Strauss composed his Sechs Lieder, Op. 17 to poems of Adolf Friedrich von Schack in 1885 - 1887, around the time he was serving as the court music director in Meiningen (1885 - 1886) and moving from Meiningen to Munich, where he lived from 1886 to 1889, working as the Court Opera's third conductor. Between the Opus 10 and Opus 17 songs, Strauss had composed such works as his Second Symphony (1884) and his "symphonic fantasy" Aus Italien (1886), as well as another collection of songs to texts of Michelangelo and Schack, the Fünf Lieder, Op. 15 (1884 - 1886). Although Ständchen proved to be one of Strauss' most popular songs, the composer always claimed it embarrassed him, a perplexing notion given that the song displays Strauss' compositional virtuosity in all its brilliance and his flirtatious sense of play at its peak.
Strauss' musical setting brings to life the excitement of the clandestine tryst in Adolf Friedrich von Schack's poem. The piano accompaniment bristles expectantly with constant sixteenth-note arpeggios, slowing into brief chordal cadences only at the ends of the first two text strophes. The soprano melody begins with repeated octave leaps -- a reveille from the lover to his beloved -- and unfolds in a sprightly combination of leaps and scalar waves, short and long note values. Even the song's F sharp major tonality, the key of magic and dreaminess in Strauss' system of tonal symbolism, conspires to convey in the first two strophes of the text the nervous anticipation of the assignation. A downward shift from brilliant F sharp major to the flat VI key (D major) at the beginning of the third strophe is a clever representation of the text "Sitz' nieder, hier dämmerts geheimnissvoll unter den Lindenbäumen" ("Sit down! The darkness is mysterious here / Under the lime trees"), the flat VI key being a quintessentially Romantic musical symbol for the mysterious and magical. Strophe three, different from the preceding two strophes in key, melody, harmonic progression, and fidelity to the prosody of the text, thus rubs against the strophic construction of the poem itself. The piano postlude concludes the song with an arpeggiated dominant-tonic cadence in the upper register -- two tosses of glittering magic dust.