Brahms' output of vocal music is greater than that of his instrumental music. He published thirty-one volumes of solo Lieder (songs), six volumes of duets and five of quartets. His settings up to 1860 are either strophic (each verse the same) or varied strophic. With the publication of the Songs, Op. 32, in 1864 we find Brahms' first through-composed settings, in which each verse is set differently. After 1877, through-composed songs nearly disappear and strophic settings find new life. Varied strophic forms appear at all points in Brahms' career. Although he set many poems by Goethe and two by Schiller, Brahms showed a predilection for the work of second-rate poets, usually choosing texts for their musical potential.
Along with the songs of Opp. 3 and 6, those of Op. 7 belong to what is generally called Brahms' first creative period. Two of the Op. 7 songs, "Parole" and "Anklänge," date from 1853; "Volkslied" and "Die Trauernde" are from 1852 and "Heimkehr," probably the earliest song Brahms preserved, is from 1851. Scholars believe "Treue Liebe" was composed between 1852 and 1853. The Op. 7 set was printed in 1854. Thus, some of the songs of Op. 7 were composed before those of Op. 3. All six are set in minor keys.
Brahms unabashedly illustrates the text of Eduard Ferrand's "Treue Liebe" (True Love). As a young woman waits by the seaside, she asks why the waves do not return her beloved to her. In the third verse, as the sea engulfs her, Brahms varies the both the melody and accompaniment, venturing from the tonic, F sharp minor, into "flat" harmonies representing the depth of the ocean and including swirling arpeggios as the woman sinks into the water.
"Parole" (Word of Honor) is by Joseph von Eichendorff (1788-1857). The lengthiest song of the Op. 7 collection, "Parole" is the story of a woman who waits, forever it seems, for her lover to return from a hunt. Brahms' setting combines simple strophic and ternary form (AABBA'). Some text repetition at the ends of verses betrays Brahms' familiarity with folk song construction.
Also by Eichendorff, "Anklänge" (Harmony) describes a house, isolated in the forest, in which a girl spins thread for her wedding gown. The incessantly syncopated right hand of the accompaniment provides the background against which both the voice and left hand trace the melody while the 3/4 meter emphasizes the iambic pattern of the text. The central section ventures away from A minor into the major mode, anticipating the close of the song on A major.
Both "Volkslied" (Folksong) and "Die Trauernde" (The Mourner) are traditional German folk song texts in a southern German dialect. In "Volkslied" a person wishes swallows would take her to another place, for she is miserable where she is. The accompaniment follows the voice line throughout this simple strophic song, beginning and ending in E minor. "Die Trauernde" describes a man who grieves over the death of his sweetheart. Brahms' compositional simplicity comes to the fore in a Baroque-era chord progression. Sudden shifts between A minor and A major mark the varied third verse, which stresses the unusual rhythm opening the first two verses.
Evidently in a rush to get home, the subject of "Heimkehr" (Returning Home), by L. Uhland, hopes the world will not end before he can be near his loved one. In B minor and marked Allegro agitato, "Heimkehr" features an operatic atmosphere, created through rushing triplets and driving bass as well as a frantic, discontinuous voice part with a wide dynamic range and grand close on B major.