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Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen, BWV 56

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Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen
BWV 56
Church cantata by J. S. Bach
Autograph manuscript of
opening bass aria from BWV 56[a]
Occasion19th Sunday after Trinity
Cantata textby Christoph Birkmann
Chorale"Du, o schönes Weltgebäude" by Johann Franck
Performed27 October 1726 (1726-10-27): Leipzig
Duration21 minutes

Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen (lit.'"I will gladly carry the cross-staff"'), BWV 56, is a church cantata composed by Johann Sebastian Bach for the 19th Sunday after Trinity. It was first performed in Leipzig on 27 October 1726. The composition is a solo cantata (German: Solokantate) because, apart from the closing chorale, it requires only a single vocal soloist, in this case a bass or bass-baritone. Bach rarely used the word cantata to refer to a composition: the autograph score of BWV 56 is one of a few cases where he did. The work is regarded as part of Bach's third cantata cycle.

The text, written by Christoph Birkmann, describes in the first person a Christian willing to "carry the cross" as a follower of Jesus. The poet compares life to a voyage towards a harbour, referring indirectly to the prescribed Gospel reading which says that Jesus travelled by boat. The person, at the end, yearns for death as the ultimate destination, to be united with Jesus. This final desire for death is reinforced by the closing chorale: the stanza "Komm, o Tod, du Schlafes Bruder" ("Come, o death, you brother of sleep") from Johann Franck's 1653 hymn "Du, o schönes Weltgebäude", which uses the imagery of a sea voyage.

Bach composed the cantata in his fourth year as Thomaskantor in Leipzig. He structured it in five movements, alternating arias and recitatives for a bass soloist, and closing with a four-part chorale. He scored the work for a Baroque instrumental ensemble of three woodwind instruments (two oboes and taille), three string instrument parts (two violins and viola) and basso continuo. An obbligato cello features in the first recitative and an obbligato oboe in the second aria, resulting in different timbres in the four movements for the same voice part.

The autograph score and the performance parts are held by the Berlin State Library. The cantata was published in 1863 in volume 12 of the Bach-Gesellschaft Ausgabe (BGA), edited by Wilhelm Rust. The Neue Bach-Ausgabe (NBA) published the score in 1990, edited by Matthias Wendt. A critical edition was published by Carus-Verlag in 1999 as part of Stuttgarter Bach-Ausgaben.

In his biography of Bach, Albert Schweitzer praised the cantata, pointing out that it placed "unparalleled demands on the dramatic imagination of the singer," who must "depict convincingly this transition from the resigned expectation of death to the jubilant longing for death."[1] Beginning with a live broadcast in 1939, the cantata has been frequently recorded, often with well-known bass or bass-baritone soloists. The closing chorale features in Robert Schneider's 1992 novel, Schlafes Bruder, and its film adaption Brother of Sleep.


Bach was appointed by the town of Leipzig as its Thomaskantor (director of church music) in 1723. The position made him responsible for the music at four churches, and the training and education of boys singing in the Thomanerchor.[2] Cantata music was required for two major churches, Thomaskirche (St. Thomas) and Nikolaikirche (St. Nicholas), and simpler church music for two smaller churches: Neue Kirche (New Church) and Peterskirche (St. Peter).[3][4]

Bach took office in the middle of the liturgical year, on the first Sunday after Trinity. In Leipzig, cantata music was expected on Sundays and feast days except for the "silent periods" (tempus clausum) of Advent and Lent. In his first year, Bach decided to compose new works for almost all liturgical events; these works became known as his first cantata cycle.[5] He continued the following year, composing a cycle of chorale cantatas with each cantata based on a Lutheran hymn.[6]

Third Leipzig cantata cycle[edit]

Autograph manuscript of title page of Cantata No. 56, "Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen": the word "Kreuz" is replaced by the Greek letter χ, a rebus used by Bach to symbolize the paradox of the cross.[7]

The third cantata cycle encompasses works composed during Bach's third and fourth years in Leipzig, and includes Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen.[8][9] One characteristic of the third cycle is that Bach performed more works by other composers in addition to repeating his own, earlier works.[9] His new works have no common theme, as the chorale cantatas did.[10] Bach demonstrated a new preference for solo cantatas, dialogue cantatas and cantatas dominated by one instrument (known as concertante cantatas).[10] During the third cycle, he repeated performances of solo cantatas from his Weimar period based on texts by Georg Christian Lehms, Mein Herze schwimmt im Blut, BWV 199, and Widerstehe doch der Sünde, BWV 54. He used more texts by Lehms in the third cycle before turning to other librettists.[10]

Bach's solo cantatas are modeled after secular Italian works by composers such as Alessandro Scarlatti. Like the models, even church cantatas do not contain biblical text and very few close with a chorale.[10] His writing for solo voice is demanding, and requires trained singers. Richard D. P. Jones, a musicologist and Bach scholar, assumes that Bach "exploited the vocal technique and the interpretative skills of particular singers".[10] Jones describes some of these solo cantatas, especially Vergnügte Ruh, beliebte Seelenlust, BWV 170, Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen and Ich habe genug, BWV 82, as among Bach's "best loved" cantatas.[10]

Although dialogue cantatas also appear earlier in Bach's works, all four dialogues between Jesus and the Soul (Anima) – based on elements of the Song of Songs – are part of the third cycle.[11] The only chorale cantata of the third cycle, Lobe den Herren, den mächtigen König der Ehren, BWV 137, follows the omnes versus style and sets all stanzas of a hymn unchanged; Bach rarely used this style in his chorale cantatas, except in the early Christ lag in Todes Banden, BWV 4, and later chorale cantatas.[12]

Occasion, readings and text[edit]

A cross staff with an elaborate geometric design for the cross
Cross staff

Bach wrote the cantata for the 19th Sunday after Trinity, during his fourth year in Leipzig.[13] The prescribed readings for that Sunday were from Paul's epistle to the Ephesians – "Put on the new man, which after God is created" (Ephesians 4:22–28) – and the Gospel of Matthew: healing the paralytic at Capernaum (Matthew 9:1–8).[13] For the occasion, Bach had composed in 1723 Ich elender Mensch, wer wird mich erlösen, BWV 48 (Wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me?),[14] and in 1724 the chorale cantata Wo soll ich fliehen hin, BWV 5 (Where shall I flee), based on Johann Heermann's penitential hymn "Wo soll ich fliehen hin".[15]

Poet and theme[edit]

Until recently the librettist was unknown (as for most of Bach's Leipzig cantatas), but research by Christine Blanken published in 2015 suggests that Christoph Birkmann probably wrote the text of Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen.[16][17] Birkmann was a student of mathematics and theology at the University of Leipzig from 1724 to 1727. During that time, he also studied with Bach and appeared in cantata performances.[18] Birkmann published a yearbook of cantata texts in 1728, Gott-geheiligte Sabbaths-Zehnden (Sabbath Tithes Devoted to God), which contains several Bach cantatas – including Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen.[19][20]

A baroque clergyman in minister's ornate, standing behind a table on which he touches a book with his left hand, while pointing towards his heart with the right hand
Christoph Birkmann, the cantata's librettist

The librettist built on Erdmann Neumeister's text from "Ich will den Kreuzweg gerne gehen", which was published in 1711.[13] Kreuzweg, the Way of the Cross, refers to the Stations of the Cross and more generally to the "cross as the burden of any Christian".[21] Here Kreuzweg is replaced with Kreuzstab, which refers to a pilgrim's staff (or bishop's crosier) and a navigational instrument known as a cross staff or Jacob's staff.[22] In the cantata's text, life is compared to a pilgrimage and a sea voyage.[23]

Birkmann's text alludes to Matthew's gospel; although there is no explicit reference to the sick man, he speaks in the first person as a follower of Christ who bears his cross and suffers until the end, when (in the words of Revelation 7:17) "God shall wipe away the tears from their eyes". The cantata takes as its starting point the torments which the faithful must endure.[13]

The text is rich in biblical references. The metaphor of life as a sea voyage in the first recitative comes from the beginning of that Sunday's Gospel reading: "There He went on board a ship and passed over and came into His own city" (Matthew 9:1).[23] Affirmations that God will not forsake the faithful on this journey and will lead them out of tribulation were taken from Hebrews 13:5 and Revelation 7:14.[13] The third movement expresses joy at being united with the saviour, and its text refers to 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".[13] The theme of joy, coupled with a yearning for death, runs through the cantata.[13]

The final lines of the opening aria ("There my Savior himself will wipe away my tears") are repeated just before the closing chorale. This uncommon stylistic device appears several times in Bach's third cantata cycle.[13]


Pieter Brueghel the Elder: Christ and the Apostles at the Sea of Galilee, 1553

The final chorale is a setting of the sixth stanza of Johann Franck's "Du, o schönes Weltgebäude",[16] which contains ship imagery: "Löse meines Schiffleins Ruder, bringe mich an sichern Port" ("Release the rudder of my little ship, bring me to the secure harbour").[24] The hymn was published in 1653 with a 1649 melody by Johann Crüger. Its text describes (in the first person) renouncing the beautiful dwelling place of the world ("schönes Weltgebäude"), only longing so dearly for the most cherished Jesus ("allerschönstes Jesulein").[25] This phrase recurs, with slight variations, at the end of each stanza.[25]

First performance[edit]

Bach conducted the cantata's first performance on 27 October 1726.[16] The performance followed another of his solo cantatas the previous Sunday, Gott soll allein mein Herze haben, BWV 169, which also, unusually for a solo cantata, ends with a chorale.[26]


Structure and scoring[edit]

The cantata is structured in five movements, with alternating arias, recitatives and a four-part chorale. Bach scored for a bass soloist, a four-part choir (SATB) in the closing chorale, and a Baroque instrumental ensemble of two oboes (Ob), taille (Ot), two violins (Vl), viola (Va), cello (Vc), and basso continuo.[16] Except for the obbligato oboe in the third movement, the three oboes double the violins and viola colla parte. The title page of the autograph score reads: "Domin. 19 post Trinit. / Ich will den Xstab gerne tragen / a / 2 / Hautb. o Viol. / Viola o / Taille / 4 Voci / Basso solo / e / Cont. / di / J.S.Bach". The score begins with the line "J.J.Dominica 19 post trinitatis. Cantata à Voce sola. è stromenti"[27] ("J.J. Sunday 19 after Trinity, Cantata for solo voice, and instruments"), making it one of the few works Bach termed a cantata.[13] Its length is reportedly 21 minutes.[28]

In the following table, the scoring follows the Neue Bach-Ausgabe (New Bach Edition). The keys and time signatures are from Alfred Dürr, and use the symbol for common time.[29] The continuo, played throughout, is not shown.

Movements of Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen, BWV 56
No. Title Text Type Vocal Winds Strings Key Time
1 Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen Birkmann Aria Bass 2Ob Ot 2Vl Va G minor 3/4
2 Mein Wandel auf der Welt / ist einer Schiffahrt gleich Birkmann Recitative Bass Vc B-flat major common time
3 Endlich, endlich wird mein Joch / wieder von mir weichen müssen Birkmann Aria Bass Ob B-flat major common time
4 Ich stehe fertig und bereit Birkmann Recitative Bass 2Vl Va G minor common time
5 Komm, o Tod, du Schlafes Bruder Franck Chorale SATB 2Ob Ot 2Vl Va C minor common time


Musicologist and Bach scholar Christoph Wolff wrote that Bach achieves "a finely shaded series of timbres" in Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen.[30] The four solo movements are scored differently: all instruments accompany the opening aria; only the continuo is scored for the secco recitative, an obbligato oboe adds colour to the central aria, and strings intensify for the accompagnato recitative. All instruments return for the closing chorale.[31]

In his biography of Bach, Albert Schweitzer points out that Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen is among the few works in which Bach carefully marked the phrasing of the parts; others are the Brandenburg Concertos, the St Matthew Passion, the Christmas Oratorio and a few other cantatas, including Ich habe genug and O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort, BWV 60.[32]


External audio
audio icon Aria BWV 56/1, with Barry McDaniel, Pierre Pierlot (ob), Fritz Werner, Heinrich-Schütz-Chor Heilbronn and Pforzheim Chamber Orchestra (and below)

The opening aria begins with "Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen, er kömmt von Gottes lieber Hand" ("I will my cross-staff gladly carry, it comes from God's beloved hand."[33]).[21] It is in bar form (AAB pattern), with two stollen (A) followed by an abgesang (B). The first stollen begins with a ritornello for full orchestra — with the theme initially heard in the second oboe and violin parts — anticipating in counterpoint the rising and falling motif of the bass soloist. An augmented second C♯ emphasises the word Kreuzstab ("cross-staff"), followed by descending sighing figures symbolizing the bearing of the cross.[34]

\new StaffGroup <<
\override Score.BarNumber #'transparent = ##t
\new Staff  \with { instrumentName = "Ob1/Vn1" } \transpose c c' 
  {\clef treble
  \key g \minor
  \time 3/4
  \set Staff.midiInstrument = "oboe"
  g2. (| g8) f f(e) e (d)| bes g'4 cis'8 cis' (d') | d'4 r r | g c' es' | fis' g'2 ( | 
  g'8) f'16 es' d'8 (c') c' (bes)  | bes es' es' (d') d' (cis')| cis' a' d'(c') c' (b) | 
  b g' c' (bes) bes (a)| a (b) b(c') c'(d')| d'4 r aes'( | aes'8) g'( fis' g') c''4( | 
  c''8) bes' bes'(a') a'(g') | a'4. a8 es' d' | d' (c') c' (bes) bes (a) | g4\fermata s s | }
 \new Staff \with { instrumentName = "Ob2/Vn2" }  \transpose c c' 
  {\clef treble
  \time 3/4
  \key g \minor
  \set Staff.midiInstrument = "viola"
  d4 g bes | cis' d'2 (| d'8) c'16 bes a8 (g) g (f) | f bes bes (a) a (g) | g4 es'2 ( |
  es'8) d' d' (c') c' (bes) | bes (a) a2\trill | g4 r bes8 (a) | a4 r aes8 (g) | g4 r g8 (f) | 
  f4 f'2 ( | f'8) aes'16 g' f'8 es' d' c' | b c'16 d' es'8 d' c' bes | a4 bes es' | 
  c' d' fis | g8 (a) fis4.\trill g8 | g4\fermata  s s| }
  \new Staff\with { instrumentName = "Taille/Va" }  \transpose c c'
  {\clef alto
  \key g \minor
  \time 3/4
  \set Staff.midiInstrument = "english horn"
  bes2.( | bes8) a a (g) g(f) | f (e) e2 | d4 f2 ( | f8) es16 f g8 f es d | c (bes,) bes, (a,) a, (g,) |
  es8 c'4 fis8 fis (g) | g4 bes,8 f f(e) | e4 a,8 es es (d) | d4 g,8 d d (c) | 
  c4 d8 (f) aes4 ( | aes) b,8 (c) d4 ( | d) r g, | d4. c8 c (bes,) | es (d) fis4 a, | 
  bes,8 es d4 c | bes,\fermata s s| }
\new Staff \with { instrumentName = "Bn/Cello" } {
  \clef bass
  \key g \minor
  \time 3/4	    
  \set Staff.midiInstrument = "bassoon"
  g,8 g16 a bes8 a g f | e4 f bes | g a a, | d d, d | es8 f16 g es8 d c bes, | a,4 bes, es | 
  c d d, | g, g2 (| g4) f2 ( | f4) es2 ( | es8) d d (c) c (b,)| b,4 d f | g, c es | 
  fis g2 ( | g8) fis16 e d8 (c) c (bes,) | bes, (c) d4 d, | g,\fermata s s | }
  \layout { indent =  2\cm }
  \midi {\tempo 4 = 72 }
The German baritone Matthias Goerne at the Gewandhaus, Leipzig: he has twice been recorded in the so-called "Kreuzstab Cantata".

John Eliot Gardiner, who conducted the Bach Cantata Pilgrimage in 2000, described the beginning of the bass melody as a musical rebus, or conjunction of two words, Kreuz-stab, with the upward part "a harrowing arpeggio to a sharpened seventh (of the sort Hugo Wolf might later use)",[35] and the downward part as "six and a half bars of pained descent to signify the ongoing burden of the Cross".[36] The German text with Henry Drinker's English translation reads:

Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen,
Es kömmt von Gottes lieber Hand,
Der führet mich nach meinen Plagen
Zu Gott in das gelobte Land.
Da leg ich den Kummer auf
  einmal ins Grab,
Da wischt mir die Tränen mein
  Heiland selbst ab.

I will my cross-staff gladly carry;
It comes from God's beloved hand.
It leads me safely through all my worry
To God in His long Promised Land.
There will I entomb all my
  sorrow and signs,
My Saviour will wipe all the
  tears from my eyes.

After the soloist sings a series of melismatic lines, groups of strings and oboes are introduced as counterpoint, echoing motifs from the opening ritornello. The refrain is again taken up in the second stollen, but with significant variations due to 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 contains the words, "There at last I will lay my sorrow in the grave, there my Saviour himself will wipe away my tears" ("Da leg ich den Kummer auf einmal ins Grab, da wischt mir die Tränen mein Heiland selbst ab").[24]

BWV56 aria Da leg ich den Kummer auf einmal ins Grab.jpg

Declamatory triplets, spanning the bass register, are responded to in the accompaniment by sighing motifs. A reprise of the orchestral ritornello ends the aria.[34]

In his book "L'esthétique de J.-S. Bach", André Pirro describes Bach's use of prolonged notes and sighing motifs, reflecting the suffering of the "cross" ("Kreuz"). They give an impression of resistance, of hesitation and hindrance, as the rhythm is arduously dragged along, breaking the momentum of the melody: "They take on a faltering demeanour, both uncertain and overwhelmed, like the stride of a man enchained in shackles." In the soloist's opening phrases of the aria, the repeated notes have a particularly significant importance. The motif not only conveys an impression of encumbrance but also of unrelieved distress. The melismatic vocalise displays an unsure hesitant feeling, like that of a sick pilgrim struggling to make his way along the dark recesses of an unfamiliar flight of steps. It conveys weakness and anxiety; the aria, constantly drawn out, seems imbued with an infinite weariness.[37]


External audio
audio icon Recitative BWV 56/2

BWV56 recitative Mein Wandel auf der Welt.jpg

In the second movement, the recitative "Mein Wandel auf der Welt ist einer Schiffahrt gleich" ("My pilgrimage in the world is like a sea voyage"),[24] the sea is evoked by the undulating cello accompaniment of the semiquaver arpeggiation.[38][39] The German text and Henry Drinker's English translation read:

Mein Wandel auf der Welt
Ist einer Schiffahrt gleich:
Betrübnis, Kreuz und Not
Sind Wellen, welche mich bedecken
Und auf den Tod
Mich täglich schrecken;
Mein Anker aber, der mich hält,
Ist die Barmherzigkeit,
Womit mein Gott mich oft erfreut.

Der rufet so zu mir:
Ich bin bei dir,
Ich will dich nicht verlassen noch versäumen!

Und wenn das wütenvolle Schäumen sein Ende hat,
So tret ich aus dem Schiff in meine Stadt,
Die ist das Himmelreich,
Wohin ich mit den Frommen
Aus vielem Trübsal werde kommen.

My journey through the world
Is like a ship at sea.
Affliction, woe, and want
Are billows rising to smite me,
And which with death
Each day affright me;
The anchor that will hold me fast
Is His compassion vast,
Whereby He oft delights my soul.

He calls out thus to me:
"I stand by thee,
And I will never leave thee nor forsake thee."

And when at length is calmed the angrily raging foam
My trusty ship will sail me safely home,
Home there to Heaven high,
Where Righteous Ones are dwelling
Care-free, in joy and joy excelling.

In his 1911 biography of Bach, Schweitzer noted that the composer was often inspired by a single word to create an image of waves,[40] and recommended augmenting the cello with a viola and bassoon to give more weight to the image.[1] According to Gardiner, the style harks back to the 17th-century music of Bach's forbears — the assuring words from the Book of Hebrews, "Ich bin bei dir, Ich will dich nicht verlassen noch versäumen" ("I am with you, I will not leave nor forsake you"), are a "whispered comfort".[36]


External audio
audio icon Aria BWV 56/3
Autograph manuscript of the aria "Endlich, endlich wird mein Joch" for bass, obbligato oboe and continuo, 1726
a wooden oboe
Baroque oboe, with Marcel Ponseele

The third movement, the da capo aria "Endlich, endlich wird mein Joch wieder von mir weichen müssen" ("Finally, finally my yoke must fall away from me"),[24] illustrates a passage from Isaiah. The full German text with Henry Drinker's German translation reads:

Endlich, endlich wird mein Joch
Wieder von mir weichen müssen.

  Da krieg ich in dem Herren Kraft,
  Da hab ich Adlers Eigenschaft,
  Da fahr ich auf von dieser Erden
  Und laufe sonder matt zu werden.
  O gescheh es heute noch!

Joyful, joyful now am I,
For the yoke is light upon me.

  On God's defence so I rely.
  With eagle's wings aloft I fly,
  Far up above the planets soaring,
  In tireless ease the world ignoring.
  O, o may the day be nigh!

BWV56-excerpt-aria-Endlich wird mein Joch.jpg

The lively and joyous concertante is written as a duet for obbligato oboe, bass soloist and continuo, and is full of elaborate coloraturas in the solo parts.[13] According to Gardiner, in the aria "one senses Bach bridging the gap between living and dying with total clarity and utter fearlessness".[36]


External audio
audio icon Recitative BWV 56/4

The fourth movement, "Ich stehe fertig und bereit, das Erbe meiner Seligkeit mit Sehnen und Verlangen von Jesus Händen zu empfangen" ("I stand ready to receive the inheritance of my divinity with desire and longing from Jesus' hands"),[24] is a recitativo accompagnato with strings.[38] The German text and Henry Drinker's English translation read:

Ich stehe fertig und bereit,
Das Erbe meiner Seligkeit
Mit Sehnen und Verlangen
Von Jesus' Händen zu empfangen.
Wie wohl wird mir geschehn,
Wenn ich den Port der Ruhe werde sehn.

Da leg ich den Kummer auf einmal ins Grab,
Da wischt mir die Tränen mein Heiland selbst ab.

Here ready and prepared I stand
To take the boon from Jesus' hand,
The boon from which I yearn,
And hope that one day I may earn.
Ah, how will I be blest
When I at last shall find my Port of Rest!

There He will bury deep my sorrows and sighs,
My Saviour will wipe all the tears from my eyes.

It begins as a declamatory recitative, with sustained arioso string accompaniment. After seven bars the time signature changes from 4/4 to 3/4, resuming a simple, calm version of the second half of the abgesang from the first movement[41] and repeating words related to the Book of Revelation in a triplet rhythm: "Da wischt mir die Tränen mein Heiland selbst ab" ("There my Saviour Himself wipes away my tears").

Autograph manuscript of the chorale of BWV 56, below the second half of the recitative "Da leg ihn der Kummer auf einmal ins Grab, Da wischt mir die Tränen mein Heiland selbst ab". Bach signs with Soli Deo gloria, Glory to God alone.[b]

BWV56-4 final adagio.jpg

As Whittaker (1978) explains, in an unusual departure from music of that period, Bach displayed "a remarkable stroke of genius" in the reprise of the abgesang for the recitative, marked adagio. It is heard like a distant memory of the beginning of the cantata, when the anguished Pilgrim yearned for the Promised Land. Now, however, the mood is of joyful ecstacy; it reaches a climax when the word "Heiland" is heard on a high note in a moment of sustained exaltation; finally, "above a pulsating bassi C, the tear-motive in the upper strings sinks slowly in the depths".[43] Gardiner describes this change similarly: " ... now slowed to adagio and transposed to F minor, and from there by means of melisma floating effortlessly upwards, for the first time, to C major".[36]



External audio
audio icon Chorale BWV 56/5

The final four-part chorale,[c] "Komm, o Tod, du Schlafes Bruder" ("Come, o death, brother of sleep"),[24] with the orchestra doubling the vocal parts, is regarded as an inspired masterpiece.[13] The imagery of the sea from the first recitative is revisited in this "exquisite hymn-stanza".[44] Death is addressed as a brother of sleep and asked to end the voyage of life by loosening the rudder of the pilgrim's boat or 'little ship' (Schifflein) and bringing it safely to harbour; it marks the end of the cantata's metaphorical journey.[38] A metrical translation into English was provided by Henry Drinker.[33][45]

Komm, o Tod, du Schlafes Bruder,
Komm und führe mich nur fort;
Löse meines Schiffleins Ruder,
Bringe mich an sichern Port!
Es mag, wer da will, dich scheuen,
Du kannst mich vielmehr erfreuen;
Denn durch dich komm ich herein
Zu dem schönsten Jesulein.

Come, O death, to sleep a brother,
Come and make the voyage short,
Loose my little vessel's rudder,
Bring me safely into port.
Others shun and dread to meet thee,
I with eager joy will greet thee.
'Tis through death that I may be
Ever, Jesus mine, with thee.

The melody was written by Johann Crüger and published in 1649.[46] Bach set the tune in a four-part setting, BWV 301,[47] and introduced dramatic syncopation for the beginning "Komm" ("come").[38] At the end of the penultimate line, torment and dissonance are transformed into glory and harmony and illuminate the words "Denn durch dich komm ich herein / zu dem schönsten Jesulein" ("For through you I will come to my beloved Jesus").[24] As William G. Whittaker comments: "The voices are low-lying, the harmonies are richly solemn; it makes a hushed and magical close to a wonderful cantata."[44] Gardiner notes that it is Bach's only setting of Crüger's melody, which recalls the style of his father's cousin Johann Christoph Bach whom Bach regarded as a "profound composer".[36]

Psychologist and gerontologist Andreas Kruse [de] notes that the chorale conveys the transformation and transition from earthly life to an eternal harbour.[48] He compares the setting to "Ach Herr, laß dein lieb Engelein", the closing chorale of Bach's St John Passion, which is focused on sleep and awakening. Both settings end their works with "impressive composure" ("eindrucksvolle Gefasstheit").[49]

Manuscripts and publication[edit]

The autograph score and parts are held by the Berlin State Library, which is part of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation. The fascicle numbers are D-B Bach P 118 for the score (Partitur)[27] and D-B Bach ST 58 for the parts (Stimmen).[50] It was published in 1863 in volume 12 of the Bach-Gesellschaft Ausgabe (BGA), edited by Wilhelm Rust. The New Bach Edition (Neue Bach-Ausgabe, NBA) published the score in 1990, edited by Matthias Wendt, with critical commentary published a year later.[16] It was later published by Carus-Verlag in 1999 as part of Stuttgarter Bach-Ausgaben, a complete edition of Bach's vocal works.[51][45]


While some Bach cantatas are almost exclusively recorded in complete cycles by Nikolaus Harnoncourt and Gustav Leonhardt, Helmuth Rilling, Ton Koopman, Pieter Jan Leusink, John Eliot Gardiner and Masaaki Suzuki, this work was first recorded before such cycles appeared.

The cantata is often coupled with Ich habe genug, BWV 82, an impassioned cantata for solo bass, paraphrasing the Song of Simeon and taking longing for death as its theme.[52][d] A third work for bass is the fragmentary cantata Der Friede sei mit dir, BWV 158, related to peace (Friede).[53]

The following table shows some recordings of the cantata.[54]

Recordings of Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen, BWV 56
Title Conductor / Choir / Orchestra Soloists Label Year
Eduard van Beinum and the Concertgebouw Orchestra: Live Radio Recordings, Vol. 1 Eduard van Beinum
Concertgebouw Orchestra
Mack Harrell Deccab 1939 (1939)
Johann Sebastian Bach: Kantaten BWV 4, 56, 82[55] Karl Ristenpart
RIAS Kammerchor
RIAS Kammerorchester
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau Archiv 1951 (1951)
Les Grandes Cantates de J. S. Bach Vol. 18[56] Fritz Werner
Heinrich-Schütz-Chor Heilbronn
Pforzheim Chamber Orchestra
Barry McDaniel Erato 1964 (1964)
J. S. Bach: Das Kantatenwerk • Complete Cantatas • Les Cantates, Folge / Vol. 14 Gustav Leonhardt
Knabenchor Hannover
Michael Schopper Teldec 1976 (1976)
Kreuzstab & Ich Habe Genug[52] Frans Brüggen Max van Egmond Sony 1977 (1977)
Die Bach Kantate Vol. 4 Helmuth Rilling
Gächinger Kantorei
Bach-Collegium Stuttgart
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau Hänssler 1983 (1983)
Wachet auf! Bach: Cantatas 56 and 140; Motet BWV Anh. 159 Greg Funfgeld
Bach Choir of Bethlehem
Bach Festival Orchestra
Daniel Lichti Dorian Recordings 1989 (1989)
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 (1991)
Cantates pour Basse – Cantatas for Solo Bass (BWV 56, 82, 158) Philippe Herreweghe
Choir and Orchestra of La Chapelle Royale
Peter Kooy Harmonia Mundi France 1991 (1991)
Bach Cantatas: BWV 82, 158 and 56 Roger Norrington
Salzburger Bachchor
Camerata Academica Salzburg
Matthias Goerne Decca Records 1999 (1999)
Bach Edition Vol. 4 – Cantatas Vol. 1 Pieter Jan Leusink
Holland Boys Choir
Netherlands Bach Collegium
Bas Ramselaar Brilliant Classics 1999 (1999)
Bach Cantatas Vol. 10: Potsdam / Wittenberg / For the 19th Sunday after Trinity John Eliot Gardiner
Monteverdi Choir
English Baroque Soloists
Peter Harvey Archiv Produktion 2000 (2000)
J. S. Bach: Complete Cantatas Vol. 17[57] Ton Koopman
Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra & Choir
Klaus Mertens Antoine Marchand 2001 (2001)
J. S. Bach: Kantaten · Cantatas BWV 82, BWV 158, BWV 56[58] Michael Schneider
La Stagione
Gotthold Schwarz Capriccio 2006 (2006)
J. S. Bach: Cantatas for the Complete Liturgical Year Vol. 1 Cantatas BWV 55, 56, 98, 180 Sigiswald Kuijken
La Petite Bande
Dominik Wörner Accent 2006 (2006)
J.S. Bach: Cantatas Vol. 41 (Solo Cantatas) – BWV 56, 82, 84, 158[59] Masaaki Suzuki
Bach Collegium Japan
Peter Kooy BIS 2005 (2005)
Bach Cantatas for Bass BWV 82/158/56/203[53] Ryo Terakado
il Gardellino
Dominik Wörner Passacaille 2013 (2013)
Johann Sebastian Bach: Cantatas for bass. Stephan McLeod, Gli Angeli Genève[60] Stephan MacLeod
Gli Angeli Genève
Stephan MacLeod Claves 2022 (2022)


Raised in Alsace, the polymath Albert Schweitzer was an expert on Bach: his organ performances in Strasbourg churches raised funds for his hospital work in West Africa–achievements that were recognized 50 years later by his Nobel Peace Prize. In 1905, Schweitzer wrote a French-language biography of Bach, "J. S. Bach, le musicien poète", published by Breitkopf & Härtel in Leipzig; it was expanded in 1908 to a two-volume German-language version, "J. S. Bach"; and Ernest Newman produced an English translation in 1911. Schweitzer writes of the cantata: "This is one of the most splendid of Bach's work. It makes unparalleled demands, however, on the dramatic imagination of the singer, who would depict convincingly this transition from the resigned expectation of death to the jubilant longing for death."[61][e]

Schlafes Bruder[edit]


Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen appears in Robert Schneider's 1992 novel, Schlafes Bruder. The protagonist, Elias, improvises on the chorale and decides to end his life.[63] The improvisation is described by the first-person narrator, who refers to the chorale's text. The narrator describes its emotional impact on listeners, hearing a young woman say "Ich sehe den Himmel" ("I see heaven") and saying that his playing could move a listener to the core of their soul (" ... vermochte er den Menschen bis in das Innerste seiner Seele zu erschüttern").[64]


Schlafes Bruder inspired the 1995 film Brother of Sleep, directed by Joseph Vilsmaier.[63] Enjott Schneider composed a toccata for the pivotal scene when Elias improvises during an organ competition at the Feldberg Cathedral, "hypnotising his listeners with demonic organ sounds" ("mit dämonischen Orgelklängen hypnotisiert").[65] Schneider's toccata quotes the chorale "Komm, o Tod, du Schlafes Bruder". The composition is dedicated to Harald Feller, an organist and professor in Munich who supplied ideas and recorded the film's music.[65] It premiered at Feldafing's Heilig-Kreuz-Kirche in 1994, and became an internationally played concert piece.[65]


The novel inspired a Herbert Willi opera, commissioned by the Opernhaus Zürich, which premiered on 19 May 1996.[66]


  1. ^ The header reads: "J. J. Do(min)ica 19 post Trinitatis. Cantata à Voce Sola. è Stromenti." ("J(esu) J(uva) 19th Sunday after Trinity. Cantata for solo voice, and instruments.")
  2. ^ In his essay on Bach's cantata chorales and autograph manuscripts, Robert G. Marshall explains how the rhythmic character of this particular chorale was "strikingly recast": the stollen melody that conventionally would have started on the downbeat or after a minim rest, now begins with a crotchet rest, cramped into the manuscript; the resulting distinctive syncopation, with two exhortations "Komm" off the beat, was thus "an afterthought".[42]
  3. ^ The chorale appeared as No. 87 of Bach's "371 Four-part Chorales", edited by Carl Ferdinand Becker and published in 1831 by Breitkopf & Härtel. See 371 Vierstimmige Choralgesänge: Scores at the International Music Score Library Project.
  4. ^ It also exists in versions for soprano, alto and mezzo-soprano, and has no concluding chorale.
  5. ^ In German: "Dieses Werk gehört zum Herrlichsten, was Bachs Vermächtnis an uns birgt. Es stellt aber auch Anforderungen ohnegleichen an die dramaturgische Gestaltungskraft des Sängers, der dieses Aufsteigen von der resignierten Todeserwartung zum jubelnden Todessehnen miterleben und gestalten soll".[62]


  1. ^ a b Schweitzer 1911, p. 255.
  2. ^ Wolff 2002, pp. 237–257.
  3. ^ Dürr & Jones 2006, pp. 23–26.
  4. ^ Buelow 2016, p. 272.
  5. ^ Dürr & Jones 2006, pp. 22–28.
  6. ^ Dürr & Jones 2006, pp. 29–35.
  7. ^ Unger 1997.
  8. ^ Wolff 2001, p. 7.
  9. ^ a b Jones 2013, p. 169.
  10. ^ a b c d e f Jones 2013, p. 170.
  11. ^ Jones 2013, pp. 171–172.
  12. ^ Jones 2013, pp. 175–176.
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Dürr & Jones 2006, p. 582.
  14. ^ Bach Digital 48 2022.
  15. ^ Bach Digital 5 2022.
  16. ^ a b c d e Bach Digital 2018.
  17. ^ Blanken 2015, pp. 1–2.
  18. ^ Blanken 2015, pp. 4–6.
  19. ^ Blanken 2015, pp. 8–11.
  20. ^ Bachfest 2016.
  21. ^ a b Corall 2015, p. 11.
  22. ^ Corall 2015, pp. 2, 6–7.
  23. ^ a b Gardiner 2013, p. 349.
  24. ^ a b c d e f g Dellal 2018.
  25. ^ a b Chorale Bach Digital 2018.
  26. ^ Dürr & Jones 2006, pp. 570–572.
  27. ^ a b Staatsbibliothek Score 2018.
  28. ^ Dürr & Jones 2006, p. 580.
  29. ^ Dürr & Jones 2006, pp. 580–581.
  30. ^ Wolff 2001, p. 8.
  31. ^ Wolff 2001, pp. 8–9.
  32. ^ Schweitzer 1911, p. 380.
  33. ^ a b Drinker 1942.
  34. ^ a b Dürr & Jones 2006, pp. 582–583.
  35. ^ Gardiner 2013, pp. 349–350.
  36. ^ a b c d e Gardiner 2013, p. 350.
  37. ^ Pirro 2014, p. 96.
  38. ^ a b c d Dürr & Jones 2006, p. 583.
  39. ^ Schweitzer 1911, p. 75.
  40. ^ Schweitzer 1911, p. 75.
  41. ^ Traupman-Carr 2006.
  42. ^ Marshall 1970, p. 206.
  43. ^ Whittaker 1978, p. 278.
  44. ^ a b Whittaker 1978, p. 378.
  45. ^ a b Carus 2000.
  46. ^ Chorale 2018.
  47. ^ Chorale BWV 301 2018.
  48. ^ Kruse 2014, p. 239.
  49. ^ Kruse 2014, pp. 239–240.
  50. ^ Staatsbibliothek Parts 2018.
  51. ^ Carus Stuttgarter 2000.
  52. ^ a b Anderson 1989.
  53. ^ a b Lange 2013.
  54. ^ Oron 2018.
  55. ^ Quinn 2012.
  56. ^ Quinn 2005.
  57. ^ Challenge 2001.
  58. ^ JPC 2006.
  59. ^ BIS 2005.
  60. ^ Fonoteca 2022.
  61. ^ Schweitzer 1911, pp. 255–256.
  62. ^ Keuchen 2004, pp. 129–130.
  63. ^ a b Spitz 2007.
  64. ^ Keuchen 2004, p. 136.
  65. ^ a b c Schott 2018.
  66. ^ Griffel 2018.

Cited sources[edit]

Bach Digital

  • "Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen BWV 56; BC A 146". Bach Digital. 2018. Retrieved 11 March 2018.
  • "Berlin, Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz / D-B Bach P 118". Bach Digital. 2018. Retrieved 11 March 2018.
  • "Berlin, Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz / D-B Bach St 58". Bach Digital. 2018. Retrieved 11 March 2018.
  • "Du, o schönes Weltgebäude". Bach Digital. 2018. Retrieved 15 March 2018.
  • "Wo soll ich fliehen hin BWV 5; BC A 145". Bach Digital. 2022. Retrieved 21 March 2022.
  • "Ich elender Mensch, wer wird mich erlösen BWV 48; BC A 144". Bach Digital. 2022. Retrieved 21 March 2022.



Online sources

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]