from Eight Songs, op. 47 (1893) by Edward MacDowell
Although he is primarily known for his piano compositions, Edward MacDowell contributed over forty songs to America's repertoire. His song output can be divided into three stylistic periods. MacDowell's early songs were written during his time in Germany and feature settings of texts by notable German poets, including Goethe and Heine. By the late 1880s, 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.
MacDowell's Eight Songs, op. 47, come from his last period of song composition. Written in 1893 while living in Boston, these songs were penned when MacDowell was at the height of his fame as a composer. The second to last song in the set, "The Sea," is perhaps one of MacDowell's finest songs. Set to a text by William Dean Howells, "The Sea" describes the tragic story of a lonely sweetheart waiting in vain for the return of her lover, who has died in a shipwreck at sea. 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 Music Division at the Library of Congress houses several of MacDowell's holograph sketches of Eight Songs in its collections, as well as the first edition of the published work (Breitkopf & Härtel, 1893).