Mozart’s Lieder with piano was composed on June 24th, 1787, less than a month after his father Leopold’s death on May 28th. The text of this melancholy poem is thought to have been written by Joachim Heinrich Campe.
In this quatrain, which is a form of poem set in stanzas of four lines each (condensed below), the narrator speaks of his presentment of death to Laura, a name used since Petrarch to refer to the universal cherished woman. He reflects on life’s inevitable end and asks her to shed a tear on his grave which will be the “fairest pearl” in his heavenly diadem. These quatrains alternate in ten and seven syllable lines in an a-b-a pattern.
“It is evening, the sun has disappeared and the moon beams silvery light; Thus flee life’s lovliest hours flee away as if in dance. Soon are life’s colorful scenes flown and the curtain drops. Our play is over! The tears of our friends already flow over our grave. Soon perhaps, a quiet foreboding, like the quiet west wind, pains me; I end this Life’s pilgrimage, and fly to the land of Peace. Shall you then weep over my grave, mourn over my ashes, then oh friends, I shall appear to you and Heaven will comfort you. Shed a tear for me, and gather one violet for my grave, and look down on me with longing glance. Don’t be ashamed to weep for me, for your tears shall become the most beautiful pearls in my diadem.”
These moving words are set to connected arpeggiated chords beginning in F major passing through several harmonies, corresponding with the changing thoughts in the text.
The 18th Century French writer Saint-Foix suggested that the recent death of Mozart’s father led him to compose this Lieder. In a letter Mozart posted to his father, he wrote “Now I hear that you are seriously ill! . . .. I have accustomed myself in all things to anticipate the worst – that death (properly understood) is the true goal of life, so in the last few years have become so well acquainted with this true best friend of humanity that its visage not only no longer inspires terror in me but actually arouses deep feelings of calm and reassurance!