Tuesday 18 June 2024

An Earworm Investigated

 I've long been susceptible to earworms, sometimes pretty outlandish ones – a while back it was John Cale's Hanky Panky Nohow, which took some shaking. The latest pesky squatter in the music section of my addled brain is a hymn – Nearer, My God, to Thee, of all things.
  I think it happened like this: for some reason I was thinking about the sinking of the Titanic – perhaps I had passed too close to the statue of Captain Smith that stands in Beacon Park – and the hymn that might well have been played by the orchestra while the great ship went down entered my train of thought. It was already well on its way to settling in for a stint as resident earworm when yesterday, as I approached the market square, I heard music... I heard, to be specific, a male and a female voice singing, as you have no doubt guessed, Nearer, My God, to Thee, and singing it right lustily. The singers were of oriental appearance – maybe Chinese or Korean Christians – and were clearly deeply committed to their hymn singing. It made a pleasing change from the usual busker fare – but of course it also firmly entrenched that earworm. 
  Reading up about Nearer, My God, to Thee (on the 'know your enemy' principle), I discovered that nothing about it is simple. It is by no means certain that the hymn was played as the Titanic went down – or, if it was, which tune was used: there are three to choose from, one of them, Proprio Deo, written by Arthur Sullivan and favoured by the Methodist church, and two more Victorian settings, 'Horbury' and 'Bethany'. The version lodged in my brain is, I believe, the last named. I learnt, in the course of my researches, that Carl Nielsen wrote a paraphrase of Nearer, My God, to Thee for wind band. It's a rather remarkable piece, culminating in a startling rendition of the Titanic hitting the iceberg...

And here, for good measure, is the moving scene from the 1958 film A Night to Remember in which the ship's musicians (none of whom survived) do indeed play the hymn as the Titanic goes down...

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