This cycle was the last work that Schumann composed in Dresden before his move to Düsseldorf. It has a strange history in that Schumann believed (mistakenly) that Lenau had died and added to the five settings of that poet a concluding ‘Requiem’ with an ‘old Catholic poem’. This gesture of mourning turned out to be prophetic: on the very day of the first performance in a gathering at the home of Schumann’s friend Bendemann (25 August 1850) news came that Lenau had in fact died. This turned out to be a mournful day in the Schumanns lives as their farewell to Dresden was darkened by a strangely disturbing coincidence. Schumann felt ‘as if I were tolling a passing-bell all unawares’. Clara Schumann noted in her diary: ‘The event, together with the songs put us all in melancholic mood …’ Because of Lenau's death Schumann was especially anxious to publish the songs as soon as possible. He wrote to the publisher Kistner: ‘One might decorate the title page with emblems of mourning such a black drape through which a star is visible … I should be pleased if you would help me to create a modest monument to the great but unfortunate poet. Knowing you, I am certain that you will find the appropriate design.’ In the event, Kistner complied with the composer’s wishes. Sams makes the point that Schumann might have especially identified with Lenau’s fate as a fellow-syphilitic.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1996