Bach: The Cantatas

Bach Cantatas

– 19th Sunday after Trinity – 23rd October 2022 – J.S.Bach cantata BWV 56 -,Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne yragen’ –

Oct 12, 2022

Here, there is a full oboe-orchestra, complete with a taille.

The continuo ‘cello has an important part in the first recitativo, but the most important feature, is that there is no chorus, until the last important choral and no soloists, -save a lone bass voice.

This is a landmark cantata, framed, first and last, by two outstanding memorable settings.


‘Gladly, shall I bear the cross. It comes from God’s beloved hand and it leads me, -after my torments, to Him, and into the promised land. Then, into my grave, shall I place, all my grief. Then, shall my Saviour, wipe tears, from my eyes.’

This cross, is to be seriously borne and the whole ensemble has a hand in this.

The vocal entry, 17, outlines that of the second violin, at the start, 1, through 7.

Note well the augmented 2nd, Bb to C#, 18.

Incidentally, the viola part, -doubled by the taille, seems to me to be of interest, in its variety and use of the rich thematic material, that Bach begins to assemble and work.

The emphasis’ of this text, -the cross, the torments and the grave, all of which might be seen as negative, are seized upon, by the composer, as he begins to assemble and build the musical foundation for this masterpiece.

The orchestral color, winds doubling strings, weaving its material closely and tightly, sets up this scene, one of lamentation, almost a threnody, for the dead.

But it is not a hopeless death, but a faithful one, where the promised land and the wiping away of the tears become positive reasons, to die for.

Lilting appoggiaturas, -for instance, bar 2 and following, clearly outline those unspoken weeping’s, the reason for those Messianic wiping’s-away and the whole is enabled, for and with death.

70 deals with the torments, in-fact the plagues, which pull the voice down, and down, even lower and lower, 75 through 80, rising, to that promised land, 91, through 98, the whole repeated, magniciantly and in splendor, 99, through 111.

Then, this:

a very slightly reduced and thinned ritornello, -111, through 126, not only prepares us for death and the grave, -we can feel the life and breath leaking out of us, as it leaks out of the music, but actually shows us death and the grave…and miraculously, -and literally, breathtakingly, the hand of Christ, appears, waving and wiping away, those tears from the eyes.

How does Bach create such a profound and moving moment?

The use of triplets becomes the method and mechanism, by which and through, the moving hand of Christ, is to be seen and to be heard, wiping away those tears.

This is a profound moment and one that the composer wants us to register.

And yet, we are not to wallow, but to flow.

134, through 138, is a wallowing moment and this is clear, from the sheer beauty of the music, a caressing and lingering moment indeed.

This must be one of Bach’s and all musics most profound musical and textual moment, where music and text become indistinguishable.


‘My life on this earth, is like a sea voyage. -Sorrow, affliction, distress, they engulf me, like waves, frightening me, literally, to death. My anchor, -God’s mercy, sustains me and comforts my heart. He calls to me: ‘I am with you. I shall not leave you.’ When the raging storm is calmed, I shall step into my city, -the kingdom of heaven, where, with all the other righteous ones, I shall escape, form this tribulation.’

Immediately, the text informs us that we are at sea and Bach uses the important, written-out, ‘cello part, to imitate, with upward and downward undulation, the same, of the sea and its waves.

The voice, at 7, joins in, with this imagery. And the same, at 8, where an anchor, is likened, to God’s mercy.

-And the ‘…calling out…’, is also communicated, in the rhythm, of the waves.

At 16, the stepping out of the ship, into the city, is clear, as the waves cease, but mention, of tribulation, brings, quickly back, the semiquaver reminiscence, of movement.


‘At last, the yoke shall, again, fall from me. Then, I shall find strength, in The Lord, and rise up, like an eagle, from this earth, -and without growing weary. If only if could happen today.’

As the yoke falls, the orchestra, -except for a solo oboe, disappears and the continuo, in itself and is sufficient, as the strength of The Lord, to provide, ample support to this jaunty jaunt of joy.

The humanity of this oboe, leads and colours this opening ritornello and as the voice joins, we hear this yoke making quite a spectacular fall, -12, through 15 and the rejoicing, at this, continues, with vocal coloratura runs, leaps and skips, right on, to 53.

At 32, through 37 and under the influence of all this rejoicing, even the phrases lengthen to 3 bars.

At 64, the eagle rises but the final line, with its vocal E natural and emergency modulation, towards d minor, ‘…if only it would happen, today.’ might banish, for the unsuspecting, any strengths gained, through that rising eagle.


‘I stand here, -ready and prepared, to receive, -and with yearning and desire, my heritage, of bliss, from the hands of Jesus. How happy I will be, when I see, that harbour of rest. Then, into my grave, shall I place, all my grief. Then, shall my Saviour, wipe the tears, from my eyes.’

This heritage, of bliss, ‘…Seligkeit’ is a profound and spiritual heritage, received again, from those hands of Christ, for the moment, heard but not seen, through restored and now ‘haloic’ orchestral strings, heralding, as they so often do, the presence of Jesus.

This ‘-yearning and desire…’, makes the voice drop down and down.

This so often happens, as when we experience spiritual profundity or extraordinary spiritual moments, our voices may loose power and we literally are struck dumb.

-and the reason, for this dumb-struckness?

Like the writing-on-the-wall, the fingers of the hand of Christ, those smooth flowing triplets, appear in the arioso section, marked adagio.

This is literally a ‘spine-tingling’ moment, as not only is the first movement experience recalled, in all it glory, but for this second time, this experience, is heightened by death. This is difficult to appreciate, aside from Christian spirituality, as death, in this context is an ecstasy, yearned for, by the believer.

How else can grief consciously be placed into the grave, if it is not, consciously and in faith, lived through.

Bach reminds us, in the very last 4 bars, that all this, can only be accompanied, with tears.


‘Come, O death, brother, of sleep. Come now and lead me away. Loosen, the rudder, of my little ship and bring me safely, into port. Let them who wish to ignore you, do so. You can delight, all-the-more, in me. For, it is, through you, that I shall enter, to be with, my sweet Jesus.’

This difficult, and in many ways, startling text, encapsulates so much of the spirit and truth of the Christian faith.

The idea of death as a doorway to life seems unpopular, to say the least.

Nevertheless, Bach’s setting, even though heard today, through different ears, is certainly as relevant, to its listeners today, as it was, during its first hearing, 27th October, 1726.

This is a chorale, where more than a few paragraphs might be written about its many attributes and qualities.

The inspired one-beat-rest, which must be heard, not only gives time, for the hushed chorus, to draw breath, but strangely, gives an unseen trampoline, the energy to launch, this text, ‘come’, with more urgency, than it might have had.

The soprano/alto clash, third beat of 2, informs us, that sleep, is the brother of death, and seemingly, more important, than death itself, in this opening line.

Again, another rest, adding energy to this important ‘…leading away…’.

The same music repeat’s, this time, this boat cones to our attention, as does the safe destination.

The 4th/10th bar flattened 6th, is not to be missed, as these lines are ‘motion-moments’, leading and bringing.

This attitude of ignoring, or shunning, is given ‘happy-vibs’ by a move, with a dropping bass, towards the relative Eb major, followed by the same, with delight.

Why did Bach not re-invent this repeat?

Is it possible, that rejection is actually synomonus with acceptance?

The last line shows us that an earthy view, or starting point, that seemingly starts darkly, can successfully grope its way out, -the resolution of diminished, onto G major, towards a heavenly understanding, as entry, through Him, is sweetness itself.

View more Cantata articles