The Sea


“The Sea” is perhaps one of MacDowell’s finest songs. Set to a text by William Dean Howells, it describes the tragic story of a lonely sweetheart waiting in vain for the return of her lover, who has died in a shipwreck. MacDowell's use of chromaticism and carefully placed eighth rests adds dramatic intensity to the song and suggests the inevitable outcome of the maritime disaster. "The Sea" is the seventh song in MacDowell's Eight Songs, Op. 47.


The audio recording, provided in the audio player to the right, features Thomas Hampson, baritone, and Wolfram Rieger, piano. To listen, please click on the track name itself. You can download a recording of "The Sea" for free through the Instant Encore website with the download code: THSOA2009.

The Sea

Although primarily known for his piano compositions, Edward MacDowell contributed over 40 songs to America’s repertoire. MacDowell’s song output can be divided into three stylistic periods. The early songs were written during the composer’s time in Germany, and feature settings of texts by notable German poets, including Goethe and Heine. By the late 1880’s, MacDowell was setting English texts, especially those written by contemporary American composers. For his late-period songs, MacDowell frequently set music to his own poems, which often centered on issues such as ideal love and the tranquility of nature. The Eight Songs, op. 47, are from this last period of song composition. They were written in 1893, when MacDowell was living in Boston and was at the height of his fame as a composer.

“The Sea” is the second to last song in the set. The Music Division at the Library of Congress houses several of MacDowell's holograph sketches of Eight Songs, as well as the first edition of the published work (Breitkopf & Härtel, 1893).

--Library of Congress

The Sea
by William Dean Howells

One sails away to sea, to sea,
One stands on the shore and cries;
The ship goes down the world, and the light
On the sullen water dies.

The whispering shell is mute,
And after is evil cheer;
She shall stand on the shore and cry in vain,
Many and many a year.

But the stately wide-winged ship
Lies wrecked, lies wrecked on the unknown deep;
Far under, dead in his coral bed,
The lover lies asleep.

Photo: The sailor's adieu. Currier and Ives, 1845. Prints and Photographs Reading Room, Library of Congress.

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