Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen, BWV 56
Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen (I will the cross-staff gladly carry), BWV 56, is a church cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach. He composed the solo cantata for bass in Leipzig for the 19th Sunday after Trinity Sunday and first performed it on 27 October 1726.
History and words
Bach wrote this cantata during his fourth year in Leipzig for the 19th Sunday after Trinity. It is regarded as part of his third annual cycle of cantatas. The original score has Bach's handwritten comment "Cantata à Voce Sola e Stromenti" (Cantata for solo voice and instruments). This is one of the few examples in which Bach uses the generic musical term cantata in his own writing.
The prescribed readings for the Sunday were from Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians, "put on the new man, which after God is created" (Ephesians 4:22–28), and from the Gospel of Matthew, Healing the paralytic at Capernaum (Matthew 9:1–8). The text by an unknown poet but of exceptional quality, refers indirectly to the Gospel. Although there is no explicit reference to the sick man in the text, he is customarily represented as the follower of Christ who bears his cross and suffers torment until his sins are forgiven by Christ, so that, in the words of Revelation 7:17 "God shall wipe away the tears from their eyes". The cantata accordingly takes as its starting point the torment that the faithful must endure. The image of life as a sea voyage to the Kingdom of Heaven in the first recitative comes from the opening of the Gospel reading: "There He went on board a ship and passed over and came into His own city" (Matthew 9:1). Affirmations that God will not forsake the faithful on this journey and will lead them out of tribulation come from Hebrews 13:5 and Revelation 7:14.
The third movement expresses the joy at being united with the Saviour; the text comes from Isaiah 40:31: "Those that wait upon the Lord shall gain new strength so that they mount up with wings like an eagle, so that they run and do not grow weary."
This joy is coupled with a yearning for death, a theme that is present until the very end of the work. The concluding chorale is the sixth verse of the hymn "Du, o schönes Weltgebäude" by Johann Franck (1653). Before the chorale, the final lines of the opening aria taken from Revelation 7:17 are heard once more; this unusual device appears several times in the third cycle of cantatas.
Bach first performed the cantata on 27 October 1726. One week before, he had also concluded a solo cantata by a chorale, the cantata for alto Gott soll allein mein Herze haben, BWV 169.
Scoring and structure
The cantata is scored for bass, a four-part choir, two oboes, taille or oboe da caccia, two violins, viola, cello, and basso continuo. Except for the obbligato oboe in movement 3, the three oboes double the violins and viola colla parte.
- Aria: Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen
- Recitative: Mein Wandel auf der Welt / ist einer Schiffahrt gleich
- Aria: Endlich wird mein Joch / wieder von mir weichen müssen
- Recitative: Ich stehe fertig und bereit
- Chorale: Komm, o Tod, du Schlafes Bruder
The opening aria is in bar form AAB, with two stollen (A) followed by an abgesang (B). The first stollen starts off with a ritornello for full orchestra, anticipating in counterpoint the rising and then falling motif of the bass soloist, mounting to an anguished augmented second marking the word Kreuzstab (Cross), followed by descending sighing figures signalling the bearing of the cross. After the entry of the soloist, with its long and highly expressive melismatic lines, the three groups of strings and oboes accompany in counterpoint and echoing responses drawn from motifs of the opening ritornello. The ritornello is then taken up in the second stollen, but with significant variations because of the differing text: "It leads me after my torments to God in the Promised Land". After a repeat of the opening ritornello, the final abgesang illustrates the words, "There into my grave shall I place all my grief, Then shall my Saviour wipe the tears from my eyes". Highly charged declamatory triplets, dramatically spanning the whole bass register, are responded to by sighing motifs in the accompaniment. A reprise of the orchestral ritornello brings the aria to a close.
In the second movement, the undulation of the sea is depicted in the accompaniment by flowing semiquavers in the violoncello over repeated quavers in the basso continuo. The joyous third movement is a da capo aria, illustrating the passage from Isiah. It is a lively concertante duet for solo oboe, bass soloist and basso continuo, full of elaborate coloraturas in the solo parts. The fourth movement starts as a declamatory recitative for bass with sustained string accompaniment which after seven bars changes time signature from 4/4 to 3/4, resuming a simplified and becalmed version of the second half of the abgesang from the first movement.
The final four part chorale, with the orchestra doubling the vocal parts, is an inspired masterpiece. Based on a melody by Crüger from 1646, it takes as metaphor a ship being brought safely to port, marking the end of the metaphorical journey in the cantata. Bach introduces dramatic syncopation for each declamation in "Come, O Death, you brother of sleep"; and it is only at the end of the penultimate line that torment and dissonance are transformed into glory and harmony, echoing the words "Denn durch dich komm ich herein / zu dem schönsten Jesulein" (For through thee I'll come inside / to the fairest Jesus-child).
- Les Grandes Cantates de J.S. Bach Vol. 18, Fritz Werner, Heinrich-Schütz-Chor Heilbronn, Pforzheim Chamber Orchestra, Barry McDaniel, Erato 1964
- Kreuzstab & Ich Habe Genug, Frans Bruggen, Max van Egmond, Sony 1977
- J.S. Bach: Solokantaten Kreuzstabkantate BWV 56; "Der Friede sei mit dir" BWV 158; "Ich habe genug" BWV 82, Karl-Friedrich Beringer, Windsbacher Knabenchor, Consortium Musicum, Siegmund Nimsgern, Baier Records 1991
- J.S. Bach: Complete Cantatas Vol. 17, Ton Koopman, Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra & Choir, Klaus Mertens, Antoine Marchand
- Bach: Kantaten · Cantatas BWV 82, BWV 158, BWV 56, Michael Schneider, Thomanerchor, La Stagione, Gotthold Schwarz, Capriccio 2006
- J. S. Bach – Cantatas through the Liturgical Year Vol. 1 Cantatas BWV 55, 56, 98, 180, Sigiswald Kuijken, La petite bande, Dominik Wörner, Accent 2006
- Bach Cantatas for Bass BWV 82/158/56/203 Ryo Terakado, il Gardellino, Dominik Wörner. Passacaille 2013.
The first source is the score.
Several databases provide additional information on each cantata:
- Cantata BWV 56 Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen history, scoring, sources for text and music, translations to various languages, discography, discussion, bach-cantatas website
- BWV 56 - "Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen" English translation, discussion, Emmanuel Music
- Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen history, scoring, Bach website (German)
- BWV 56 Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen English translation, University of Vermont
- BWV 56 Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen text, scoring, University of Alberta
- BWV 56 Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen analysis, Bach Choir of Bethlehem