Thomas Braatz wrote (November 2, 2002):
BWV 55 - Provenance:
Both the autograph score and original set of parts are in the BB. (See the Göttinger Bach-Katalog for further details.)
Cover Page [a mid-19th century substitution – see below]:
Dominica 22. post Trinit: | Ich armer Mensch, ich Sünden Knecht. | à | 4 Voci. | ò vero | Tenore solo è 3| Ripieni | 1 Traversiere | 1 Hautb: d’Amour | 2 Violini | Viola | e | Continuo. | di | Joh. Sebast: Bach.
At the top of the 1st page of the score Bach wrote:
J. J. Doica 22. post Trinitatis Concerto.
[Any theory about Bach at least using the designation ‘Cantata’ for solo cantatas breaks down completely here!]
The only lines to receive special designations on the score are:
Traversiere | Hautbois | Violino 1 | Violino 2
At the beginning of mvt. 2: Recit.
At the end of mvt. 2: Aria | Travers.
Before the final mvt.: Choral.
At the very end of the cantata: Fine.
The parts are titled as follows:
Violino 1 [doublet]
Violino 2 [doublet]
Continuo [doublet, transposed, bass not figured
Copyists: Johann Heinrich Bach; Christian Gottlob Meißner, Anonymous IIe, IIf, IIIb, IIIk
Corrections were made by an unknown hand – Bach does not seem to be involved with these parts in any way.
In the original parts, mvts. 3 through 5 seem not to have been copied from the autograph score, there must have been a different source which can not be ascertained.
The autograph score, for mvts. 1 & 2 has many corrections by Bach. This indicates that this was Bach’s first and final draft for these 2 mvts. Beginning with mvt. 3 and including the following two mvts., Bach has a very clean copy which indicates that these mvts. are not original compositions, but have been copied from somewhere else. It appears that Bach at first had completed mvts. 1 & 2, then broke off this compositional process and decided to ‘flesh out’ the remaining mvts. by taking recourse to earlier compositions that were never part of the original conception.
It has not been possible to ascertain who the librettist is. The latter only makes a direct connection with the Gospel reading for the 22. Sunday after Trinity in mvts. 1 and 2 (The Parable of the Unmerciful/Unforgiving Servant) by comparing God’s mercy with the sinfulness of humanity. He does this with the juxtaposition of ideas in the phrase: “Er ist gerecht, ich ungerecht” [“He is just, I am unjust.”]
Here is the New Living Testament version of this parable:
Matthew 18:23 - 35 "For this reason, the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to date with servants who had borrowed money from him. In the process, one of his debtors was brought in who owed him millions of dollars. He couldn't pay, so the king ordered that he, his wife, his children, and everything he had be sold to pay the debt. But the man fell down before the king and begged him, 'Oh, sir, be patient with me, and I will pay it all.' Then the king was filled with pity for him, and he released him and forgave his debt. "But when the man left the king, he went to a fellow servant who owed him a few thousand dollars. He grabbed him by the throat and demanded instant payment. His fellow servant fell down before him and begged for a little more time. 'Be patient and I will pay it,' he pleaded. But his creditor wouldn't wait. He had the man arrested and jailed until the debt could be paid in full. "When some of the other servants saw this, they were very upset. They went to the king and told him what had happened. Then the king called in the man he had forgiven and said, 'You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. Shouldn't you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?' Then the angry king sent the man to prison until he had paid every penny. "That's what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters in your heart."
The central ideas for mvts. 3 – 5 are the request for the forgiveness of one’s sins coupled with a retrospective view of the Christ’s Passion. Some characteristic phrases (mvt. 3 “Erbarme dich”) already point toward related passages in the SMP BWV 244 which was composed the following spring. It is even possible that two librettists were at work here: one responsible for the text for Mvt. 1 & 2, the other for mvts. 3 & 4.
Mvt. 5 is the 6th verse of the chorale “Werde munter, mein Gemüte” by Johann Rist (1642). The latter appeared for the 1st time in the Dresden Hymnal from 1656, after which it quickly spread far and wide and could be found in almost all existing hymnals of Bach’s day.
The 1st performance took place on November 17, 1726. A 2nd ,later performance is likely, but no evidence substantiating this has been uncovered thus far. There is a good possibility that mvts. 3 and 4 are based on a Passion or a cantata for the week between Palm Sunday and Easter. Such a work would have to come from the pre-Leipzig period since there is no evidence for such an additional work during the Leipzig period. The BC [Bach Compendium] D 1 mentions a Passion that Bach reportedly composed in Weimar in 1717.