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Bach Cantata Listener's Guide

Ich steh mit einam Fuss im Grabe (I stand with one foot in the grave)

Cantata 156

  • Third Sunday after Epiphany
  • Epistle: Romans xii. 17-21 (Overcome evil with good)
  • Gospel: Matthew viii. 1-13 (The cleansing of the leper)
  • Rating: 2+

….Soon falls my weary corpse therein. This cantata probably gets the prize for the most outlandish title from our modern point of view! (But BWV 199 is a strong competitor). So it seems even stranger, perhaps, that Bach chose one of his most beautiful tunes to open the work. The opening sinfonia (and the slow movement of the keyboard concerto BWV 1056) where you are most likely to have heard this tune before, is probably adapted from a lost violin concerto. Very, very beautiful in its present form where the oboe gets the melody. The following tenor aria (with the stark words above) is overlaid by the soprano intoning a chorale Do with me, God, according to Thy goodness. It's very effective and helps to explain what this work is about: acceptance of our fate and happiness in our (holy) destiny. There's a nice touch in the accompaniment, if you like the morbid: A descending figure representing the descent into the grave! A recitative follows, after which is an alto aria most notable for the attractive oboe and violin accompaniment. (While we're spotting lost works: Is this a remnant of a lost trio sonata?) The cantata is brought to a close by a recitative followed by a straightforward chorale setting.

Copyright © 1996 & 1998, Simon Crouch.