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Bach Cantata Listener's Guide

Ich armer Mensch, ich Sündenknecht (I wretched man, I, Slave of sin)

Cantata 55

  • Twenty-second Sunday after Trinity
  • Epistle: Phil. 1. 3-11 (Paul's love for the Philippians)
  • Gospel: Matthew xviii. 23-25 (Parable of the unmerciful servant)
  • Rating: 1

Oh dear! The tenor really ought to go and see an analyst. Guilt ridden? Guilt sodden more like! This is one of those cantatas where it is, in modern times, rather difficult to identify with the sentiments. (Unless perhaps one is brought up in one of those churches for which Judgement Day looms large). Despite this drawback for modern minds, the music is excellent and the setting of the text effective. This short (around fifteen minutes long) cantata has the form aria, recitative, aria, recitative, chorale. Of these, the first aria sets the scene effectively, accompanoed by a lovely flute/oboe d'amore line and the second aria gives you a setting of Erbarme dich to compare and contrast with that in the St. Mathew Passion. Far less subtle but still very enjoyable. Beware singers who go over the top with the suffering!

Copyright © 1996 & 1998, Simon Crouch.