Originally published: January 2012
On 10 April 1912 the fateful ocean passage of the RMS Titanic began in Southampton, England. Titanic was the biggest ship ever built; it was declared to be unsinkable. But on 15 April 1912, not long after hitting an iceberg, the Titanic sank to the bottom of the North Atlantic. That trip… and that ship… is so steeped in history, that 100 years after that fateful event, the world’s fascination with it has not ebbed.
Now, to honor the 100th anniversary of the catastrophic loss of life on that oceanic legend, Warner Music Groups’ Rhino Entertainment is proud to announce that one of popular music’s true living legends has completed work on a new symphonic piece to commemorate the disastrous voyage of the RMS Titanic.
Rock ‘n’ Roll and Songwriters Hall of Famer Robin Gibb (one of the co-founders of the Bee Gees) in collaboration with his son Robin-John (RJ) Gibb, have just finished their first classical work together: The Titanic Requiem. It will be released by Rhino Entertainment in the UK on 19 March 2012 with a premiere concert of The Titanic Requiem in London close to the anniversary of the ship’s sinking.
Recorded over a half-dozen sessions during this past year at Air Studios in London, The Titanic Requiem is performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and features the RSVP Voices Choir, lead vocals from such opera notables as tenor Mario Frangoulis and (soon-to-be) 14 year old British choirgirl sensation Isabel Suckling. Suckling sings “Christmas Day,” which was digitally streamed exclusively on robingibb.com over the Christmas holiday period.
Perhaps most notably for pop music fans, The Titanic Requiem’s “Don’t Cry Alone,” features a lead vocal from Robin Gibb, the welcome return of one of music’s truly most unforgettable and distinctive voices.
In 2009, Robin and RJ Gibb were approached to consider participating in a project in Belfast (where Titanic was built) that would mark the centenary of the sinking of the Titanic. As RJ Gibb recalls, “We were asked to write a few songs. Which we were quite thrilled to do. Although it did not work out with that project, we decided that we had to continue, that we had to do justice and create something that would properly represent the over 1,500 souls who had perished.”
As Robin Gibb notes, “Things are made important by recognizing them. It was obviously a traumatic occasion but we need to be reminded, need to remember, and the work we’ve done came from our desire to motivate and educate and engage the listener in a way which is artistically enlightening.”
And so a most unexpected creative journey began, the creation of Robin and RJ Gibb’s first full-length symphonic piece, The Titanic Requiem.
For the Gibbs, father and son, the story of Titanic seemingly called to them from the depths of the ocean. RJ was immediately on-board, drawn in. “Having been brought up around classical music, having studied classical music, I had always wanted to do a classical piece. To do it with my father…well, that was a dream come true right from the start.”
The idea for it to be a requiem came from RJ’s musical training and knowledge of Latin. RJ: “I said to my father, ‘Let’s do this as a requiem based on the Latin Mass. To keep the integrity of the project in order, to give the people who died, an actual requiem, in the Latin sense of it, just seemed the right way to express what we felt about Titanic.” Robin agreed.
In May of 2010, the Gibbs met with Ian Maclay of the Royal Philharmonic and as Robin recalls, “The response to our idea of a requiem was very positive. There was great enthusiasm for the notion that we would compose a classical work about Titanic.”
As Robin and RJ began to focus on the immensity of the Titanic’s sinking, what Robin calls “the double shock” of the ship’s sinking and the inconceivable loss of life…well, the powerful emotions Robin and RJ felt almost instantly evoked, for them, strong musical ideas, themes and melodies.
For RJ Gibb, because of the subject matter, the creative process was very emotional. “Musically, for me, the Requiem draws on the baroque, romantic and classical periods, but rather than trying to be avant-garde, we’ve come up with a new work that we think is very original yet one that still reflects the greatest music of the last several hundred years. “
Telling the story of Titanic through music was their goal. RJ explains: “The way we have done the requiem, it’s like a commemoration—-we start with the launch and the celebratory moments and the music takes us through the voyage and then into the accident, finally to afterwards, a piece of music honoring and remembering the souls lost in the wake of the sinking. We remember it is a memorial, a requiem for these people so we have kept the respect and the tradition as well as try to make something compatible to today’s ears.” For Robin, there was no question that “we were both passionate about it. And because of the emotional value in it, it was a labour of love.”
RJ: “My father had long ago taught me about the importance of artistic integrity of music. And so I knew we wouldn’t want to create anything we didn’t love ourselves. Creating something you can leave as a legacy and be proud of. It’s not about fame, but about being proud of it and loving the music you make.”
From conception to completion, the album itself was over a year in the making. Robin and RJ, composing and working together at their home studio in Thame, Oxfordshire, would arrange and produce the music with producer/engineer Savvas Iosifidis. The Gibbs worked with arranger/producer Cliff Masterson to turn their melodic pieces, themes and ideas for instrumentation into the final orchestral pieces.
Robin admits, “A ‘Requiem’ is an ambitious project. We’re trying to tell the story via the music rather than the images, trying to create music which will live on, without gimmicks or ‘prestigism.’ It’s not a rock opera at all; it’s done very traditionally, like Mozart would compose it in the 1700s.” Smiling, he observes, “There are no back beats.”
Robin and RJ were determined not to write a rock opera or a pop album with orchestral accompaniment; they set out to create a genuine modern classic, a challenge that never seemed overwhelmingly to them. Robin: “I didn’t find composing this requiem much different than writing and producing a pop song. I found the work on the requiem really gratifying, and of course it was also a pleasure working with my son Robin-John. I’m very excited about this project and I’ve got no doubt that the quality of this work is some of the best I’ve done.”
Beginning in December 2010, with Robin and RJ sharing the producers’ chair, sessions for The Titanic Requiem unfolded at London’s landmark Air Studios. The Orchestra was recorded between February and September 2011, and the choir and vocal work was completed in the autumn, and the final mix completed just before Christmas.
Given Robin Gibb’s monumental track record as a songwriter, the three pieces featuring lead vocalists are sure to attract particular notice. Gibb himself singles out “Daybreak,” which features a lead vocal from Mario Frangoulis. Robin believes that “it’s probably one of the finest songs I’ve ever done.”
“Don’t Cry Alone,” the one piece Robin himself sings, is certain to command enormous attention. Robin’s voice wonders, “If your heart is breaking…” And, of course, it is. When Robin sings “Don’t Cry Alone,” his strong yet ethereal voice covers us with love, and we cry…but we are not alone.
The music of The Titanic Requiem is the soundtrack to take us back, as we time travel, to feel and to honor the events of long ago. That is the history legacy which Robin and RJ Gibb were determined to honor with The Titanic Requiem, but do it in such a way that it is both classical and contemporary.
With The Titanic Requiem the Gibbs have created something that is both new and different but rooted in the kind of timeless music that as Robin puts it, shows “how relevant music is to the human spirit.” For the moment, on behalf of his father and himself, RJ Gibb offers the final word: “I hope everybody loves it as much as we do.”
About The Composers:
Robin Gibb was one of the most successful songwriters in the history of popular music. In fact, it is quite impossible to imagine the 20th Century without the remarkable sounds he made with his brothers, Barry and his late fraternal twin, Maurice. The Bee Gees, who recently celebrated their 50th anniversary as a group, have been world-famous since 1967, and they are one of the most successful musical families in pop music history. Robin sadly passed away on May 20th, 2012.
Robin-John (RJ) Gibb has a life-long love of music, film and theatre. RJ’s life in music began early, when as a child, he studied at Miami’s Sdoia Satz Institute where he learned to play piano, Suzuki violin and saxophone, before eventually settling on trumpet. Ultimately, his interest in keyboards took precedence. RJ also formed a Rap band in Miami: The High Rollers. After moving to the UK he continued to compose and provided music for a series of films on Irish History. The first of these, Blind Eye was released in 2008. RJ has been asked to act in the others, as well as continuing to compose the music.
RJ first studied drama at Gulliver Academy, then subsequently enrolled in courses at RADA for both Classical and Contemporary Drama, and at The London Academy of Media, Film and TV. He has been studying drama with Andy Hinds, ex-RADA teacher and leading director, playwright and acting teacher.
RJ was a co-producer of Monte Hellman’s and Steven Gaydos’s award-winning film, “Road To Nowhere.” When not pursuing music and acting, he is usually absorbed in his other passion, theoretical and quantum physics.