Selling seashells poses no tongue twister in French, but “Je vends des scapulaires,” (“I Sell Seashells”) a popular melody from a comic opera by Ferdinand Herold, did inspire Chopin to test his chops and charms with a set of variations on the tune.
No more sideways, yet heartfelt a compliment can be paid the piece than what Jeremy Nicholas writes to accompany Garrick Ohlsson’s recording:
"Many commentators pour scorn on it, but it is an effective and sparkling display piece well up to contemporary standards of tasteful superficiality. Most remarkable is that anyone could take such a dull theme and make it so entertaining."
Chopin biographer James Huneker is less generous in his assessment:
"[it] is the weakest of Chopin’s muse. It is Chopin and water, and…eau sucrée at that. The piece is written tastefully, is not difficult, but woefully artificial."
The Variations—a lucrative form of entertainment at the time--were published in 1833 and dedicated to a Miss Emma Horsford. They were the last work of this kind Chopin was to compose. - Jennifer Foster