature as the water that awful night and shivered not from the cold, but from the horror of the reality.
Naturally, I was drawn to the 100th anniversary of Titanic’s sinking in April 2012. Its history came to life yet once again by a plethora of stories, including rehashing of survivors’ accounts (and debunking tall tales), and present-day events recognizing the milestone. I re-read many of the books I had collected. I even found a Titanic Twitter account which chronicled the trip in real time through the “experiences” of passengers and crew. On one hand, the unfolding Twitter story was interesting. On the other, it was creepy knowing the ending.
“The Titanic Requiem”
A story emerged from the entertainment industry that grabbed my attention and has never released its grip. A classical music creation, “The Titanic Requiem”, was being composed to coincide with the anniversary of the sinking. And the composers of what was being touted as a masterpiece were most unexpected: Robin Gibb and his son, RJ.
Yes, Robin Gibb as in the Bee Gees. The twin brother of Maurice and little brother of Barry. The group famous (or infamous) for the disco sound of “Saturday Night Fever” and 50 years of pop music.
Yet it’s evident that the potential for Robin’s first classical composition had always been there. The Bee Gees sold more than 220 million records worldwide, making them one of the world’s best-selling music artists of all time. They wrote all of their own hits, as well as writing and producing several major hits for other artists. Their albums in later years illustrated the musical range, maturity, and sophistication of their sound. Their music has been considered pop by most, but to me it was deeper due to the thought-provoking themes and lyrics.
A New Titanic Focus
When I heard about “The Titanic Requiem” my interest in the Titanic was reborn with a different focus: the fragility of the composer. Robin had been battling major health problems during the creation of the masterpiece and was eventually diagnosed with colorectal cancer in November 2011. But he pressed on with RJ’s support.
“The Titanic Requiem” premiered on April 10, 2012, at the Westminster Central Hall in London, performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the RSVP Voices choir. Robin was too sick to attend and RJ spoke on his behalf. He died on six weeks later, on May 20, of liver and kidney failure, complications of the cancer that left him skeletal at the end. He was 62.
A Final Message
I’ve watched part of the performance on the internet and listened to excepts on YouTube. In my opinion—and I know next to nothing about classical music—the 15-movement album is absolutely stunning in both the complexity of the music and the messages in the lyrics.
The movements range from majestic and soothing to mystical, and eventually building up to haunting. Titles chronicle the life of the ship and its occupants: “Triumph”, “Farewell (Immigrant Song)”, “Under the Stars”, “SOS”, “Distress”, “Salvation”, and “Reflections.” They’re a long way from “Night Fever” and “More than a Woman.”
I was almost overcome by the combination of goose bumps and a punch to the heart when Robin sang “Don’t Cry Alone.” The song poignantly and sorrowfully illustrated not just the human tragedy of the Titanic, but became Robin’s final message to his family, friends and fans.
But I did cry. I still tear up each time I listen to it.
Since discovering “The Titanic Requiem” I have come to see Robin through a different lens. I see him beyond the album covers, publicity photos, and concerts as a Bee Gee. And if you take a few minutes to listen to excerpts from “The Titanic Requiem”, you’ll understand why.
More about “The Titanic Requiem”