Ich steh mit einem Fuß im Grabe (I am standing with one
foot in the grave), BWV 156, is a church cantata by
Johann Sebastian Bach. He composed it in Leipzig for
the third Sunday after Epiphany and first performed it
on 23 January 1729.
BWV 156 was Bach's fourth and last cantata for the
third Sunday after Epiphany. The prescribed readings
for the Sunday were taken from the Epistle to the
Romans, rules for life (Romans 12:1721), and from the
Gospel of Matthew, the healing of a leper (Matthew
8:113). The librettist was Picander. He incorporated
two chorale tunes: "Machs mit mir, Gott, nach deiner
Güt" by Johann Herman Schein (1628) and "Herr, wie du
willt, so schicks mit mir" by Kaspar Bienemann
The sinfonia was likely derived from an earlier oboe
concerto and was later adapted as part of Bach's
F-minor harpsichord concerto.
The opening sinfonia is scored for oboe, strings, and
continuo. It is in F major and common time. Compared to
the later version for harpsichord, the melody is
straightforward and unembellished, and is harmonically
conceived to prepare the second movement.
The second movement is a combined tenor aria and
soprano chorale with obbligato strings. Unusually, it
begins with a syncopated continuo line under unison
strings. The movement also features sequences and
Both bass recitatives are secco and in minor mode.
The first, the third movement of the cantata, is
characterized by a disjunct melodic line and a
concluding arioso line. The second, the fifth movement,
is comparatively "lighter in mood and spirit". It
anticipates the melody of the final chorale
The alto aria is accompanied by oboe and violin in
parallel thirds and sixths. The movement includes
several instances of word painting. Formally, the
movement is an altered da capo aria. It has a
"generally sunny affect ... only momentarily disturbed
by more charged harmonies".
The final movement is a four-part setting of the
chorale in C major. The phrase lengths are varied to
provide a "hint of timelessness".
Although the work was scored for three vocal soloists
(alto, tenor, and bass), four-part choir, oboe, two
violins, viola, and basso continuo, I created this
arrangement for Woodwind Quartet (Flute, Oboe, Bb
Clarinet & Bassoon).