Ich armer Mensch, ich Sündenknecht, BWV 55

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The final page from the original manuscript of BWV 55, with the concluding four-part chorale

Ich armer Mensch, ich Sündenknecht (I, wretched man, a servant to sin), BWV 55, is a church cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach. He composed it in Leipzig for the 22nd Sunday after Trinity and first performed it on 17 November 1726.

History and words[edit]

Bach wrote the cantata, a solo cantata for a tenor, in 1726 in Leipzig for the 22nd Sunday after Trinity and performed it first on 17 November 1726. It is Bach's only extant cantata for tenor.[1]

The prescribed readings for the Sunday were from the Epistle to the Philippians, thanks and prayer for the congregation in Philippi (Philippians 1:3–11), and from the Gospel of Matthew, the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:23–35). The unknown poet of the cantata text stressed the opposites of the gospel, God's justice versus unjust men, in the words of the first aria "Er ist gerecht, ich ungerecht" ("He is just, unjust am I"). In the first two movements the singer reflects his sinful condition, in the following two he asks God for mercy, beginning both with Erbarme dich ("Have mercy"). The following closing chorale is verse 6 of Werde munter mein Gemüte of Johann Rist (1642). Bach used the same verse later in his St Matthew Passion, again following Erbarme dich, the aria of Peter, regretting his denial of Jesus.[1][2]

Scoring and structure[edit]

The cantata in five movements is scored for a tenor soloist, a four-part choir (only for the final chorale), flauto traverso, oboe d'amore, two violins, viola, and basso continuo.[2]

  1. Aria: Ich armer Mensch, ich Sündenknecht ("I, wretched man, a servant to sin")[3]
  2. Recitative: Ich habe wider Gott gehandelt ("I have offended against God")
  3. Aria: Erbarme dich! Laß die Tränen dich erweichen ("Have mercy! Let my tears move Thee")
  4. Recitative: Erbarme dich! Jedoch nun tröst ich mich ("Have mercy! However, I console myself")
  5. Chorale: Bin ich gleich von dir gewichen, stell ich mich doch wieder ein ("Though I have turned aside from Thee, Yet shall I return")


A rich polyphonic setting for flute, oboe d'amore and two violins, without viola, accompanies the opening aria. The motifs seem to illustrate the faltering steps and a despairing heart of the steward summoned before his master.[1] The second aria is as expressive, accompanied by a virtuoso flute. The first recitative is secco, but the second one accompanied by string chords.

The closing chorale is the same text and melody as in the St Matthew Passion, here in a simpler four-part setting.[2] Those two occurrences are the only ones of the text, whereas the melody was used frequently in other contexts, best known in Wohl mir, dass ich Jesum habe closing in two verses both parts of Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben, BWV 147.

Commentators have concluded from the autograph that the last three movements were originally part of an earlier untraced composition for Passiontide, possibly the lost 1717 Weimar Passion.[1][2]



  1. ^ a b c d John Eliot Gardiner (2000). "Cantatas for the Twenty-second Sunday after Trinity All Saints, Tooting". solideogloria.co.uk. Retrieved 25 October 2010. 
  2. ^ a b c d Alfred Dürr (2006), The cantatas of J.S. Bach, Oxford University Press, pp. 616–619, ISBN 0-19-929776-2 
  3. ^ Stokes, Richard (2004), J.S. Bach: The complete cantatas in German-English translation, Scarecrow Press, pp. 91–92, ISBN 0-8108-3933-4 , the original German texts of all Bach's sacred and secular cantatas, accompanied by English translations