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Cantata BWV 56
Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen
Discussions - Part 2

Continue from Part 1


Pablo Fagoaga wrote (March 29, 2001):
<Snip> [20] My admiration for Fischer-Dieskau grows every time I listen to him. The first time I heard his voice was with Richter, singing "Ich will den Kreutzstab gerne tragen" (BWV 56). It was "instant love". This man undoubtedly is a milestone in recorded music history. In the case of "Kreutzstab" cantata, I didn't find a better rendition than his.

Aryeh Oron wrote (March 29, 2001):
[To Pablo Fagoaga] <Snip> [20] Cantata BWV 56 has already been discussed in the BCML. I believe that it was before you joined the BCML. Anyway, you can read those discussions in the following page: IMHO, DFD, who recorded this cantata 4 times (!), is in a class of his own. This cantata page (like any cantatas which has already been discussed) is open for future additions. You can write your impressions from this cantata, send them to BCML, and I shall add them to the relevant page.

Pablo Fagoaga wrote (March 30, 2001):
[To Aryeh Oron] Thanks for the tip about BWV 56. You can bet it was discussed before I entered the group!!! Otherwise, there would have been a flood of posts from me about it!!


BWV 56: Does someone know what Olearius said about the 'Kreuzstab'

Dick Wursten wrote (November 17, 2001):
Kreuzstab / The World of the bach Cantatates by Koopman/Wolff

Is there anyone out there who could help me solve one of my (minor) problems. I once read that the term 'Kreuzstab' (cross-staff), which Bach uses in BWV 56 can simply be explained by looking in a certain German book from the beginning of the 18th century: the 'Hauptschlüssel, Biblische Erklärung'. This is a homiletic aid in many volumes by a certain Olearius. (there are many of them).

It was in one of the books 'the world of the Bach-cantatas' by Ton Koopman and Christoph Wolff that I read this. The article was - as I remember correctly - by Martin Petzold. I did not buy the books (a matter of a negative price-qualtiy balance). Now the books are gone from the bookshop.. So ..

If my memory is correct, The author gives the reference in Olearius Hauptschlüssel (something like Vol I, page 466..) but does not quote that passage. Or... perhaps he did in a footnote. I had no time / interest at that particular moment, which I now regret very much..

Is there anyone who has this Koopman/Wolff books and can try to look it up. Or -even better - is there somewhere in Germany someone who has access to Olearius works (in Belgium they can not be found in any library) and...

Hopefully waiting for a reaction and apologizing for having troubled you with my little burden...

Thomas Braatz wrote (November 17, 2001):
Dick Wursten commented and asked:
< I once read that the term 'Kreuzstab' (cross-staff), which Bach uses in BWV 56 can simply be explained by looking in a certain German book from the beginning of the 18th century: the 'Hauptschlüssel, Biblische Erklärung'. This is a homiletic aid in many volumes by a certain Olearius. (there are many of them). >
There are two Oleariuses listed in the index of the Wolff/Koopman books: Johann Christoph and Johann Gottfried. As it turns out, neither is the 'certain Olearius' that you are referring to.

< I did not buy the books (a matter of a negative price-qualtiy balance). Now the books are gone from the bookshop.. So .. >
The 'negative price-quality balance' still applies as a whole to all three volumes, especially if you are expecting to find a commentary on a specific cantata. These books contain a few lists of cantatas, lists that you can find elsewhere (Oxford Composer Companions: J.S.Bach) or articles that deal with more general background subjects having to do with the cantatas as the one you are interested in that treats the theological aspects of the Leipzig Bach cantatas.

< If my memory is correct, The author gives the reference in Olearius Hauptschlüssel (something like Vol I, page 466..) but does not quote that passage. Or... perhaps he did in a footnote >
Vol I has only 238 pp.

Vol III Chapter 7 is entitled "Theologische Aspekte der Leipziger Kantaten Bachs" by Martin Petzoldt.

The footnote only gives details on the Olearius Family and the connections with the Bach family. He does not quote the passage.

It is Johann Olearius (with no middle name) [the Olearius family, similar to the Bach family, was extensive in the area where the Bach family is also found. The Olearius family produced lawyers and theologians, an interesting combination!] who produced the five-volume biblical commentary containing 7,200 pages. The reference/concept of "Kreuzstab" is found in vol. 1 pp. 446a and 734b of that extensive work [but then, aren't all biblical commentaries extensive, somewhat like law books?]

Petzoldt's theory is that Bach very likely was acquainted with this work because of personal connections with the family and because the biblical commentary, published in 1678, was available in the area where Bach worked.

Hope this helps.

Joost wrote (November 17, 2001):
[To Dick Wursten] Within a minute (for once I started at the right end) I found what you are looking for: 'Kreuzstab' is to be found in Olearius I, 446a and 734b.

Andrew Oliver wrote (November 17, 2001):
[To Dick Wursten] I made a short comment about the meaning of the Kreuzstab when we discussed this cantata. I posted it on 30 October 2000, and it can be found on the website:

Thomas Braatz wrote (November 17, 2001):
[To Andrew Oliver] I should have checked the site first. Somehow I vaguely remember reading about this nautical instrument connected to the idea of the cross. I have the feeling that if Olearius explains it this way, he was simply presenting a symbol, a concept that was already in circulation.

Thanks for referring to your reference to the OED.

Now if I had Jakob Grimm's Wörterbuch which is even more extensive than the OED, I am sure we would find the first instance of this word, "Kreuzstab," used in the German language. However there would still be a possibility that the unknown librettist learned of this symbol through Olearius.

Dick Wursten wrote (November 17, 2001):
[Kreuzstab reference in Olearius according to Wolff/Koopman]

Many thanks to Joost and Thomas! Now I know where to look..., if I ever can lay my hands (my eyes) on Johann Olearius 'Biblische Erklärung', vol I. Thanks also to Thomas, for helping me in NOT buying the 3 vols of Koopman/Wolff.

By the way, about his Cross-staff I read some strange things in the discussion of this cantate (BWV56) on the website. As a remote colleague of Johann Olearius I can try to imagine what he - being a late 17th century theologian - will have written there. I suppose something about all kinds of staffs that played a role in the journey through the desert [BWV 56: Er führet nach meinen Plagen.. in das belobte Land]: Aarons Staff (blooming), Moses Staff (splitting the sea and bringing water from the rock) and then he will probably have jumped to that other piece of wood that was erected in the form of a cross (also symbolically blooming, giving life... living water etc..., when Jesus dies) which – last allegorical turn - we arasked to carry after our Saviour.... : Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen... der führet mich zu Gott... in das Gelobte Land.. mein Heiland

Or something like that

Dick Wursten wrote (November 18, 2001):
[To Andrew Oliver [as well]] Indeed, I checked that discussion and also investigated your suggestion. But as I explained in my earlier mail [Kreuzstab thanks] I believe in Olearius. And yes... your suggestion is one of 'strange things' I refer to in the same mail.

By the way: The combination from Kreuzstab and 'boat-trip' (next recitative, BWV 56, mvt 2) can simply be explained by the first line of the gospel-reading (Matthew 9: 1-8) which says: "And Jesus went into a ship and crossed (the sea) to come in his city..": theme which is thoroughly and litteraly elaborated upon in the rectitative...: [so tret ich aus dem Schiff in meine Stadt]...

But anyway: thanks for taking the time to react... it is the clash of opinions which brings out the truth, isn't ?

Thomas Braatz wrote (November 18, 2001):
Andrew Oliver (Oct. 30, 2000) wrote:
< 'Kreuzstab'. I had not noticed that before, but it gives much more meaning to the libretto. The Oxford English Dictionary gives three meanings for cross-staff (= Kreuzstab). The second meaning is obsolete. Quoting from the Mariner's Magazine by Sturmy, 1669, the dictionary says: 'Set the end of the Cross-Staff to the... Eye... Then move the Cross...From you or towards you... till that the upper end come upon the... Sun or Star'. I think he means: >+ . If the vertical part slides along the horizontal part until the top of it is in line with a star or the rim of the sun, and the distance along the horizontal is measured, then the altitude of the sun or star can be calculated and then used to work out the latitude of the ship. This makes a lot of sense when we read (No.1) Der führet mich nach meinen Plagen zu Gott, in das gelobte Land, and the sea voyage metaphor then follows naturally. >
Here is the OED entry:

? 2. An instrument formerly used for taking the altitude of the sun or a star. Obs. 1594 Blundevil Exerc. iii. ii. viii. (ed. 7) 386 The Latitude then is to be knowne by the Astrolabe, Quadrant, Crosse-staffe, and by such like Mathematicall instruments. 1669 Sturmy Mariner's Mag. ii. xiii. 80 How to use the Cross-Staff. Set the end of the Cross-Staff to the..Eye..Then move the Cross..from you or towards you..till that the upper end come upon the..Sun or Star.

I think this qualifies as a good argument for the fact that such a nautical instrument was widely known and that "Kreuzstab" is the German equivalent for this term. "Kreuzstab" with this specific meaning is still listed in a German dictionary that I have that is less than 50 years old. The religious symbolic application of this term equating the Sun (which is a star) with Christ "liegt auf der Hand" ["can easily be seen/is rather obvious"].

As I have stated: one glance into Grimm's Wörterbuch would answer this question as to where the first use of this word with its religious connotation was documented. Who know's? Perhaps even exists somewhere in Luther's works. That would demote Olearius to the level of an epigone.

Just one opinion in attempting to uncover the truth.

Andrew Oliver wrote (November 18, 2001):
For an illustration of the Kreuzstab, see: where you will see it in use, but under the name of Jakobsstab (Bild 6). Immediately below the picture, there is a section of the article headed Mondbeobachtung und Navigation. The reference to the Kreuzstab will be found in this section at the end of the paragraph beginning 'Byrd'.

A larger and clearer version of this same picture may be seen at:

These two sites make it clear that this navigational instrument was used on land as well as at sea.

You could also look (for the commoner interpretation of the meaning) at:
See especially the second picture, and listen to the music!

Dick Wursten wrote (November 18, 2001):
[To Andrew Oliver] Thanks for the very interesting links to nautical and geo-metrical instruments. esp. the article about Eco I liked. But it did not at all convince me that this Kreuzstab has anything to do with BWV 56.

FIVE arguments CONTRA Kreuzstab is nautical object.
1. the normal term is Jakobsstab
2. Bach does not link the Kreuzstab with the BOAT-journey at all
3. Leipzig is not a sea-faring city. The argument that is was also used in navigation on land is not appropriate, because the area in Thüringen was already quite cultivated and road were abundantly there.
4. No star, no sun , no moon is mentioned.
5. The Kreuzstab in this sense is not carried, but looked at...

FIVE arguments PRO Kreuzstab as a contamination of Aaron/Moses Staff and the Cross of Christ... Imagery which links them: Life is a journey in which we have to go through 'deserts' towards a promised land (das ist das Himmelreich)
1. The Crosstaf is the staff of the risen Christ in painting etc.. (as the beautiful link to showed (Holbein). It is the victory image in which the symbol of suffering is retained. (such combinations of opposites are typical for christianity in general and very popular in allegorical and moral sermons in bach’s days Olearius). This staff is also the staff of the bisshop (it is almost the 5/6th of december isn't it !)
2. The first aria of BWV 56 has so many references to the books of Exodus and Numeri (in which the desert-trip of Israel is written) that you must look there first.:
a. the word 'Plagen' is the technical term for the 'Plagen' with which God made Egypte and the Pharaoh suffer so much that he finally had to 'let Gods people go'.
b. The staff of Aaron and Moses really play a prominent role in the story of the deserttrip. As I already pointed out: Splitting the sea, water from the rock, Blossoming. I add: When Moses lifts his staff Israel conquers the Amalekites. And another strange story: IN the middle of a plague a 'staff' has to be erected with a snake on it. Everybody who looks to it, is saved.
c. The goal of the journey is 'das gelobte Land' also term. techn. For the real earthly Canaan, (Palestine/Israel) and 'heaven'.
3. To perform the 'metabasis eis allo genos' is easy: Looking to Christ on his cross saves... You have to carry your cross behind him to get to heaven (quoting the gospel). Kreuz and Stab is combined.
4. The storm in mvt 2 is a. not connected to the Kreuzstab and b. is general imagery to describe the troubles in life. By the way: The Gospelreading of the sunday (Matthew 9: 1-8) not only explains the imagery of the 'sea-trip to get at home' but also the imagery of the storm, because a few pericopes earlier you can read the story of the storm at sea... (That was when Jesus crossed the sea in the opposite direction)
5. Last argument, given by Durr: It is a simple imitation of a complete libretto by Neumeister: Ich will den Kreuz-weg gerne gehen...

Conclusion: Someone should ask Martin Petzold the complete reference from Olearius I, 446a and 734b.
... or someone in Germany should look it up in a theological library, where his books should be part of the collection.

Thomas Braatz wrote (November 19, 2001):
While working on BWV 52 (the cantata for this week's discussion), I also looked for anything more that could shed light on the "Kreuzstab" interpretation. I came across two oddities:

The NBA KB relates that until 1968, everyone had accepted the fact that Bach had originally entitled BWV 56 "Ich will den Xstab gerne tragen" since this was written on the cover of autograph score. Now with more critical methods and instruments that can be used to analyze paper and handwriting, it turns out that this title was written by Christian Gottlob Meißner, one of two copiers used in writing out the parts. Another cover for the set of parts was written by C.P.E.Bach and uses the same spelling (an abbreviation much like Xmas.) Smend takes this as an indication that Bach was thinking of the Greek letter 'chi' which represents Christos. Later 19th century copies have the spelling: "KreutzStab." The NBA has normalized the spelling in the title and text as "Kreuzstab" So the latter spellings have been around for a long time (since the early 19th century.)

Smend points out a reference that he feels is closer to the truth than "the usual interpretation given." I have to assume that he was aware of the 'nautical' interpretation, but he does not refer to it specifically. Smend calls attention to a hymn by Paul Gerhardt, a chorale text first published circa 1670, probably even a few years before this date as the chorale melody is by someone else and as given as 1670. In the chorale, "Gib dich zufrieden und sei stille" ["Be satisfied and be quiet"] which begins in the first verse with a reference to Christ as being your Sun. "Er ist dein Quell und deine Sonne." {nautical?} Vs. 3: "er sieht und kennet aus der Höhe..." ["he looks down from on high and knows you"]{nautical?} Vs. 6: "halt an Gott, so wirst du siegen, ob alle Fluten einhergingen" ["keep focused on God and you will be victorious even in the midst of floods" {nautical? sea image?} Vs. 13 "Des Kreuzes Stab schlägt unsre Lenden, bis in das Grab, da wird sichs enden." {"the staff of the cross hits against our loins until we reach the grave where everything will come to an end"] {definitely non-nautical}

And from Paul Gerhardt's chorale "Die güldne Sonne" ["The golden Sun"]{nautical?} vs. 12 "Kreuz und Elende/das nimmt ein Ende;/nach Meeresbrausen/und Windessausen/leuchtet der Sonnen gewünschtes Gesicht" ["Cross and suffering will come to an end; after all the sound of the raging sea and the howling wind, the much desired face of the Sun will once again give forth light."]

As Dick Wursten indicated -- Dürr sees the unknown librettist's text as a reworking of a cantata text by Erdmann Neumeister which has the title "Ich will den Kreuzweg gerne gehen" ["I want to go gladly the way of the cross."] The nautical link seems to be missing. With Paul Gerhardt's chorale texts, that Bach's librettist would certainly have been aware of, we once again have the connection of Christ = Sun, but the Kreuzstab is hitting our loins rather than being used as an instrument used to focus on Christ during a perilous sea journey [life's journey.]

Is there a way to do a quick computer search for "Kreuzstab" or "Kreuzes=Stab" in all of Luther's works? I wonder what we might find there. In any case, it does not appear as though Olearius would be the originator of the non-nautical interpretation of "Kreuzstab" since Paul Gerhardt uses this concept in a non-nautical connotation.

Of course, Grimm's Wörterbuch der deutschen Sprache would quickly shed light on this matter but I do not have access to this monumental work (it is more extensive than the Oxford English Dictionary in its unabbreviated incarnation.)

Dick Wursten wrote (November 19, 2001):
[To Thomas Braatz] Thanks Thomas Braatz for shedding more light on the Xstab discussion. I continue this line of thinking.

1. In preparation of a performance of BWV 56 a month ago, I went to the library of the conservatory of Antwerp to look at the Neue Bach Ausgabe of this cantata. The volume opens with a reproduction of the first page of the Bach’s AUTOGRAPH of this cantata. In the text Bach himself uses the abbreviation: X-stab (note: C-#). The habit to use this abbreviation for Christ is very old: The Greek CHI from CHristos and the sign of the cross in one symbol.... too wonderful and meaningful not to use.

2. Olearius voluminous writings - as I understand it - are not meant to be original, but rather a kind of compendium for preachers c.s. A kind of 'Predigthilfe', compiling all kinds of tips and tricks how you can preach about the most difficult and awkward scriptural passages in such a way that your sermon will be edifying (f.i. by constructing all kinds of hyperlinks in the bible). Must be a very interesting book.

3. The appearance of the Kreuzstab in the hymnof Paul Gerhardt suggests indeed that listerners in Bachs days were familiar with the term and just knew the symbolic meaning. In my German Lutheran hymnbook it is hymn 295, (full 15-verses).
By the way: there is more interesting textual intertwining between this hymn and BWV 56 ['Plagen' vers 12, the same rhyme: Kreuzesstab / Grab].

4. The fact that the 'Kreuzes stab' is used to hit us to death... [schlägt unsre Lenden bis in das Grab] rules out any connection to the nautical instrument and at the same time strengthens my hypothesis that the Staff of Moses/Aaron is the Ur-Stab. This staff is frequently used to 'hit' to death, for many of the 10 plagues are initiated by Moses or Aaron hitting something with their staff. F.i. the water of the Nile is hit and then the water > blood. (This staff is sometimes called: Gods staff, it's magic... Harry Potter would be jealous of it).

4. About a way of searching the entire Luther with 'Stichwort' Kreuzstab, I'm not able to do that, nor do I know whether this possibility exists (somewhere on a theolog. faculty in Germany?). Can we not write a request to the very eminent dr. Martin Petzold to do that for us...?.

Richard Grant wrote (November 20, 2001):
[To Thomas Braatz] Having Kreutzstab come so soon after the mention of a flood would seem to me to make it more rather than less difficult to dismiss the nautical connection altogether.


BWV 56 - Schlafesbrude

Dick Wursten wrote (January 25, 2002):
Yesterday evening I watched a curious film (borrowed from a friend) entitled 'Schlafesbruder' ... I think it is an austrian movie (german-spoken), the title of course being borrowed from the final choral bwv56: Komm o tod, du Schlafesbruder.

It was the first time I heard a Karl Richter interpretation [20] of this chorale (title-music). I was impressed in a negative way (both by Richter’s performance and the contents of the film): The film was about musical genius, contrasted with life in a rural village somewhere in the mountains, beginning 19th century? (this aspect of the film was quite impressive, Fellini-like). If anyone else also saw this film, I am curious about your reaction/opinion. My humble opinion is this: The film is one big mis-understanding about what musicality is all about. Much like the overvalued film: The piano.

But still: I'd like to know more about the film (based on a book), background, intention, reception, criticism etc...


Accompaniment in BWV 56/2

Matthew Neugebauer wrote (January 16, 2004):
hey all-this question is for those in the "shortened recit accompaniment" camp, otherwise it's irrelevant, so if you believe that all recit accompaniment should be played as written, then delete this message as it isn't meant to be a forum for perhaps the most overdone debate ever to "grace" this list

I'm playing BWV 56 (yes, playing on euph) for a masterclass and want to know the opinions of the group on this matter-

in the recit Mvt. 2, obviously the accompanist is going to play as written in the piano transcription (obtained with great thanks to Aryeh's incredible resource) up to when the arpeggiations in the bass (cello in original) stop. What follows is the usual notation of secco recits, that is long-held notes, mostly whole notes and half notes (sorry for the North Am system!). Should these longer notes be shortened to the quarter notes and rests that is the norm when they are inthe entire recit?

Bradley Lehman wrote (January 17, 2004):
[To Matthew Neugebauer] Perhaps--if we're lucky--you've already alienated the literalists sufficiently by saying you're going to play the piece on euphonium instead of singing it. :)

Doesn't your (and your accompanist's) decision of note-lengths depend on a bigger set of factors than you've said here? At least: the acoustics of the room you'll be playing in; the way you'll be phrasing the "voice" part yourself (how much accent, and so on); the skill of your accompanist at thinking on the spot; the willingness of your accompanist not to be a literalist (willing to play more by listening than by having eyes glued to the page); the relative loudness of your euphonium and the piano; the open-mindedness of the people who are going to be listening to you; more....

Good luck with the gig, sounds like fun! All I can really say as advice is: if I were the one accompanying you, I'd take all those factors (at least) into consideration, and probably end up making every note a different length and loudness from every other note from there to the end of the movement, all according to context. And probably different every time we rehearsed it, too, depending what you did with the "voice" part on each occasion. The punctuating strokes follow your lead, whatever you do in your declamatory shaping of your line.

Be sure to take a look at a full score, too, to see how heavily arranged that piano part has been. I'd play a simpler right hand, and omit at least some of the bass octaves, for starters....

Matthew Neugebauer wrote (January 17, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] Brad-thanks for the reply!

Neil Halliday wrote (January 17, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
"Be sure to take a look at a full score, too, to see how heavily arranged that piano part has been. I'd play a simpler right hand, and omit at least some of the bass octaves, for starters...."
OTOH, these piano reduction scores have been written as a replacemnt for the whole orchestra, including the continuo instruments.

If Matt only has piano accompaniment, then this score looks pretty good. Furthermore, a piano overcomes Niedt's objections about recitative accompaniment sounding like "a rattling old mill-wheel", or Heinichen concened about about "humming organ pipes", because a piano chord immediately begins to diminish in volume after being struck, unlike a cello and double bass held note, which can sound unpleasant.

(For those interested in accompanied (ie, non-HIP) secco recitative presentation, there are some examples of this unpleasant sound in the Rilling cycle. My guess is that Rilling, in featuring string-based sound in this context - unlike Richter [20], who satisfactorily features an organ-based sound - should not use a double bass as part of the small secco recitative ensemble, noting that classical (and later) string quartets and sextets usually do not use a double bass, whose main function should be to add depth to the sound of larger ensembles and orchestras. I note this problem does not arise in the soprano secco recitatives, where Rilling usually uses the cello without the double bass.)


Continue on Part 3

Cantata BWV 56: Details
Recordings: Complete:
1900-1949 | 1950-1959 | 1960-1969 | 1970-1979 | 1980-1989 | 1990-1999 | 2000-2009 | 2010-2019 | Individual Movements
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5
Program Notes to Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen, BWV 56 [S. Burton] | BWV 56 “Ich will den Xstab gerne tragen” - An Attempt to Trace the Symbols and Other Poetic Expressions in the Libretto Back to Their Original Sources [T. Braatz]

Recordings & Discussions of Cantatas: Main Page | Cantatas BWV 1-50 | Cantatas BWV 51-100 | Cantatas BWV 101-150 | Cantatas BWV 151-200 | Cantatas BWV 201-224 | Cantatas BWV Anh | Order of Discussion
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