The first movement is set in the shipyard where the Titanic was built.
It begins with a rhythmical “work theme.” Soon a melody, with a five note upward scale, appears in the flugel part. This opening section has many sudden dynamic changes, representing “industrial” noises. Great care is also necessary to distinguish the staccato quavers from the accented, non-staccato ones. After the end of shift hooter, a “play theme” is passed around the band, including several soloists. The hooter sounds again, and the work theme returns.
The second movement describes the launch of the ship. A quick march leads into the launch theme, a hymn tune. During the second verse, the ship starts to move on rollers down the slope towards the dock. It speeds up in the third verse, and enters the water with a splash. Then the Titanic parades proudly around the dock, to the tune of a barcarolle. The march re-appears; and at the end of the movement, everyone goes back to work.
The third movement begins with the ship’s engines, quietly pulsing in 5/8 time, underneath a horn solo, later repeated by all horns and soprano cornet, which shows radio operator Jack Phillips at his post. Soon the barcarolle returns, as the ship steams smoothly across the Atlantic. This becomes a dance band waltz, on a melody related (ironically) to Malcolm Arnold's "Padstow Lifeboat," with a show-off bass trombone solo. But at the moment of "And the band played on," the fun is interrupted by the engines, at full astern and struggling to cope. Increasingly ominous chords presage impact with the iceberg.
This is followed by four bars of chaos, in which a cornet quartet, supported only by basses, remembers those who, having run from their cabins up to the deck, found the lifeboats already full. The S.O.S. rings out, and the movement closes with acceptance of fate.
The final movement begins as a funeral march, and might be used on its own at a bandsman’s funeral. As at the very beginning of the piece, the flugel takes the solo, later followed by trombone and euphonium. As the music seems about to die away entirely, a roll on the suspended cymbal re-introduces the hymn-like launch theme from the second movement, now with an upward moving accompaniment. The music becomes more and more triumphant, until at the very end the five-note upward scale from the initial melody takes over entirely, and the suite ends at full volume with a classic chord.