Ich armer Mensch, ich Sündenknecht (I, wretched man, a
servant to sin), BWV 55, is a church cantata by Johann
Sebastian Bach. He composed it in Leipzig for the 22nd
Sunday after Trinity and first performed it on 17
November 1726. Bach wrote the cantata, a solo cantata
for a tenor, in 1726 in Leipzig for the 22nd Sunday
after Trinity and performed it first on 17 November
1726. It is Bach's only extant cantata for tenor.
The prescribed readings for the Sunday were from the
Epistle to the Philippians, thanks and prayer for the
congregation in Philippi (Philippians 1:311), and from
the Gospel of Matthew, the parable of the unforgiving
servant (Matthew 18:2335). The unknown poet of the
cantata text stressed the opposites of the gospel,
God's justice versus unjust men, in the words of the
first aria "Er ist gerecht, ich ungerecht" ("He is
just, unjust am I"). In the first two movements the
singer reflects his sinful condition, in the following
two he asks God for mercy, beginning both with Erbarme
dich ("Have mercy"). The following closing chorale is
verse 6 of Werde munter mein Gemüte of Johann Rist
(1642). Bach used the same verse later in his St
Matthew Passion, again following Erbarme dich, the aria
of Peter, regretting his denial of Jesus.
A rich polyphonic setting for flute, oboe d'amore and
two violins, without viola, accompanies the opening
aria. The motifs seem to illustrate the faltering steps
and a despairing heart of the steward summoned before
his master. The second aria is as expressive,
accompanied by a virtuoso flute. The first recitative
is secco, but the second one accompanied by string
The closing chorale is the same text and melody as in
the St Matthew Passion, here in a simpler four-part
setting. Those two occurrences are the only ones of the
text, whereas the melody was used frequently in other
contexts, best known in Wohl mir, dass ich Jesum habe
closing in two verses both parts of Herz und Mund und
Tat und Leben, BWV 147.
Commentators have concluded from the autograph that the
last three movements were originally part of an earlier
untraced composition for Passiontide, possibly the lost
1717 Weimar Passion.
The cantata in five movements is scored for a tenor
soloist, a four-part choir (only for the final
chorale), flauto traverso, oboe d'amore, two violins,
viola, and basso continuo.
I created this arrangement of the Aria: "Erbarme dich!
Laß die Tränen dich erweichen" (Have mercy! Let my
tears move Thee) for Flute, French Horn & Cello.