Edward Alexander MacDowell was born on December 18, 1860, in lower east side Manhattan, New York. His parents were Thomas MacDowell, a milkman, and his musically inclined mother was Frances Knapp MacDowell. MacDowell’s mother wanted him to learn piano. She employed Juan Buitrago, a Colombian violinist who was living with the MacDowell family for the time being. MacDowell’s other piano teachers were Teresa Carreno and friends of Buitrago. The MacDowell family moved to Paris, France, in 1877. Edward was admitted to the Paris conservatory. Later he continued his education at Dr. Hoch’s Conservatory in Frankfort, Germany. He studied piano with Carl Heymann and composition with Joachim Raff. MacDowell also taught piano at "Schmitt's Akademie für Tonkunst" in Darmstadt for a year. In 1884, MacDowell married Marian Griswold Nevins, an American, who was a student of Edward’s for three years. Marian sadly suffered from an illness that left her unable to have children. From 1885 to 1888, MacDowell spent most of his time on composition work. In the autumn of 1888, MacDowell decided to return to the United States, because of financial difficulties. The MacDowell’s lived in Boston where Edward became Professor of Music at Columbia University until 1904. As Edward taught and composed from 1896 to 1898, he directed the Mendelssohn Glee Club. He also composed music for the group to perform. In 1896, Hillcrest Farm was purchased by Marian MacDowell to serve as their summer home located in Peterborough, New Hampshire. MacDowell was inspired by the beautiful setting. He was most likely inspired by in this new environment. In some of his smaller pieces, he caught much of the American spirit by blending romantic techniques with an intimate feeling for the American scene. "If a composer is sincerely American at heart," MacDowell said, "his music will be American." MacDowell's compositions included two piano concertos, two orchestral suites, four symphonic poems, four piano sonatas, piano suites and songs. He also published dozens of piano transcriptions of mostly 18th century pre-piano keyboard pieces. MacDowell published 13 piano pieces and a 4 part song under the pseudonym of Edgar Thorn in 1896 to 1898. During American Academy of Arts and Letters, they had invited Edward as one of their early selections for membership in 1904. The MacDowell’s envisioned starting a colony for artists in Peterborough, New Hampshire, close to their home. MacDowell was a wonderful piano teacher, and two of his students were John Pierce Langs and Edward Sapir. Edward MacDowell died on January 23, 1908, in New York City, at the early age 48. His wife Marion cared for him until the day he died. Marion, in 1907, founded the Edward MacDowell Association. She led it for more than 25 years. Their dream had come true.
The Sea Pieces were composed in 1898. They reveal MacDowell at the height of his lyric and dramatic ability.