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Cantata BWV 56
Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen
Discussions - Part 5

Continue from Part 4

Discussions in the Week of March 9, 2014 (4th round)

William Hoffman wrote (March 9, 2014):
Cantata 56, "Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen" Intro. & Sidebar

Bass Solo Cantata BWV 56 "Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen" (I will the cross-staff gladly carry) is one of Bach’s most admired and popular works. It is an intimate, deeply personal, pleasing work for authoritative bass voice, pastoral oboes and strings with its affirmative metaphor of both the successive stages of pilgrimage and sea voyage. Here the individual in typical Bach fashion moves in the course of life from adversity, frailty and vanity bound to the law to strength, reconciliation and salvation. Lasting about 20 minutes, Cantata 56 has virtual symmetrical form with two lyrical arias, two commentary recitatives and a comforting closing chorale. Presented during the grim and harsh Late Trinity Time of sacrifice and eschatology (Last Things), it is one of Bach’s finest poetic creations with its collusions and collisions of layered yet transparent text with motto words and recurring phrases.

“Cantata 56 has perhaps the greatest cantata text from an artistic viewpoint, and the fusion of mystical language, word painting and melodic/harmonic/tonal invention suggest the questions raised are most important to our understanding of Bach's genius, says Peter Smaill in his Sidebar article, below.

Cantata 56 was first performed on October 27, 1726 (Cycle 3) and is based on a libretto in Erdmann Neumeister first cantata cycle 1700/04, Ich will den Kreuzweg gerne gehen (I will glady go the Way of the Cross). Alfred Dürr 1 cites the various biblical references in the Neumeister text: Revelation 7:17& 7:14, God wipes away tears, Movement No. 1 aria and No. 4 recitative; No. 2, recitative, Matthew 9.1 (ship voyage), and Hebrews 13.5 from Joshua 1.5 on steadfastness; and No. 3, da-capo trio aria, Isaiah 40:31, "Those who wait upon the Lord shall gain new strength so that they mount up with wings like an eagle . . . ."

Dürr notes that the "unknown poet of this exceptionally well-written text" utilized a printed Neumeister text also adapted in Cantata BWV 27, "Wer weiß, wie nahe mir mein Ende" (Who knows how near is my end), presented three weeks earlier for the 16th Sunday after Trinity. As Bach neared the end of his third cantata cycle, he seems to have been challenged to find new poetic sources as well as chorale stanzas, having exhausted the possibilities from the printed texts of Rudolstadt and Georg Christian Lehms, as well as Neumeister, possibly Salomo Franck, and Johann Friedrich Helbig (BWV 47). At this point in the fall of 1726, Bach apparently turned to Picander for new texts not part of those printed in the 1728-29 cycle. Bach used Picander’s 1724/25 text for BWV 19 for the Feast of St. Michael and also may have relied on Picander for the adaptation of the two existing Neumeister texts (BWV 36 and 56) during the remaining Trinity Time that involve mostly solo cantatas often using existing instrumental materials from Bach concerti.

The closing chorale, No. 5, Johann Franck 8-stanza 1653, "Du, O schönes Weltgebäude" (Thou, O Beautiful Adobe of Earth), uses Stanza 6, "Komm, O Tod, du Schlafes Bruder" (Come thou, O death, Sleeps Brother). 2 Johann Crüger's associated 1649 melody is not used elsewhere in Bach's cantatas but is harmonized in plain chorale BWV 301 in D minor (NLGB No. 385, Death & Dying), listed under Christian Life& Hope in the Hänssler Complete Bach Edition of chorales, Vol. 83. The closing Stanza 8 of "Du, O schönes Weltgebäude," ?"Doch weil ich die Friedensauen" (Yet Will I the Peace Meadows), is listed as the final chorale, Movement No. 5, in the Picander 1728 complete cantata cycle text, P-40, "Ich klopf an deine Gnadentüre (I knock on the door of thy grace Thy Grace) for the third day (Tuesday) of the Feast of Pentecost.

Movements (scoring), text line, tempo, key: 3

1. Aria tripartite A A1 B (Bass: Oboe I e Violino I all' unisono, Oboe II e Violino II all' unisono, Taille e Viola all' unisono, Continuo): “Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen” (I would gladly bear the cross-beam); B. “Da leg ich den Kummer auf einmal ins Grab” (There I shall finally lay my anxiety in the grave), ¾, g.
2. Recitative (Bass; Violoncello, Continuo): “Mein Wandel auf der Welt / Ist einer Schiffahrt gleich” (My wandering in the world / is like a journey by ship); 4/4, Bb.
3. Aria da-capo (Trio: Bass; Oboe solo, Continuo): “Endlich, endlich wird mein Joch / Wieder von mir weichen müssen” (Finally, finally will my yoke / again have to fall away from me); B. “Und laufe sonder matt zu werden” (And run without becoming weary); 4/3, Bb.
4. Recitative and Arioso (Bass; Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo): “Ich stehe fertig und bereit” (I stand ready and prepared); B. “Da leg” repeat of No. 1B; C, ¾; g-c.
5. Chorale (SAT,B; Oboe II e Violino I col Soprano, Violino II coll'Alto, Taille e Viola col Tenore, Continuo): “Komm, o Tod, du Schlafes Bruder” (Come, O death, you brother of sleep); 4/4, c.

In the last weeks of Trinity Time the emphasis is on the meaning of eschatology (Last Things) and sacrifice moving from the frail old man of law and the flesh to the new man of teaching and righteousness.4 The final quarter of the Trinity Time mini-cycles on the meaning of being a Christian emphasizes the "last things" (eschatology) couched in symbols of the annual Coming and Sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Says Paul Zeller Strodach, The Church Year: Studies in the Introits, Collects, Epistles and Gospels.5 The final cycle theme is the "Completion of the Kingdom of Righteousness" involving fulfillment and rewards. This Cycle of Last Things closes a complete year of instruction and emphasizes the promise/warnings of eternal life.

Trinity +19 Lectionary Teachings

The lectionary of teachings for the 19th Sunday after Trinity continues the paired healing miracle in the Gospel, leading to next Sunday's teaching parable of the marriage feast. Positive advice is found in today’s Epistle: Ephesians 4:22-28, the Old and New Man. Here is the contrast of the old man of the flesh and the new man of righteousness, also found in the Introit Psalm. The Gospel, Matthew 9:1-8, is the Miracle of the Palsied Man (9:2, KJV): "And, behold, they brought to him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed: and Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee." The Epistle, Ephesians 4:22-28, stresses, "Put on the new man" (KJV): Reject the old man of corrupt deceitful lust, renew the spirit of the mind, embrace the new man, like God, "created in righteousness and true holiness." Bear no false witness (8th Commandment), "for we are members one of another. [26] Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: [27] Neither give place to the devil. [28] Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth."

The Introit Psalm is Psalm 39, Dixi, Custodiam (I said, I will take heed to my ways, KJV),, according to Martin Petzoldt in Bach Commentary. 6 The closing two positive lines (12-13), after rejection of frailty and vanity, sound mottos of the sojurner seeking peace and the recovery of strength on the path of salvation, as found in the Gospel and Epistle: “Hear my prayer, O Lord, and give ear unto my cry; hold not thy peace at my tears: for I am a stranger with thee, and a sojourner, as all my fathers were. O spare me, that I may recover strength, before I go hence, and be no more.”

Bach’s Response to Late Trinity Time

While the appointed New Testament lessons for the final quarter of Trinity Time are increasingly grim and harsh, Bach met the challenge in his cantata musical sermons, beginning with the initial 19th Sunday after Trinity: chorus Cantata BWV 48, "Ich elender Mensch, wer wird erosen?" (I, wretched mortal, who shall deliver me?); chorale Cantata BWV 5, "Wo sol lich fliehen hin? (Where shall I fly to?); and bass solo Cantata BWV 56, “Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen" (I will the cross-staff gladly carry).

Bach employs various techniques and devices to engage the listener in all three works: a general shift from the problem to the solution (negative to positive) in the text and musical setting, the use of well-known chorales with mostly selective Catechism confessional stanzas to confront the listener with the Living Word of God, graphic and descriptive poetic texts, various biblical quotations and illusions, and the use of dance style and other musical techniques. Bach also uses elements of tonal unity and allegory in all three cantatas, with flat, descending keys established in g minor in the opening dicta, moving to Bb and Eb Major in the initial recitatives and all the arias, and returning to c and g minor in the closing recitatives and chorales.

Gardiner’s Take on Trinity +19

The Trinity Time Christian teachings become increasingly austere and severe, as observed by John Eliot Gardner, in his recording notes to his Bach Cantata Pilgrimage 2000 Soli Deo Gloria recording of the three cantatas (BWV 48, 5 and 56) for the 19th Sunday after Trinity). "Now that we are approaching the end of the Trinity season, the thematic emphasis is on the thorny and intractable issues of belief and doubt. With autumn giving way to winter the character of the appointed texts for each Sunday becomes steadily grimmer, underlining the rejection of the world by the faithful and the prospect of eventual union with God - or the horror of exclusion. From week to week this dichotomy appears to grow harsher." 7

Gardiner provides an overview of the 19th Sunday after Trinity and its biblical readings (Ibid.) “For the Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity the Epistle, from Ephesians, focuses on St Paul’s uncompromising juxtaposition of a clean mind and a corrupt body, while the Gospel, taken from St Matthew like so many in this late Trinity season, recounts the miracle of the man ‘sick of the palsy’ healed by Jesus for his faith. As on so many previous occasions throughout the church year, Bach both softens and humanises the severity of the words while in no way diminishing their impact: he has an unfailing knack of being able to vivify the doctrinal message and, when appropriate, of delivering it with a hard dramatic kick, yet balancing this with music of an emollient tenderness.”

Cantata 56 Introduction

Bass solo Cantata 56 is the most intimate and personal of Bach’s three cantatas extant for this 19th Sunday after Trinity, with its theme of the “burdens of sin,” says Julian Mincham’s introductory commentary on-line. 8 <<Of the three extant cantatas composed for this day, C56 is the smallest in scale. Being a solo work, it might be seen as having more in common with the three alto cantatas of this cycle, Cs 170, 35 and 169 (chapters 19, 23 and 28). It has a similar structure to C 170 except that it ends, as does C 169, with a conventional four-part chorale.

Notions of the burdens of sin particularly underpin the first two cantatas written for this Sunday. C 48 from the first cycle (vol 1, chapter 21) opens with a chorus that includes a trumpet declaration of the chorale melody, clearly a precursor to the fantasias of the second cycle. The movement is a powerful depiction of the wretched being, steeped in sin and seeming not to know how to redeem himself. C 5 (vol 2, chapter 20) begins with a much more tempestuous movement, a fantasia which depicts the aggressive panic of the burdened sinner not knowing where to turn. A comparative study of these two choruses demonstrates Bach’s ability to breathe new life into virtually identical textual themes, constantly revealing different perspectives. Again he calls upon the trumpet to declaim the chorale melody (now doubling the sopranos) suggesting that he may have looked back over the score of the earlier work written for this same day.

C 56 is less concerned with sin itself and more with the journey that must be made from this life on earth and, through death, into the next. Despite the lure of salvation, stress and sorrow remain to make our lives terrifying, and the thought of death itself is no less horrific. Images and metaphors of challenging treks and voyages abound but the decisive message underpinning the entire cantata, unlike that of the earlier two works, is ‘I am prepared for all that must ensue’.

All three cantatas are couched in first person terms but C 56 is the most personal and also the most positive. It is the definitive statement of the shriven Christian, prepared to face and conquer all challenges en route to a salvation by way of the path along which God himself has shown the way.

It is, therefore, doubly appropriate that this deeply personal work was conceived for a single voice and furthermore that of the bass, heavily symbolic of weight and influence. This is an uplifting message which needs to be delivered with strength and conviction.

C 56 is the first of three solo cantatas for the bass voice composed by Bach and the fourth for a single voice in this cycle. It has been suggested (chapter 28) that there may have been some changes of taste in the Leipzig congregations leading to a greater acceptance of this type of cantata. It is possible that the growing popularity of Italian opera may have influenced audiences who, in turn might have become less resistant to operatic forms, styles and devices intruding into their traditional religious ceremonies. It is quite possible that by this time Leipzig had been influenced by some of the Italian traditions of performance that Torelli had been establishing since the late 1690s in the town of Ansbach (see further comments in chapter 101, vol1).>>

Gardiner: Cantata 56 Musical Qualities

The musical qualities of Cantata 56 are discussed in Gardiner’s liner notes (Ibid.): <<For this, his third cantata for Trinity 19, composed in 1726, Bach takes his lead from the first verse of the Gospel for the day, ‘And he entered into a ship, and passed over, and came into his own city.’ Following a medieval tradition, Bach treats the course of human life allegorically as a sea voyage, a nautical Pilgrim’s Progress. No stranger himself to life’s tribulations, Bach has left us several memorable evocations of adversity, yet none more poignant than this cantata. The opening aria introduces a pun on the word ‘Kreuzstab’ (cross-staff) – raised to a sharpened seventh. What lifts it from the commonplace is the very modern, or at least Romantic, word-painting: the successive changes in mood and adjustments to the melodic outline, from its initial upward climb via an excruciating arpeggio to the benign ‘es kommt von Gottes lieber Hand’ and the more measured ‘der führet mich...’. Bach reserves the biggest change for the B section, switching to triplet rhythm in the voice part in a kind of arioso as the pilgrim lowers all his griefs into his own grave: ‘Then shall my Saviour wipe the tears from my eyes’.

The idea of life as a sea voyage comes first in the arioso (No.2) with cello arpeggiation to depict the lapping waves while the voice-line describes ‘the sorrow, affliction and distress [which] engulf me’. Where the first movement was forward-looking, this arioso seems to hark back to the music of Bach’s forebears, the music he learnt as a child. One can pick up hints of an early reliance on God’s protection in the whispered comfort of ‘Ich bin bei dir’ – with the death of both of his parents when he was only nine years old, there was no human substitute on whom he could wholly depend. As the waves die down and the cello comes to rest on a bottom D, the voice of the pilgrim continues in secco recitative with the Bunyan-like words: ‘So I step from my ship into my own city, which is the kingdom of heaven, where I with all the righteous shall enter out of so great tribulation.’

The metaphor of the oboe as guardian angel celebrating with the now jubilant pilgrim comes to mind in the extended da capo aria ‘Endlich, endlich wird mein Joch’. Again,the biggest surprise is reserved for the B section where the pilgrim’s desire to fly up into the stratosphere like an eagle can hold no bounds, ‘Let it happen today!’ he exclaims, the emphasis shifting from ‘O!’ to ‘gescheh’ to ‘heute’ and finally to ‘noch’.

The cantata ends serenely. An accompagnato leads to a return of the words and tripletised rhythms of the opening aria, 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.

The final four-voiced chorale is Bach’s only setting of Johann Crüger’s melody, here set to the sixth verse of Johann Franck’s hymn ‘Du, o schönes Weltgebäude’. His harmonization belongs to the late seventeenth century sound-world of his elder cousin, Johann Christoph Bach, organist in Eisenach, possibly his first keyboard teacher and mentor – the one he called a ‘profound composer’.>> © John Eliot Gardiner 2005; From a journal written in the course of the Bach Cantata Pilgrimage.

Text & Biblical References

Bach’s musical settings of the text, particularly biblical references, is explained in Klaus Hofmann’s 2008 liner notes to the Masaaki Suzhki BIS CD of Bach’s cantatas. 9 << Bach’s ‘cross cantata’ was written for the Leipzig church service on 19th Sunday after Trinity in 1726 (27th October). The beautiful, profound libretto is a fine example of baroque cantata texts. Its point of departure is the gospel reading for that day, Matthew 9, 1–8, with the story of Jesus’ healing of a palsied man. The poet makes only selective reference to the biblical events, however, and turns his attention from the suffering of the man with palsy to the ‘Plagen’ (‘torments’) in a more general sense that afflict Christians here on earth. Suffering and need are the cross that we must bear; but in the cantata text the ‘Kreuz stab’ (cross’) is also a symbol of Jesus’ act of redemption and a walking stick on tour pilgrimage ‘zu Gott in das gelobte Land’ (‘to God, in the promised land’) . The end of the opening aria with the words ‘da wischt mir mein Heiland die Tränen selbst ab’ (‘There my Saviour him elf will wipe away my tears’), alludes to Revelation 7,17, ‘and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes’.

In the movements that follow, too, Bach’s Leipzig audience – well acquainted with the Bible – will have recognized many a reference, for instance, in the middle section of the second aria, to the prophecy in Isaiah 40:31: ‘but they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint’. Many of the listeners will moreover also have been familiar with the metaphors in the second movement, where human life is compared to a sea voyage

and all its dangers.

Bach was inspired by the poetry of his unknown librettist to produce music of sublime rich, immediate imagery. Two melodic gestures characterize the opening aria in highly characteristic manner, right from the first bar. One is the line, rising in triads, which – by way of an almost painful augmented second – ends up on the leading note at the climax of the melodic line. Later associated with the words ‘Ich will den Kreuzstab’ (‘I shall willingly [carry] the cross’), this evokes images of the laboursome erection of the cross and of the arduous nature of pilgrimage. The second gesture is a descending chain of sighing figures that expressively illustrate the words ‘tragen’ and ‘Plagen’ (‘carry’ and ‘torments’) in the vocal part. Bach emphasized the words ‘Da leg ich den Kummer auf einmal ins Grab’ (‘There I shall immediately lay my troubles in the grave’) by means of a dramatic upheaval in the course of the movement: the vision of future events seems suddenly to become real in the singer’s declamation, enveloping us in its triplets.

In the following recitative, agile triad figures from the cello, images of the waves of the sea, under line the sea-voyage metaphors, and fall promptly silent when ‘das wütenvolle Schäumen sein Ende hat’ (‘when the furious raging comes to an end’). The aria ‘Endlich wird mein Joch wieder von mir weichen müssen’ (‘Finally my yoke will have to be lifted from me again’) is wholly dominated by the poetic images in its central section – the flight of the eagle and running without getting tired, reflected in the lively interaction of the solo voice and oboe.

The festive, confessional recitative ‘Ich stehe fertig und bereit’ (‘I stand ready and pre pared’) alludes once more to sea voyage imagery with the words ‘Port der Ruhe’ (‘the port of my rest’) and ends the solo part of the cantata very impressively by returning to the final words of the opening aria. The choral strophe (by Johann Franck, 1653) is an ideal choice for the conclusion, and with its captivating simplicity is ideally set to music too.>> © Klaus Hofmann 2008.

Cross-Staff Meaning

In previous BCML Discussions dating to 2001, considerable scholarship is found in the reference/concept of the “Kreutzstab” (cross-staff). It is a metaphor for an ancient navigational instrument that in Cantata 56 is a guide for a Pilgrim’s Progress, each movement a stage in the journey. The term is found in Hauptschlüssel, Biblische Erklärung, 5 volume collection of biblical commentary and homiletic aid on the sermons of the church year (1678-81) of Johann Olearius that Bach had in his library. 10

Bach’s Bass Solo, Libretto Authorship

Bach’s bass solo and the libretto authorship are discussed in Peter Smaill’s writing in the BCML Cantata 56 Discussions - Part 3 (2nd round).11 << Peter Smaill wrote (January 13, 2008): Reconsideration of the literary source and purpose of BWV 56, “Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne Tragen.” This noble work, unusually entitled “Cantata” by Bach, is considered to be one of the finest poetic creations in the entire series. Often coupled with BWV 82, “Ich habe Genug”, “they must have been written for the same sympathetic singer” (Whittaker), whom we nowadays can identify as the young student, Johann Christoph Samuel Lipsius.

According to [Hans-Joachim] Schulze the bass soloist (and also for BWV 82) was Johann Christoph Samuel Lipsius, a law student at Leipzig University, later associated with the Hofkapelle at Merseburg. If my German is correct he suffered financial hardship and left Leipzig; but to have been the first to sing this superbly poetic work....!! Seldom have the mystical beauty of text and the musical imagery been so well married.”

Says Johann van Veen: “Two of the three cantatas on this disc [Schwarz, Schneider, Capriccio 67190] belong to the most popular vocal works by Bach. Both 'Ich habe genug' and 'Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen' were written as part of the third annual cycle of church cantatas in 1726/27. At the time they were composed Bach wrote several other solo cantatas. It is very likely these two cantatas for bass were to be sung by Johann Christoph Samuel Lipsius, who was a law student at Leipzig University at the time, and who regularly sang the bass parts in Bach's cantatas. During the years 1725 to 1727 the Leipzig city council paid him 12 Talers per year in recognition of his commitment. 2006; Read more:;
also cited, Joshua Rifkin liner notes, L’Oiseau-Lyre 425822 (1985); see BCW,, C-3.

BD II, 362 Leipzig, February 7, 1735. Libretto for an unknown composition possibly a wedding cantata. Breitkopf’s bill reads: Charged to Bach for a ‘Carmen’ to be sent to Merseburg. 100 Cavalier-paper including censorship fee 1 Taler 12 Groschen Very possibly for the wedding on February 8, 1735 of the bass singer who had performed under Bach’s direction, now a court musician in Merseburg, Johann Christoph Samuel Lipsius (1695-??), Thomas Braatz, BCW Article (August 2013), “Bach’s Text and Music Business Connections,”

Sermon Imagery & Solo Cantatas

The Müller sermon imagery, according to David Schulenberg,12 influenced Picander, “who drew on Müller’s writings elsewhere” so that “Stylistic parallels to the texts of Cantatas 158, [?]153, and 49 have also been

noted.” 13 Bass solo Cantata 158, “Der Friede sei mit dir” (Peace be with you, Easter Tuesday, c.1727/28) will be the BCML Discussion the week of March 17. Cantata 153 for the rarer Sunday after New Year’s, 1724, poet unknown, is a solo work for alto, tenor and bass with three chorale settings.

Dialogue Cantata 49, “Ich geh und suche mit Verlangen” (I go and seek with longing), was presented on the 20th Sunday after Trinity in 1726. It was preceded by alto solo Cantata 169 (Trinity +18, BCMLD 2/26/14), and bass solo Cantata 56 (Trinity +19, BCMLD 3/2/14), and followed by tenor solo Cantata BWV 55 (Trinity +22, BCMLD 3/2/14) and soprano solo Cantata BWV 52 (Trinity +23, BCMLD 1/12/14). Like Cantata 49, Bach’s other three Dialogue Cantatas for the 1725-27 third cycle are also scored for soprano as Soul and bass as Jesus:

BWV 57, Lehms, Christmas 2 1725; BWV 32, Lehms, Epiphany +1 1726; and BWV 58, ?? Bach libretto, Sunday after New Years 1727.

It is quite possible that Picander borrowed both the sermon books of Heinrich Müller and August Pfeiffer13 from Bach’s library. Müller’s Passion sermons and theology are directly related to passages in the St. Matthew Passion to which Picander was crafting the lyrical texts that Bach set to music premiered on Good Friday 1727. Further, there are various words found in Picander’s Passion text that are found in Cantata 56, especially in the opening aria and recitative. Most important, Jesus Christ is referred to as the Saviour (Heiland), rather than such other Bach uses as the Bridegroom as well as Passion terms about the cross (Kreutz), death (Tod), torments (Plagen), the grave (Graben), tears (Tränen), and mercy (Barmherzigkeit)

Concerning Pfeiffer’s parallels found in Cantata 56, “with a reflection on the Nunc dimittis and then moves to the voyage theme, that of the ‘fröliche Schiffart Simeons.’ the joyful ship of Simeon” (Smaill, Ibid.), Bach also used the Rosenmüller Nunc dimittis chorale setting, “Welt Ade” (World, Farewell) to close chorus Cantata BWV 27, “Wer weiß, wie nahe emir mein Ende” (Who knows how near is my end), three weeks before, that also has an aria text (No. 3) using Neumeister I, possibly also set by Picander.

Gardiner: Collision & Collusion in Bach’s Texted Music

Cantata 56 is a fine example of the “Collusion and Collusion” of text and music in his vocal music, notably in the cantatas of the third cycle of 1725-27, says John Elliot Gardiner in his new musical biography, BACH: Music in the Castle of Heaven.14 This special quality and technique begins in Weimar with soprano solo Cantata BWV 199, Mein Herze Schwimmt im Blut (My heart swims in blood), Georg Christian Lehms text, and also is found in third cycle solo cantatas BWV 169 (=?Christian Weise Sr.), BWV 39 (Rudolstadt), and BWV 82 (author unknown), as well as the motets. Bach’s texted music “opens the door to all-encompassing moods,” with multi-layered textures “able to convey parallel, complementary, and even contradictory Affekts” (Ibid.: 435). “The words impart an extra dimension to the music and vice-versa” Gardiner says. “The process is either of collusion at one extreme or collusion at another, or some combination of the two. There are of course many gradations in between. Including a half-way house (perhaps the most interesting stage where music seems to absorb a meta-textual component.”

“Life as both a pilgrimage and a sea voyage is the underlying metaphor” in Cantata 56 “that is the equal of BWV 82 in the way its ingenious structure is so well worked out,” says Gardner (Ibid.: 466). “What makes it especially appealing is seemingly Romantic approach to text-setting – a sophisticated instance of collusion” in the opening movement (see Gardiner’s detailed comments above, “Cantata 56 Musical Qualities.”

Verbal mottos

“One noteworthy feature if Cycle III is the use of verbal mottos to link several movements together,” says Richard D. P. Jones in The Creative Development of Johann Sebastian Bach, Volume II: 1717-1750.15 It is a compositional device found in Bach’s treatment of text, related to the calculating, intentional repetition of words and phrases at particular places in the later cantatas. In Cantata 56, “the last two lines of the opening aria are quoted at the end of the recitative no. 4, immediately before the concluding chorale”: Da leg ich den Kummer auf einmal ins Grab, Da wischt mir die Tränen mein Heiland selbst ab (There I shall finally lay my anxiety in the grave, / there my Saviour himself will wipe away my tears). “The associated music from the opening aria (bb/ 143-51) returns, somewhat varied, as arioso in the recitative. This has the effect of emphasizing the Christian view of death, since the deeply moving music linked to it is heard twice, knitting the whole cantata together.” Bach also does this in three other Cycle 3 cantatas: Ascension Day chorus Cantata 43 (Nos. 8-10, Rudolstadt text), Trinity +18 alto solo Cantata 169 (Nos. 2-3) and solo bass Purification Cantata 82 (Nos. 1-2).


1 Dürr, The Cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach, revised and translated by Richard D. P. Jones (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005, 580-84). For the Cantata 56 full text and Francis Browne's English translation in interlinear format, see BCW,
2 Chorale German text, source, and Francis Browne English translation, see BCW
3 See Cantata 56, BCW Details & Discography, Score Vocal & Piano [1.11 MB],; Score BGA [1.44 MB], References, BGA: XII/2 (Cantatas BWV 51-60, Wilhelm Rust 1863), NBA KB I/24 (Cantatas for Trinity +19, Matthias Wendt 1991), Bach Compendium BC: A 146, Zwang: K 156.
4 See “Musical Context: Motets & Chorales for 19th Sunday after Trinity,” BCW; Notes, William Hoffman wrote (May 15, 2011): Trinity 19.
5 Strodach (United Lutheran Publication House, Philadelphia PA, 1924: 239).
6 See Petzoldt, Bach-Kommentar: Theologisch Musikwissenschaftlicke Kommentierung der Geistlichen Vokalwerke Johann Sebastan Bachs; Vol. 1, Die Geistlichen Kantaten des 1. bis 27. Trinitas Sontages; Internationale Bachakademie Stuttgart (Kassel: Bärenreiter, 2004: 609) text 626f; commentary 627ff. The unknown librettist, possibly Picander could have been assisted by Bach’s pastor Christian Weise Sr. (1671-1736), who preached the sermon after Cantata 55 at the St. Thomas church that day in 1726 (Ibid., 627).
7 See Gardiner liner notes,[sdg110_gb].pdf; BCW Recording details, The readings for the 19th Sunday after Trinity are: Epistle, Ephesians 4:22-28 (Put on the new man); Gospel, Matthew 9:1-8 (The sick of the palsy healed); BCW
8 Mincham, see The Cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach: A listener and student guide, Chaper 29 (Revised 2012),
9 See Hoffman liner notes,[BIS-SACD1691].pdf, BCW Recording details,
10 See Olearius BCW Short Biography,; and Discussions - Part 2 (continue from Part 1, lst round; November 17-20, 2001), BCW
11 See BCML Discussions - Part 3 (2nd round), Discussions in the Week of January 13, 2008;
12 See Schulenberg, “Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen,” Oxford Composer Companions: J.S. Bach, ed. Malcolm Boyd (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999: 489).
13 August Pfeiffer BCW Short Biography, see
14 Gardiner, Chapter 12 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2013).
15 Jones, “Music to Delight the Spirit,” The Cöthen and early Leipzig Years: 1717-29, Sacred and secular: the vocal works (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013: 179)


CANTATA 56 SIDEBAR, Peter Smaill

Cantata 56 has perhaps the greatest cantata text from an artistic viewpoint, and the fusion of mystical language, word painting and melodic/harmonic/tonal invention suggest the questions raised are most important to our understanding of Bach's genius. Various Bach scholars have found the sources related to the images found in Bach’s bass solo cantata, including a pictorial one from sermon writer Heinrich Müller, the Erdmann Neumeister original text source, the August Pfeiffer sermon source, and other thoughts from Giles Cantegrel, W. Gillies Whittaker, Hans-Joachim Schulze, and Martin Haselböck.

Renate Steiger Gnadengegenwart: Johann Sebastian Bach in Kontext lutherischer Orthodoxie und Frömmigkeit, Ch 5 "Eine emblematische Predigt" (2002). Steiger takes two striking Emblemata pictures, the second of which (p103) is from Heinrich Müller's " Himmlischer Liebes-Kuss", which was in Bach's library. It shows pilgrims, having crossed a Styx-like river ascending a hill to be greeted by Jesu and each has a Cross over the shoulder. In practice this image has no allusion whatever to the "Kreuz" as the mastwork of a ship, as has elsewhere been suggested. the ship images relate to the gospel, Matthew 9: 1. (see attachment), the sermon of Augusts Pfeiffer.

According to Alfred Dürr (Cantatas of JSB: 582), following Rudolph Wustmann (Breitkopf & Härtel), the text is derived from Neumeister , "Ich will den Kreuzweg gerne gehen." There seems no nautical connection for the Kreuzstab and the gospel for the day, the healing of the man with palsy, only suggests it because that episode is preceded by "And he entered into a ship, and passed over, and came in to his own city" (Matthew 9:1).

(The following material is take from BCML Discussions - Part 3 (2nd round), Discussions in the Week of January 13, 2008; << If the source of the imagery is not necessarily or exclusively Neumeister, who else could it be? David Schulenburg (OCC, JSB: 236) suggests the arch-Pietist Heinrich Müller may have contributed imagery via Picander. However, since the combination of the longing for death via the navigatio vitae is a very particular emphasis, it may be that a source nearby already combining the affect with the mystic image is even more plausible.

Such a source exists in the library of J. S. Bach. It is the “Evangelische Schatz-Kamer”, the Evangelical Treasure-House” of August Pfeiffer, a series of sermons published in 1679. Pfeiffer was Archdeacon of St Thomas (1640-98). I am grateful to Ruth Tatlow for supplying the texts.

The sermon for the 4th Sunday in Epiphany consists of a metaphysical tour de force, eliciting the idea of the “Schiffahrt”, the spiritual sea journey, in every possible meaning. However, particular emphasis is given to a link between the figure of Simeon, he of the “Nunc dimittis”, who is directly associated with BWV 82 for the Purification of the BVM.

Here is a taste of the parallels created by Pfeiffer, who starts with a reflection on the Nunc Dimittis and then moves to the voyage theme, that of the “fröliche Schiffart Simeons “, the joyful ship of Simeon”, bearing the inscription on the fore side (“facing the sea”):

Mein Gott! Du führet mich
Durchs Welt-Meer wunderlich

And aft (“facing the harbour”):
Doch laufft mein SchiffleinZum Himmels-Hafen ein
(“My God! Thou leadest me
Across the Sea of Life wonderfully!”
“Yet my little boat
Runs to the Haven of Heaven”)

Pfeiffer then expounds the image of the Church as the ship of the faithful, with Truth as the ballast; entry being by crossing the waters of baptism; bringing in the crossing of the Jordan and the Sea of Galilee storm; with Jesus the Captain or ship’s Master (“Schiffsherr oder Patron”), and way-finding helmsman (“weg-fundigen Steuermann”), “Peace and Joy in Jesus being better Treasure than the entire Spanish silver fleet”(!). Repeatedly, the voyage is alluded to as the pilgrim’s way to peace and heaven.

The use of “Schifflein” (little boat”) and “Jesulein” (“little Jesus”) suggests the infant Jesus as witnessed by Simeon and also the littleness of the pilgrim. In point of sentiment and focus on the pilgrim as the subject helped by Jesus, rather than the Gospel account where Jesus is the voyager, the Pfeiffer sermon strikes me as a better fit for the source of the text of BWV 56, and the inspiration for the choice of Chorale (Mvt. 5).

But why focus on the Simeon sentiment, welcoming death, on this Sunday? BWV 56 was performed on 27 November 1726. Four days later, on 31 October 1726 the funeral occurred of the Court Counsellor, Johann Christoph von Ponickau, owner of the magnificent estate of Pommsen, and a person of such significance that BWV 157 was written for graveside performance .The adaptation of this Sunday to presentiment of death is thus a possibility with the Simeon idea found appropriate to the demise of the 65 year old Leipzig grandee who would likely have known Pfeiffer in earlier days.

The discovery in BWV 56, if it is one, is really a coincidence, between an interest in medieval mystical ideas surfacing in the texts, and Ruth Tatlow happening to have copies of the Pfeiffer sermons, and generously letting me see them. But one thing leads to another... ...if you follow the link below to , there is an illustration of Bach pointing out (?for instruction?) three works by Pfeiffer in the frontispiece to the first Anna Magdalena notebook of 1722. "Bach's favourite author" is one comment on the connection.

It is also interesting maybe that Bach always sets the Cantatas for the Purification of the BVM with the story of Simeon, rather than focusing on the Virgin. My suggestion is that he is also subtly referring to the "Simeons-Schifflein" of August Pfeiffer in BWV 56,>>

Other Sources

Cantagrel, Les cantates de J.-S. Bach, says Cantata 56 consists of two “ich lieder”; the Bass is not the voice of Christ, but that of the pious man.. Nothing more on imagery of the first movement and indeed does not bother to mention the mediaeval image of life as a sea journey even though the text in the later movements is quite explicit about the metaphor (m 2 especially).
Whittaker, Cantatas of JSB I: 373ff) sees the text as inspired by a conflation of the readings, i.e. reflecting also the Epistle, Ephesians 1:22-28, "That ye put off the old man... and be renewed in the spirit of your mind.” He sees the instrumentation balance against a solo voice as indicating "heavy laden". The closing chorale (Whittaker is often the best writer on these and Dürr the least excited) is unique and with exquisite harmonisations ("richly solemn") To which I add that the forbidden whole scale slide of a semitone between the end l1 and opening of l2 word paints the idea of death as sleeps brother!)
Schulze, Die Bach-Kantaten (Stuttgart: Carus-Verlag, c2006) says that the Kreuzstab image is common in Roman Catholicism but rare in Lutheranism. However, the stilling of the waves image may have particularly appealed to Bach, for its occurs in the song "Gib dich zufrieden und sei stille", which he set twice in 1725 for Anna Magdalena, marked "Troest-lied eines betruebten Creuz-Traegers". The sea-image starts only in m2 and again no sign of the kreuzstab as a ship's masts,
Haselböck, Textlexicon 5 Kreuzstab - Kreuzsymbolik der Seelenschifffahrt: notes Xstab, symbol of pilgrimage in the sea journey of life. mms 3 and 4 echo the biblical theme of the journey from Egypt to the Promised Land. But here we have the ship's architecture discussed: "Hinweise auf das Kreuz gibt es auch im " mit Holz und Naegeln zusammengefugen Schiffskoerper, in Holz des kleinen Steuerruders, in Masbaum mit der Segelstange, in dem man auch zugleich das Kreuz als Siegesezeichen (Tropaion) sah, so das bild der Heeresstandarte damit verbindend, in der Schiffsleiter und im Anker (sources: L ThK, Bd 6, Sp. 608) (Lexikon fur Theologie und Kirche, (Rahner etc. 1957) "There are indications of the cross in the [ship's structure] with wood and nails together atop a seamless hull, and in the wood of the little rudder; in the mast standing like a tree, with the trailing sails where you also saw the cross as a gonfalon denoting victory (Tropaion), so that picture is of an army standard - thus combining the images of the [cross in the] superstructure of the ship and in the anchor [of faith]." (Smaill translation)

William Hoffman wrote (March 11, 2014):
Cantata 56: Discipleship; Another Trinity +19 Cantata?

The key sacred theme of discipleship, with related topics of cross-bearing and service/works, are revealed in Bach’s bass solo Cantata 56, "Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen" (I will the cross-staff gladly carry), reveals Calvin R. Stapert, Bach scholar and Calvinist theologian, in My Only Comfort: Death, Deliverance and Discipleship in the Music of Bach (Grand Rapids MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2000). As “unexcelled” “artistic expressions of the Christian faith” (Ibid.: Preface xi), Bach’s vocal music carries the pervasive theme of discipleship as inherent in his particular, orthodox Lutheran teaching as a core component of Christian Faith.

Discipleship as a personal, passionate commitment to Jesus Christ is found in key Bach cantatas or musical sermons for the church year, particularly in the Trinity Time of the Christian Church’s teachings. Collective commitment is expressed in word and substance through the performance of vocal music as communal expression of gratitude supported with the fundamental, guiding principles of the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the sacraments, says Stapert (Ibid., 165). A key expression of discipleship among ardent Christian pilgrims and travelers is the personal act of cross-bearing in the world.

In the opening movement the single bass voice of authority and commitment, the seeking believer, not the person of Jesus Christ, expresses words that reflect discipleship as the individual on a harsh road of misery, “rauhe Bahn” of “trieben,” finds that God in his arms, “in seinem armen,” will hold, “wird halten,” the believer. Stapert finds (p. 199) that the core expression for Bach is found in his favorite chorale “Was Gott tut, das ist Wohlgetan” (What God does, that is well done), especially as the affirmative ending of Cantata 12, “Weinen, klagen, sorgen, Zagen” (Weeping, lamentation, worry, apprehension) for Jubilate Sunday (the third after Easter Sunday), premiered in Weimar in 1714 to a Salomo Franck text.

Cantata 12 is “another great-cross-bearing cantata,” says Stapert, also of challenge with an ultimate, comforting affect. The opening chorus, which Bach later used in contrafaction as the pivotal “Crucifixus” in the Mass in B-Minor, sets the stage for the closing hymn’s sense of comfort and peace, as does the second part of the opening movement of Cantata 56. The succeeding recitative, “Mein Wandel auf der Welt / Ist einer Schiffahrt gleich” (My wandering in the world / is like a journey by ship), is reminiscent of the arioso, “Sieht, ich steh vor der Tür” (behold, I stand before the door), Jesus’ words of invitation from Revelation 3:20). In both cases, Bach “painted a picture with the simplest of musical devices. Although such movements are seemingly naïve in their simplicity, somehow, like medieval miniatures, they convey something of great depth.”

In Cantata 56, the picture of the sea with rolling waves supports the pilgrim who sings of God’s assurance amid the storms. The same contrast is found in the succeeding aria, “Endlich, endlich wird mein Joch / Wieder von mir weichen müssen” (Finally, finally will my yoke / again have to fall away from me), where the Pilgrim, the cross-bearer, experiences the yoke of the prophet Isaiah (10:27), leading to the “soaring on wings like and eagle” (Isaiah 40:31). The da-capo aria is a “typically Bachian allegro that literally goes on and on with unflagging energy,” says Stapert (p. 201), who also wrote a general musical biography, J. S. Bach, in the History Makers series (Oxford, Lion-Hudson, 2009 (

The succeeding recitative, “Ich stehe fertig und bereit” (I stand ready and prepared), ends with a repetition of the opening aria’s conclusion, “Da leg ich den Kummer auf einmal ins Grab” (There I shall finally lay my anxiety in the grave). The closing chorale achieves comfort and acceptance, “Komm, o Tod, du Schlafes Bruder” (Come, O death, you brother of sleep). A summary of Stapert’s in My Only Comfort: Death, Deliverance and Discipleship in the Music of Bach is found at

Other Bach Trinity 19 Opportunities

Only the Picander text and the first six measures of an opening sinfonia are extant remnants of Bach’s further opportunities to create music for the 19th Sunday after Trinity. Bach scholar and theologian Martin Petzoldt believes that the two remnants are linked together so that Bach could have used the Picander text, set to the sinfonia and presented on October 23, 1729. In his analysis of the biblical references of the text movements, Petzoldt notes that the sermon that Sunday was preached by Bach’s pastor, Christian Weise Sr. Petzoldt’s commentary is found at Bach-Kommentar: Theologisch Musikwissenschaftlicke Kommentierung der Geistlichen Vokalwerke Johann Sebastan Bachs; Vol. 1, Die Geistlichen Kantaten des 1. bis 27. Trinitas Sontages; Internationale Bachakademie Stuttgart (Kassel: Bärenreiter, 2004: 559-62).

+For the 19th Sunday after Trinity, October 3, 1728, the Picander printed annual church cantata cycle, lists P-63, "Gott, du Richter, der Gedanken" (God, Thou Judge of Thoughts), closing (Movement No. 5) with the Paul Gerhardt 1656 chorale, "Warum sollt ich mich denn grämen?" (Why should I myself then grieve?), S. 6, "Satan, Welt, und ihre Rotten" (Satan, World, and your kind). Associated melody adapted by Leipzig poet Daniel Vetterer 1713, from J. G. Ebeling 1666).*

+A tantalizing fragment of a cantata inscribed in Bach's hand for the 19th Sunday after Trinity, presumably for October 23, 1729, is listed as BWV Anhang (Appendix) Anh. 2, no title, involving the opening sinfonia of six measures in Bb Major in 6/8 time, scored for SATB, violin concertante, strings and basso continuo. It is found on the backside of the manuscript score of Bach's Motet BWV 226, "Der Geist hilf unsre Schwacheit auf" (The Spirit hold up our Infirmity), for a funeral on October 24, 1729. Dürr cites this "[Untexted Fragment] BWV Anh, I 2 BC A147" with the extant music in his The Cantatas of JSB (Ibid.: 584f). The music, like the opening fantasia chorus of chorale Cantata 5 has dance characte.

"It is questionable whether this sketch may be linked with Picander's text for this Sunday from his cycle of 1728-29," Dürr says. Further, the harmonization of chorale, BWV 422, "Warum sollt ich mich denn grämen?," is in the unrelated key of C/G Major. Dürr assumes that Bach began the cantata composition (in October 1729) but ceased and began composing the motet for the coming funeral. At this time, Bach had ceased regular service composition, having assumed the directorship of the secular Leipzig Collegium musicum in the late spring of 1729 when he composed his last sacred Cantata BWV 174, "Ich liebe den Hochsten von ganzem Gemute," for Pentecost Monday, June 6, 1729, using a Picander 1728 printed text. Bach's next documented church cantata composition is BWV 192, "Nun danket alle Gott" (Now Thank We All Our God" for the Reformation Festival, October 31, 1730.

+On the 19th Sunday after Trinity, October 16, 1735, Bach probably performed a Stözel two-part cantata as part of the cycle "Saitenspiele testeddes Hertzens" (Music Playing of the Heart), text by Benjamin Schmolck, with two chorale settings not identified.

+About October 7, 1736, Bach may have performed Stözel's two-part cantata, "Ich bin ein Gast Gewesen" (I am surely a guest) from the cantata cycle "Das Namenbuch Christi," (Book of Names of Christ), Schmolck text, No. 62. No musical source with the presumed chorales is extant.


* The chorale, "Warum sollt ich mich denn grämen?," is not found in the< Neu Leipziger Gesangbuch> of 1682, since it was too recent, but was popular in Bach's time as an <omnes tempore> hymn under the heading, "Trust in God, Cross, and Consolation." Bach's sole harmonization, BWV 422, four-part chorale in C/G Major, ?c.1730, is found in the Hänssler complete Bach edition (No. 85), A Book of Chorale settings: "Trust in God, Cross, and Consolation," No. 8, CD 92.085 (1999).

This chorale also is designated in the Picander cycle for the First Sunday after Trinity, June 19, in Cantata text P42, "Welt, der Purpur stinkt mich an" (World, thy purple robe stinks on me); No. 5, closing chorale, Stanza 10, "Was sind dieses Lebens Güter?" (What are these life's goods?). The best source for Gerhardt and this chorale, "Warum sollt ich mich denn grämen?," is <Paul Gerhardt, The Singer of Comfort, Hope, and Peace in Christ: His Life and Summaries of Seventeen of His Hymns>, The article observers that:
"Paul Gerhardt based this hymn of joy on Psalm 73 [Truly, God is good to Israel], especially verses 23-26.
`Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.'"

Bach used two stanzas of the chorale in his Motet BWV 228, "Furchte dich nicht" (Do not fear), ?funeral, Feb. 4, 1726: Movement No. 2, Chorus SATB (Do not fear) with soprano chorale, V. 11 and 12, "Herr, mein Hirt, Brunn aller Freuden!" (Lord, my Shepherd, source of all joys!), and "Du bist mein, weil ich dich fasse" (You are mine, since I seize you). Francis Browne English translation, BCW

Bach set the associated Ebeling/Vetterer melody of "Warum sollt ich mich denn grämen?," to another Gerhardt text, "Frölich soll mein Herze springen diese Zeit" (Joyfully shall my heart soaring up this time, 1656), as four-part chorale in the <Christmas Oratorio? (Part 3, Adoration of the Shepherds), "Ich will dich mit Fleiß bewahren" (I will firmly cherish three), BWV 248/33 (248III/10), "Und die Hirten kehrten wieder um" (And the shepherds went back again), December 27, 1734.

The chorale, "Warum sollt ich mich denn grämen?," is found in two recent American Lutheran hymnbooks: the 1941 Missouri Synod <Lutheran Hymnal> (St. Louis: Concordia), No. 523, "Why Should Cross and Trial Grieve Me" (S. 1, 4, 5, 7, 8, 10-12, John Kelly translation 1867) under the heading "Cross and Comfort," and restored in the current <Evangelical Lutheran Worship> hymnbook (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2006), No. 273, "All My Heart Again Rejoices" (Catherine Winkworth 19th century alternate translation), in the Christmas section.

Aryeh Oron wrote (March 12, 2014):
Cantata BWV 56 - Revised & Updated Discography

The discography pages of Cantata BWV 56 “Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen” for solo bass, soprano, 2 oboes, strings, bassoon & continuo on the BCW has been revised and updated. That includes:
- Adding many details, cover photos, etc to existing recordings. This time I have also added the names of members of the vocal & instrumental ensembles (if known)
- 7 new recordings, making it a total of 71 complete (or near complete) recordings.
- Many listening/watching options to recordings directly from the discography pages, just below the recording details.
- Adding many bio pages of “new” performers of this cantata
- Adding/updating relevant performer discography pages.

As usual with all the discographies on the BCW, all the issues of the same recording are presented together. Because the number of different recordings became too big for a single page, I had to split it into several pages, a page per a decade. The discography pages are inter-linked. You can start, for example, at the last decade page (2010-2019) and go backward to pages of previous decades:

I believe this is the most comprehensive discography of this famous cantata. If you are aware of a recording of BWV 56 missing from these pages, or want to correct/add details of a recording already presented on the BCW, please do not hesitate to inform me.

I would be happy to get your input regarding this cantata, for example:
- If you are a listener: your opinion of the relative merits of the recordings available on the page above an/or other recordings at your disposal.
- If you have performed this cantata as a singer, player or conductor: your perception from preparing the cantata for performance and performing it.


BWV 56 Article on Text

Aryeh Oron wrote (April 8, 2014):
Thomas Braatz contributed a new article to the BCW:
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 <>

Thomas Braatz wrote:
Thanks to William Hoffman who sent me Martin Petzoldt’s theological interpretation of the text and music of BWV 56 “Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen”, I will be able to shed some light on the interesting and at times rather complicated historical background hidden behind this marvelous libretto by a yet unknown author. Although based primarily upon Petzoldt’s commentary on Bach’s text and music for this cantata, I have also provided additional materials and raised questions about an obvious missing link that still needs to be documented more thoroughly in order to gain better picture about the sources that may have influenced the librettist as he (or she?) created a truly poetic masterpiece of powerful simplicity. By supplying eight extensive
excerpts from /Biblischer Erklärung/ (1678-1681) by Johannes Olearius (1611-1684) [J. S. Bach owned a copies of certain volumes from this set], Petzoldt implies that the librettist was primarily acquainted with Olearius’ work and that there was no connection as had been previously surmised by Bach experts to Erdmann Neumeister’s (1672-1756) cantata text from his first cycle: “Ich will den Kreuzweg gerne gehen” (a speculation which even Alfred Dürr had supported). Compound nouns like /Kreuzstab/ [over centuries the German language has developed a penchant for such compounds] also appear frequently in texts by Salomon Franck(1659-1725) with which Bach was also well-acquainted. Evidently Petzoldt did not discover pertinent examples in Franck’s texts so that he can be excluded from further investigation.

Fortunately I have been able to locate two sources published 25 to 30 years earlier than the Olearius sources Petzoldt had cited. These sources, Johann Conrad Mohr’s (no biography available, only the publishing dates) funeral orations from 1649 and 1650 and Johann Conrad Dannhauer’s (1603-1666) /Catechismusmilch oder der Erklärung deß christlichen Catechismi … Theil/, 10 volumes, (Straßburg 1642–1678), specifically volume 6 from 1657, demonstrate, although couched as it were in symbolical-allegorical language, an even closer relationship with the cantata text.

My greatest frustration has been not to supply an extremely important source that Olearius cites in his /Biblischer Erklärung/ (1678-1681) without giving the specific source. He simply states: “Luther says” assuming that this is sufficient authority since anyone reading Olearius’ theological expositions would most likely know the Luther source to which he was referring. Sadly Petzoldt also did not deem it necessary to indicate this source more explicitly. This has left, in my opinion, a gaping hole in the development and transmission of the specific metaphors and similes that have become the traditional way of expressing the ideas contained in the BWV 56 cantata text. The key stages involved in this developmental sequence are:

1. the pertinent biblical texts, particularly as transmitted through Luther’s bible translation;

2. Luther’s interpretations (in the first half of the 16^th century) which build upon and expand the poetic language of the Bible (unfortunately still missing as I am unable to gain access to the digitized version of the new Weimarer Gesamtausgabe (complete edition)!);

3. Further expansion and elaboration of Luther’s bible translation and other interpretations (mid and late 17^th century) by authors like Mohr, Dannhauer, and Olearius;

4. The magnificent reduction and consolidation of all this material into a final, simple and very effective poetic expression of the key ideas in the BWV 56 libretto.

See the Article at:
Linked from:


BWV 56 "Kreuzstab" Cantata and Veronese

Peter Smaill wrote (April 9, 2014):
Hot on the heels of the recent postings and the customarily excellent digest by Thomas Braatz on this lovely Cantata, there is one further thing to add. The meaning of the symbolism of the word "Kreuzstab," remains debatable, but a further and highly visual interpretation has been reinforced by a pictorial image. The idea is that the "Kreuzstab" is in fact an allegory: it is meant as a cross-shaped device used in the century before Bach as a navigational aid.

Is "Kreustab", literally "cross-shaft" simply a cross, perhaps resonating with the structure of masts? Or does it relate to this more esoteric definition of "Kreuzstab" as a nautical instrument like a cross, thus an allegorical guide to the "navigatio vitae" which dominates this Cantata?

The pictorial image to which I refer is in the the major Veronese exhibition at the National Gallery in London. You will find by the attached link "Allegory of Navigation with a Cross-Staff", painted about 1555-60. It rather confirms the latter approach to the meaning of the iconography of BWV 56: originally painted for St Mark's Library in Venice, this work would have been widely known. It is now (usually) in Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

"Against a backdrop of classical ruins, an ancient philosopher clutches a cross-shaped staff (known as a ballestriglia), an instrument used to determine geographical latitude by measuring the altitude (the angle above the horizon) of the sun and stars".

The point that matters is the meaning of this established allegory compared to the text of BWV 56. "I would gladly carry the cross-shaft/It comes from God's dear hand'/It leads me after my torments /To God in the Promised Land". The navigational cross-shaft fits the idea of leading and bringing to a destination, and thus sits better (I would argue) than all the other interpretations with the overall hermeneutic idea of the "navigatio vitae". Go see and figure it out for yourselves!
Linked from:


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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