Schumann was such a quick and prolific composer that it's often difficult to draw distinct points of development in his style, but Schumann himself described these songs as "my most Romantic music ever." The Eichendorff texts are (with the exception of "Intermezzo," in which the location is not specified) all set outdoors, often with direct references to nature, and each refers to travel, whether thoughts traveling to a beloved or a physical journey, both typical Romantic concepts. They are also highly Romantic in their expressive moodiness, whether ecstatic or melancholy, and the occasional aura of mystery, whether the unexplained tears of the bride in "Auf einer Burg" or the supernatural in "Waldesgesprach." Schumann's selection of these varied poems itself creates a Romantic juxtaposition of emotions, and the passionate settings capture and emphasize those aspects.
They also show Schumann's increasing sophistication as a song composer; the piano becomes more important in its own right, and the scene painting from the piano is among Schumann's best, creating the desired effects immediately and with no excess. (The exception is the relentlessly jolly "Der frohe Wandersmann," which originally opened the cycle and which Schumann left out of the 1850 and subsequent editions.) For example, "Waldesgesprach" uses an alluring lyrical figure that quickly paints the seductive, wild figure of the Lorelei, a recitative-like dialog between the protagonists, and a hunting theme that first depicts the man as the hunter and the woman as the object of his hunt, and repeats at the end, ironically, to show the reversal of roles by the end of the song. There are quick characterizations, such as the sudden surge at "du schöne Braut" suggesting an eager lunge towards the lady, and the almost smugly seductive decrescendo on the honeyed "heim."
The cycle is atypical of Schumann in the relative lack of musical linkages between and among the songs. There is no piano postlude reprising a theme from the first song, as there is in "Frauenliebe und -leben" or "Dichterliebe," and while there are tonal connections between songs, most notably between "Auf einer Burg" and the following "In der Fremde" (which also share similar imagery), they are less closely constructed than the connections in other song cycles.
Schumann often integrated references to his and Clara's love in his songs and his instrumental and orchestral writing. In the second song, "Intermezzo," he includes the famous "Clara theme," a descending five-note pattern that in German notation spells out her name. Numerous elements of the cycle reflect events of Schumann's own life -- from blissful love to the wedding procession that fills the listener with sorrow in "Im Walde," paranoia in "Zwielicht," and finally the various images of death.