Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen, BWV 56

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Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen ("I will the cross-staff gladly carry"[1] or "I will gladly carry the Cross"[2]), 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[edit]

Bach wrote the 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 Johann Franck's hymn "Du, o schönes Weltgebäude" (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[edit]

The cantata is scored for bass, a four-part choir only in the closing chorale, two oboes, taille or oboe da caccia, two violins, viola, cello, and basso continuo.[3] Except for the obbligato oboe in movement 3, the three oboes double the violins and viola colla parte.

  1. Aria: Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen
  2. Recitative: Mein Wandel auf der Welt / ist einer Schiffahrt gleich
  3. Aria: Endlich wird mein Joch / wieder von mir weichen müssen
  4. Recitative: Ich stehe fertig und bereit
  5. 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 at last I will lay my sorrow in the grave, there my Savior himself will wipe away my tears."[2] 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 Isaiah. 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 you I will come to my loveliest little Jesus. ).[2]

Selected recordings[edit]


  1. ^ Ambrose, Z. Philip. "BWV 56 Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen". University of Vermont. Retrieved 22 October 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c Dellal, Pamela. "BWV 56 – Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen". Emmanuel Music. Retrieved 22 October 2014. 
  3. ^ Dürr, Alfred (1981). Die Kantaten von Johann Sebastian Bach (in German) 1 (4 ed.). Deutscher Taschenbuchverlag. pp. 477–480. ISBN 3-423-04080-7. 
  4. ^ Shiloni, Ehud (1998). "Kantaten: "Kreuzstab"&"Ich Habe Genug"". jsbach.org. 


External links[edit]