Cantata BWV 56 "Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen"
Cantata BWV 56, titled "Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen," was written for the 19th Sunday after Trinity in 1726 (October 27, that year). The Gospel reading for that day mentions a voyage in a ship over the sea; the storms encountered on such a journey are related to the burden of carrying the cross and living with all of lifes obstacles. It is ultimately a metaphor for sailing lifes journey to reach Heaven (Robertson, The Church Cantatas of J.S. Bach, p. 298). The text, whose author remains anonymous (except for the final movement, makes numerous references to the sea, to ships, and to a journey throughout, making both overt and subtle ties to the Gospel of the day. Here are a few examples:
The final movement uses a verse of Johann Francks "Du, o sch;ones Weltgebäude" (1653); the chorale tune was written by Johann Crüger (1649); and the harmonization is, of course, all Bach.
The cantata contains a mere five movements. The first four are scored for solo bass, and alternate aria-recitative-aria-recitative, while the final movement is a 4-part chorale for SATB voices doubled by instruments. The instrumental ensemble includes two oboes, taille, strings, and continuo.
The first movement is marked by numerous slurred eighth notes, which might be seen as reflecting tears or at least setting a lamenting tone. Bach is careful to mark the longest melismas (and they are very long!) on the word "tragen" (carry), to show perhaps the burden of the cross or journey, or at least the length of lifes journey. In the example below, the tear motive is marked in green; its inversion (where it does not have the same effect) is marked in orange. A few melismas are marked in blue, although those seen in this example are some of the shortest melismas in this aria.
This first movement leans towards the da capo aria design, but falls short. After the lengthy opening section, a shorter but new section emerges in which triplet figure abound in the solo bass part; the lamenting eighth notes are still present here, though they are less in number and effect; our ears are strongly drawn to the triplet figures. Following this, the orchestra jumps to near the beginning (using a dal segno), and replays the instrumental introduction. The opening vocal material does not return, and so the da capo gesture is understood, even if the form is not followed.
The second movement is an accompanied recitative for cello, continuo, and solo bass voice. The cello plays arpeggiated sixteenth notes which might be perceived as the gentle lapping of waves against the sides of a ship.
The final words are "Wohin ich mit den Frommen aus vieler Trübsal werde kommen" (which I will all the righteous from deepest sadness will have entered). Bach marks one of only two melismas in this recitative on the word "vieler" (deepest); at the climax of the rising melisma, the word "Trübsal" (sadness) arrives, highlighted by the discord of an A-flat minor triadwhich is completely out of place in the realm of B-flat major, the key of this recitative. (It is also unrelated to G minor, the relative minor key, which occurs in the middle and which dominated movement 1.)
The third movement is another aria. This retains the B-flat major of preceding recitative, as well as the sixteenth notes, although the sixteenth notes no longer exist exclusively in arpeggiated forms; rather they comprise the most common rhythmic figure throughout this movement. This aria is overwhelmingly joyful, a direct response, no doubt, to the deepest sorrow the true believers felt at the end of the preceding recitative. This is also a great example for students who need to find a sequence.
Unlike the first aria, which made gestures towards da capo form, this aria actually is a da capo aria.
The fourth number is another unusual recitative. Like movement two, this is an accompanied recitative. This recitative acts, in my opinion, as a microcosm of the preceding three movements, as it contains:
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© 2003 Carol Traupman-Carr
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