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This article describes the metaphorical world Bach creates in today’s rich solo bass cantata, BWV 56, “Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen” (I will gladly carry the cross)”.
Cantata 56 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 life’s obstacles. It is ultimately a metaphor for sailing life’s journey to reach heaven (Robertson, The Church Cantatas of J.S. Bach, p. 298). The text, whose author remains anonymous, 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.
My pilgrimage in the world
is like a sea voyage:
trouble, suffering, and anguish
are the waves that cover me
and to death itself
daily terrify me;
my anchor however, which holds me firm,
with which my God often appeases me.
He calls thus to me:
I am with you,
I will not forsake you or abandon you!
And when the raging torrents
are come to an end,
then I will step off the ship into my city,
which is the kingdom of heaven,
where with the righteous
I will emerge out of many troubles.
Finally, finally my yoke
must fall away from me.
Then will I fight with the Lord’s strength,
then I will have an eagle’s power,
then I will journey from this earth
and run without becoming fatigued.
O let it happen today!
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