Johann Sebastian Bach

Cantata No. 156, "Ich steh mit einem Fuss im Grabe," BWV 156 (BC A38)

    Description by Michael Jameson

    Bach's Cantata No. 156, "Ich steh' mit einem Fuss im Grabe" ("I stand with one foot in the grave") is thought to have been first performed on January 23, 1729. The cantata, to a text by Christian Friedrich Henrici (otherwise known by his pseudonym Picander) was intended for performance during church services on a third Sunday following epiphany.

    The work opens with a sinfonia in F, for oboe and strings, which originated in a concerto movement (now lost) which Bach subsequently recast as the slow movement of his harpsichord concerto in F minor. In the cantata, however, the solo oboe line is considerably less florid in style, and ends on the dominant so as to provide a link with the tenor aria which follows. The aria itself is notable because of the tenor voice's interaction with a chorale, sung by the soprano, whose melody is attributed to Johann Schein, one of Bach's predecessors at Leipzig. The chorale is accompanied by a unison string theme, and its first section is written in such a way as to facilitate a different continuation for each subsequent reprise. The string melody opens with a sustained note corresponding with the tenor's line "Ich steh'" ("I stand"), but Bach ingeniously ensures that the links between the contorted, anguished phrase-end (always in C minor) and the words sung by the tenor in the second repeated line, "kranke Leib" ("sick body"), are impressed upon the listener. Of all the infinitely varied methods by which Bach weaves chorales into the fabric of his cantatas, this work displays one of the most subtle.

    Now, a bass recitative follows, to the words "no longer here on earth." This leads in turn to an alto aria in B flat major, "Herr, was du willt" ("Lord, according to thy will"), set in modified da capo style. At this point, the atmosphere is lightened considerably by the three-part contrapuntal accompaniment for solo oboe, violins, and continuo, but there are still telling pauses at every utterance of the word "Sterben" ("death") in the central episode of this A-B-A construction. Finally a second solo bass recitative takes us to a setting in four parts of the chorale "Herr, wie du willt" by Kaspar Bienemann (1582), whose opening phrase has already been anticipated by the recitative which precedes it.


    1. Sinfonia in F minor
    2. Ich steh mit einem Fuß im Grabe
    3. Mein' Angst und Not
    4. Herr, was du willst, soll mir gefallen
    5. Und willst du, dass ich nicht soll kranken
    6. Herr, wie du willt, so schicks mit mir

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2016 BIS BIS 9055
    2013 ATMA Classique ACD 22404
    2013 Teldec 467189
    2011 BIS SACD 1891
    2011 Warner Classics 674466
    2010 Brilliant Classics 94050
    2010 Archiv Produktion 477 873-5
    2010 Archiv Produktion / Deutsche Grammophon 4778735
    2008 Teldec 69943-7
    2007 Warner Classics 381163
    2006 Brilliant Classics 93102
    2006 Brilliant Classics 99697
    2006 Challenge Records 72220
    2001 Haenssler 92563
    2000 Haenssler 92048
    1999 Teldec 25704
    1999 Teldec 3984-25709-2
    1994 Teldec 4509-91762-2
    1994 Teldec 4509-91765-2
    1988 Teldec 35656
    Brilliant 93102/69
    Brilliant 99703/23
    Brilliant Classics 99703
    Brilliant Classics 93102-VOL3
    Archiv Produktion 463582
    Koch International Classics 7163
    American Bach Soloists
    Haenssler 98875
    Laura Campbell and Myra Kovary
    Reflections / Reflections 27398
    BMG 68368