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Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen, BWV 56

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Title: Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen, BWV 56  
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Subject: Bach cantata, Laß, Fürstin, laß noch einen Strahl, BWV 198, Gott soll allein mein Herze haben, BWV 169, Church cantata (Bach), Did you know nominations/Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen, BWV 56
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Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen, BWV 56

Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen
BWV 56
Church cantata by J. S. Bach
Cross and Staff, Brooklyn Museum
Occasion 19th Sunday after Trinity
Performed 27 October 1726 (1726-10-27) – Leipzig
Movements 5
Cantata text anonymous
Chorale by Johann Franck
  • 2 oboes
  • taille
  • 2 violins
  • viola
  • continuo

Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen ("I will the cross-staff gladly carry"[1] or "I will gladly carry the Cross"[2]), BWV 56,[1] 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. The cantata is regarded as part of Bach's third annual cycle of cantatas for all occasions of the liturgical year, and one of few works for which Bach himself used the term cantata.

The text by an unknown author reflects life of the Christian as a voluntary journey "carrying the cross" as a follower of Jesus. The text refers indirectly to the prescribed gospel reading which tells that Jesus traveled by boat. The poet used the imagery to liken life to a sea voyage, finally reflecting a yearning for death to reach the ultimate destination. The yearning for death is re-enforced by the choice of a 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 also relates to the ship voyage imagery. Bach, who composed the cantata in his fourth year as Thomaskantor in Leipzig, structured the cantata in five movements, alternating arias and recitatives for a bass soloist and closing with a four-part chorale, and chose an ensemble of Baroque instruments of three woodwind instruments (two oboes and taille) playing mostly with three string instruments (two violins and viola), and continuo, with an obbligato cello in the first recitative and an obbligato oboe in the second aria, resulting in different timbres for the four movements for the same voice part.


  • History and words 1
  • Scoring and structure 2
  • Music 3
    • 1 3.1
    • 2 3.2
    • 3 3.3
    • 4 3.4
    • 5 3.5
  • Selected recordings 4
  • Notes 5
  • References 6
  • Sources 7
  • External links 8

History and words

Bach wrote the cantata during his fourth year as Thomaskantor (director of music) in Leipzig for the 19th Sunday after Trinity. It is regarded as part of his third annual cycle of cantatas.[3] 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.[4]

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).[5]

The author of the text is unknown. The Bach scholar Christoph Wolff assumes that the librettist was inspired by "Ich will den Kreuzweg gerne gehen" (I want to walk the way of the cross gladly) which appeared in Erdmann Neumeister's collection of cantatas in 1711.[3] Kreuzweg means Way of the Cross, literally the stations of the cross presented along a way to be walked in meditation, but often a general description of the way of a Christian following Jesus "carrying the cross" in life and death. The text refers indirectly to the Gospel. Although there is no explicit reference to the sick man in the text, he appears as a follower of Christ who bears his cross and suffers torment until the end, when 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, told in the first person.[5]

A boat on the Sea of Galilee

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).[6] 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.[5] 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."[5] 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 stanza of Johann Franck's hymn "Du, o schönes Weltgebäude" (1653), which also alludes to the ship imagery, saying "Löse meines Schiffleins Ruder, bringe mich an sichern Port" (release the rudder of my little ship, bring me to the secure harbor).[2] Before the chorale, the final lines of the opening aria taken from Revelation 7:17 ("there my Savior himself will wipe away my tears") are heard once more.[5]

Bach first performed the cantata on 27 October 1726.[7] 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

Bach structured the cantata in five movements, alternating arias and recitatives and a four-part chorale. He scored it for a bass soloist, a four-part choir only in the closing chorale, two oboes (Ob), taille (Ot), two violins (Vl), viola (Va), cello (Vc), and basso continuo.[8] Except for the obbligato oboe in movement 3, 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".[4]

In the following table of the movements, the scoring follows the Neue Bach-Ausgabe.[8] The keys and time signatures are taken from Alfred Dürr, using the symbol for common time (4/4).[5] The continuo, playing 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 anon. Aria Bass 2Ob Ot 2Vl Va G minor 3/4
2 Mein Wandel auf der Welt / ist einer Schiffahrt gleich anon. Recitative Bass Vc B-flat major common time
3 Endlich wird mein Joch / wieder von mir weichen müssen anon Aria Bass Ob B-flat major common time
4 Ich stehe fertig und bereit anon. 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


Wolff notes that Bach achieved "a finely shaded series of timbres"[3] by scoring even the four solo movements differently, with all instruments in the opening aria, only continuo in a secco recitative, obbligato oboe in the central aria, and strings in an accompagnato recitative. All instruments play again in the closing chorale.[3]


The opening aria, "Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen" (I will gladly carry the Cross),[2] is in bar form AAB, with two stollen (A) followed by an abgesang (B). The first stollen starts 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 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] 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.[9]


In the second movement, "Mein Wandel auf der Welt" (My pilgrimage in the world),[2] the undulation of the sea is depicted in the accompaniment by flowing semiquavers in the cello over repeated quavers in the basso continuo.[9]


Baroque oboe

The joyous third movement is a da capo aria "Endlich, endlich wird mein Joch" (Finally, finally my yoke),[2] illustrating the passage from Isaiah. It is a lively concertante duet for solo oboe, bass soloist and 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.[10]


"Ich stehe fertig und bereit" (I stand ready and prepared), expressing readiness for the final journey, is an accompagnato recitative with the strings.[2] Words related to the Book of Revelation are repeated from the first aria, and with them the rhythm in triplets. John Eliot Gardiner, who conducted the Bach Cantata Pilgrimage in 2000, describes: "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".[6]


The final four-part chorale, "Komm, o Tod, du Schlafes Bruder" (Come, o death, brother of sleep),[2] with the orchestra doubling the vocal parts, is regarded as an inspired masterpiece. Death is addressed as a brother of sleep, and requested to end the voyage of life by loosening the rudders of a little boat and bring it to a safe port, marking the end of the metaphorical journey in the cantata.

The melody was written by Johann Crüger, published in 1646. In his setting, Bach introduces dramatic syncopation for each declamation in "Come, o death, you brother of sleep";[2] and it is only at the end of the penultimate line that torment and dissonance are transformed into glory and harmony, illuminating the words "Denn durch dich komm ich herein / zu dem schönsten Jesulein" (for through you I will come to my loveliest little Jesus).[2] Gardiner notes that it is Bach's only setting of Crüger's tune which recalls the style of his father's cousin Johann Christoph Bach whom he regarded as a 'profound composer'.[6]

Selected recordings

The sortable table is taken from the selection on the Bach-Cantatas website.[11] Choirs are roughly marked as large (by red background) or one voice per part (OVPP) (by green background); instrumental groups playing period instruments in historically informed performances are highlighted green under the header Instr..

Recordings of Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen, BWV 56
Title Conductor / Choir / Orchestra Soloists Label Year Choir type Instr.
Les Grandes Cantates de J. S. Bach Vol. 18 Werner, FritzFritz Werner
Heinrich-Schütz-Chor Heilbronn
Pforzheim Chamber Orchestra
Barry McDaniel Erato 1964 (1964) Chamber
Kreuzstab & Ich Habe Genug[12] Brüggen, FransFrans Brüggen Max van Egmond Sony 1977 (1977) Period
J.S. Bach: Solokantaten Kreuzstabkantate BWV 56; "Der Friede sei mit dir" BWV 158; "Ich habe genug" BWV 82 Beringer, Karl-Friedrich Karl-Friedrich Beringer
Windsbacher Knabenchor
Consortium Musicum
Siegmund Nimsgern Baier Records 1991 (1991) Boys
J. S. Bach: Complete Cantatas Vol. 17 Koopman, TonTon Koopman
Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra & Choir
Klaus Mertens Antoine Marchand 1995 (1995) Period
J. S. Bach: Bach: Kantaten · Cantatas BWV 82, BWV 158, BWV 56 Schneider, MichaelMichael Schneider
La Stagione
Gotthold Schwarz Capriccio 2006 (2006) Boys Period
J. S. Bach: Cantatas for the Complete Liturgical Year Vol. 1 Cantatas BWV 55, 56, 98, 180 Kuijken, SigiswaldSigiswald Kuijken
La Petite Bande
Dominik Wörner Accent 2006 (2006) OVPP Period
Bach Cantatas for Bass BWV 82/158/56/203 Terakado, Ryō Ryō Terakado
il Gardellino
Dominik Wörner Passacaille 2013 (2013) Period


  1. ^ "BWV" is Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis, a thematic catalogue of Bach's works.


  1. ^ a b Ambrose, Z. Philip. "BWV 56 Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen".  
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j  
  3. ^ a b c d  
  4. ^ a b Grob, Jochen (2014). "BWV 56 / BC 146" (in German). Retrieved 30 September 2015. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f  
  6. ^ a b c  
  7. ^  
  8. ^ a b Bischof, Walter F. "BWV 56 Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen".  
  9. ^ a b Mincham, Julian (2010). "Chapter 29 BWV 56 Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen / I will happily bear the cross staff.". Retrieved 30 September 2015. 
  10. ^ Traupman-Carr, Carol (2006). "Cantata BWV 56 Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen".  
  11. ^ Oron, Aryeh. "Cantata BWV 56 Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen". Bach-Cantatas. Retrieved 2 October 2015. 
  12. ^ Shiloni, Ehud (1998). """Kantaten: "Kreuzstab"&"Ich Habe Genug. Retrieved 30 September 2015. 


External links

  • Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen, BWV 56: performance by the Netherlands Bach Society (video and background information)
  • Komm, o Tod, du Schlafes Bruder
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