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Program Notes to Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen, BWV 56

By Sean Burton [Artistic Director, Boston Orpheus Ensemble]

The venerable Johann Sebastian Bach composed Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen, "I will gladly carry the suffering cross," early in his twenty-seven year tenure as cantor of St. Thomas's School and city music director in Leipzig. The first performance occured on October 27, 1726 and is the only known performance under the composer's direction. This cantata is classified among Bach's solo cantatas as its first four movements feature the bass soloist.

The text comes from the Gospel of Matthew (the healing of the man sick with palsy) and is painted musically as only J.S. Bach could -- with an overwhelming sense of reverence. The first movement describes man's suffering, manifested with repetitive sigh motives; the second compares the trials of life to a sea voyage with the violoncello's agitation representing turbulent waters; the third expresses joyful expectation of redemption through the call and response of the oboe and bass soloist; and the final chorale exacerbates the idea of heavenly peace after death with the sixth verse of Johann Franck's hymn, Du, o schones Weltgebaude, "You, o beautiful, worldy building," composed in 1653.

Bach's concept of death coming with an almost fervent sense of expectation is difficult to understand in modern society. Suffice it to say the context of his life, losing his first wife in 1720, and ten of his children to premature death, gave the composer a keen hope for peaceful finality.


© 2003 Sean Burton, Artistic director Boston Orpheus Ensemble
Contributed by Sean Burton (October 2004)

Cantata BWV 56: Details
Recordings: Complete:
1900-1949 | 1950-1959 | 1960-1969 | 1970-1979 | 1980-1989 | 1990-1999 | 2000-2009 | 2010-2019 | Individual Movements
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5
Program Notes to Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen, BWV 56 [S. Burton] | | BWV 56 “Ich will den Xstab gerne tragen” - An Attempt to Trace the Symbols and Other Poetic Expressions in the Libretto Back to Their Original Sources [T. Braatz]


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