Brahms' usual topic of his songs is the portrayal of the variety of human emotion, particularly involving the nature of love. Such a volatile and complex subject affords multiple interpretations, and Brahms skeptical nature makes it seem natural that any viewpoint taken must then be questioned. In this set he expresses this by using a pattern in which all the songs share a common poetic theme and musical style, but the final song acts as a questioning commentary on what has come before. This is a pattern found throughout Brahms' songs, but one that finds a particularly clear expression in this Opus. The first six songs all share Brahms' usual folk idiom, while the seventh is a more complex setting. They all are commentaries on the subject of grief.
1. Der Gang zum Liebchen (Visiting his Sweetheart). In a relatively ironic tone, this waltz-like song depicts a lover on the way to visit his dying sweetheart.
2. Der Überläufer (The Deserter). This early setting (1855) depicts a lover bemoaning the loss of his sweetheart to a rival with the simplest of means.
3. Liebesklage des Mädchens (The Maiden's Love Lament). A more elaborate accompaniment characterizes this companion piece to Number 2, which tells a similar tale, but from the woman's point of view.
4. Gold überwiegt die Liebe (Gold Prevails over Love). In this simple strophic setting Brahms effectively imitates the girl's sobbing over losing her sweetheart to a richer bride.
5. Trost in Tränen (Comfort in Tears) is another plain strophic setting, but employs a shift from major to minor to illustrate the dialogue between one friend attempting to comfort another.
6. Vergangen ist mir Glück und Heil (Happiness and Well-being are Lost to Me). This song is of great interest because it demonstrates Brahms mastery of archaic forms: it is a modal harmonization of an old German chorale tune.
7. Herbstgefühl (Autumnal Mood). The devastating mood of this song is enhanced by the possibility of consolation offered in the previous two. This is a deeply felt and profoundly bleak statement of hopelessness. Its seriousness of tone give, retrospectively, an ironic twist to the previous songs, which seem by comparison trivial in their sentiments.