In a letter to Johannes Brahms (1833–97) from May 1885, Elisabet von Herzogenberg singled out for special praise the composer's Wir wandelten, Op. 96, No. 2, set to a poem translated from the Magyar by Georg Friedrich Daumer. In so doing, she remarked:
How perfectly the words and music are blended in their deep emotion, their lovely animation! Such loving care has been lavished on every detail, and each tiny variant has its calculated effect in rendering the particular part more impressive.
Herzogenberg, wife of the composer Heinrich von Herzogenberg and herself a highly talented musician and former student of Brahms, easily could have been writing about any number of the composer's some 200 Lieder. Depth of feeling and seeming spontaneity are prized just as much as calculated craft together with the myriad fine points that go into any Lied. In this, she was in good company, for many of the composer's closest friends and admirers enthusiastically commented on the union of music and words to be found in his vocal music. Of these reactions, one of the most revealing and certainly one of the most concise comes from Brahms's only composition student, Gustav Jenner (1865–1920). First published in 1903, Jenner's remarks emphasize that the music must reflect the structure and meaning of the original poem, and he notes that such relations between the text and music include form, musical and verbal syntax, declamation, word painting, and harmony. In view of the depth of insight Jenner offers, together with his association with Brahms, his discussion will serve as the jumping-off point for the present introduction into the expressive world of the composer's Lieder.