Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen ("I will the
cross-staff gladly carry" or "I will gladly carry the
Cross"), BWV 56, is a church cantata by Johann
Sebastian Bach. He composed the solo cantata for bass
in Leipzig for the 19th Sunday after Trinity. It is
regarded as part of his third annual cycle of cantatas.
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. Bach first performed the cantata on 27
October 1726. 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.
The opening aria is in bar form AAB, with two stollen
(A) followed by an abgesang (B). The first stollen
starts off 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 highly 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." Highly charged
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.
In the second movement, the undulation of the sea is
depicted in the accompaniment by flowing semiquavers in
the violoncello over repeated quavers in the basso
continuo. The joyous third movement is a da capo aria,
illustrating the passage from Isaiah. It is a lively
concertante duet for solo oboe, bass soloist and basso
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
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."
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 verse of Johann
Franck's hymn "Du, o schönes Weltgebäude" (1653).
Before the chorale, the final lines of the opening aria
taken from Revelation 7:17 are heard once more; this
unusual device appears several times in the third cycle
The final four part chorale, with the orchestra
doubling the vocal parts, is an inspired masterpiece.
Based on a melody by Crüger from 1646, it takes as
metaphor a ship being brought safely to port, marking
the end of the metaphorical journey in the cantata.
Bach introduces dramatic syncopation for each
declamation in "Come, O Death, you brother of sleep";
and it is only at the end of the penultimate line that
torment and dissonance are transformed into glory and
harmony, echoing the words "Denn durch dich komm ich
herein / zu dem schönsten Jesulein" (for through you I
will come to my loveliest little Jesus. ).
The cantata is scored for bass, a four-part choir only
in the closing chorale, two oboes, taille or oboe da
caccia, two violins, viola, cello, and basso continuo.
Except for the obbligato oboe in movement 3, the three
oboes double the violins and viola colla parte.
I created this arrangement of the Opening Aria "Ich
will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen" (I will gladly carry
the Cross) for French horn & Strings (2 Violins, Viola