The Poet, the Publisher, and the Pedagogue: Breezy on the surface, this rendition of “Sea-Shell” is actually a product of three titans of early-20th-century American arts and letters: Poet Amy Lowell, who wrote the words; pianist, composer, and founder of the G. Schirmer publishing house Carl Engel, who wrote the tune; and legendary Curtis Institute of Music director Efrem Zimbalist, who turned it into a charming-but-difficult salon piece,
Simple on the surface, but in its explanation – and execution! – layered and complex. Franco-American Composer Carl Engel‘s Sea-shell bears all the trappings of a charming salon piece from a century ago, and sounds at first hearing like a piece very much in keeping with its original 1911 publication date.
But lean in a little closer, and you’ll discover the evocative words are by one of the most advanced poets of the era, (in fact, the first woman ever to deliver a lecture at Harvard University), and the melody crafted by a French-immigrant pianist that went on to found one of the most important music-publishing houses in the world, and later directed the Music Division of the storied Library of Congress.
Three decades later, along comes the director of the Curtis Institute to turn this seeming ditty into a seriously challenging encore piece. Here to explore the sonics of the Sea-Shell is #VirtualHeifetz2020 student Alexandra Woroniecka and pianist Esther Lim. Lift it up to your ear for the message from the sea!
Sea Shell Sea Shell, Sea Shell, Sing me a song, O Please! A song of ships, and sailor men, And parrots, and tropical trees, Of islands lost in the Spanish Main Which no man ever may find again, Of fishes and corals under the waves, And seahorses stabled in great green caves. Sea Shell, Sea Shell, Sing of the things you know so well. Published in A Dome of Many-Coloured Glass, 1912