All of Bach: a project by the Netherlands Bach Society

Ich armer Mensch, ich Sündenknecht

BWV 55 performed by Thomas Hobbs and the Netherlands Bach Society conducted by Jos van Veldhoven
Walloon Church, Amsterdam

"Bachs only solo cantata for tenor voice is very personal."

Very personal

Bach’s only solo cantata for tenor conceals a second ‘Erbarme dich’.

The only surviving Bach cantata for solo tenor displays striking similarities to the St Matthew Passion. Just like St Peter realises he has sinned after denying Jesus three times in the Passion, here the tenor resigns himself to penance as ‘Sündenknecht’. His chromatically descending phrase on ‘ich armer Mensch’ at the end of the opening aria is in itself testimony to a searing sense of guilt. Tenor Thomas Hobbs thinks it is extra special that it is written in the first person. “It makes it easier to identify with what you are singing about”.

The first part, which is filled with self-pity, is followed by a cry for mercy, an ‘Erbarme dich’, just like after St Peter’s denial in the St Matthew Passion. The aria begins with the same desperate upward leap (a sixth), played here by the flute. To complete the similarity, the cantata closes with the same chorale that follows the ‘Erbarme dich’ in the Passion.

Final chorale
In this performance, the final chorale is sung by four soloists. This makes the lines more expressive and you hear more detail. “For a two or three-part section in Bach’s music, nobody would think of using more voices for each part. But if there are four parts, then it suddenly has to become a choir. I think the decision to use just four singers is well justified for a solo cantata like this”, says artistic director and conductor Jos van Veldhoven.


Ich armer Mensch, ich Sündenknecht





twenty-second Sunday after Trinity

First performance
17 November 1726

Cast & Crew

release date 14 July 2017
recording date 22 October 2016
LOCATION Walloon Church, Amsterdam
conductor Jos van Veldhoven
soprano Miriam Feuersinger
alt Alex Potter
tenor Thomas Hobbs
bass Stephan MacLeod
violin 1 Shunske Sato, Pieter Affourtit, Anneke van Haaften, Hanneke Wierenga
violin 2 Sayuri Yamagata, Paulien Kostense, Annelies van der Vegt
viola Staas Swierstra, Jan Willem Vis
cello Lucia Swarts, Richte van der Meer
double bass Robert Franenberg
flute Marten Root
oboe Martin Stadler
organ Leo van Doeselaar
harpsichord Siebe Henstra
Director Bas Wielenga
assistant director Ferenc Soetman
Music recording Guido Tichelman, Bastiaan Kuijt, Pim van der Lee
Music edit and mix Guido Tichelman
Camera Bart ten Hakel, Merijn Vrieling, Ivo Palmen, Chris Reichgelt
Camera stagiair Klazina Westra
Lights Zen Bloot
Lighting assistant Patrick Galvin, Henry Rodgers
Video engineer Vincent Nugteren
Set technique Justin Mutsaers
Interview Gijs Besseling
Data handling Jesper Blok
Projectmanager NEP Jochem Timmerman
project preparation NEP Peter Ribbens
Producer concert Imke Deters
producer film Jessie Verbrugh

Vocal Texts


1. Arie (Tenor)

Ich armer Mensch, ich Sündenknecht,
ich geh vor Gottes Angesichte
mit Furcht und Zittern zum Gerichte.
Er ist gerecht, ich ungerecht,
Ich armer Mensch, ich Sündenknecht!

2. Rezitativ (Tenor)

Ich habe wider Gott gehandelt
und bin demselben Pfad
den er mir vorgeschrieben hat,
nicht nachgewandelt.
Soll ich der Morgenröte Flügel
zu meiner Flucht erkiesen,
die mich zum letzten Meere wiesen,
so wird mich doch die Hand
des Allerhöchsten finden
und mir die Sündenrute binden.
Ach ja! Wenn gleich die Höll ein Bette
vor mich und meine Sünden hätte,
so wäre doch der Grimm
des Höchsten da.
Die Erde schützt mich nicht,
Sie droht mich Scheusal
zu verschlingen;
Und will ich mich
zum Himmel schwingen,
Da wohnet Gott,
der mir das Urteil spricht.

3. Arie (tenor) 

Erbarme dich!
Lass die Tränen dich erweichen,
lass sie dir zu Herzen reichen;
lass um Jesu Christi willen
deinen Zorn des Eifers stillen!
Erbarme dich!

4. Rezitativ (Tenor)

Erbarme dich!
Jedoch nun tröst ich mich,
ich will nicht für Gerichte stehen
und lieber vor dem Gnadenthron
zu meinem frommen Vater gehen.
Ich halt ihm seinen Sohn,
sein Leiden, sein Erlösen für,
Wie er für meine Schuld
bezahlet und genung getan,
und bitt ihn um Geduld:
hinfüro will ichs nicht mehr tun.
So nimmt mich Gott
zu Gnaden wieder an.

5. Choral 

Bin ich gleich von dir gewichen,
Stell ich mich doch wieder ein.;
Hat uns doch dein Sohn verglichen
durch sein Angst und Todespein.
Ich verleugne nicht die Schuld,
aber deine Gnad und Huld
Ist viel grösser als die Sünde,
die ich stets bei mir befinde.


1. Aria

I, wretched man, a slave to sin,
I come before God’s presence
with fear and trembling to be judged.
He is just; unjust am I.
I, wretched man, a slave to sin!

2. Recitative

I have offended against God,
and on the path
that He hath prescribed for me
I have not travelled.
Where now?
If I choose the wings of the morning
for my flight, which would
take me to the uttermost parts of the sea,
the hand of the Almighty
would still find me
and chastise me with the rods of sin.
Ah yes! Even if hell had a bed
for me and my sins,
the wrath of God
would still be there.
The earth does not protect me,
it threatens to devour
that monster that I am;
and if I soar
to heaven,
God is there,
who judges me.

3. Aria

Have mercy!
Let my tears move Thee,
let them reach into Thy heart;
let, for the sake of Jesus Christ,
Thy zealous wrath grow calm!
Have mercy!

4. Recitative

Have mercy!
However, I console myself
that I shall not stand trial,
but rather go before the throne of grace
to my righteous Father.
I shall hold up to Him His Son,
His Passion, His redemption,
and how He paid for my sin
and did all he could,
and I shall beg Him to forbear,
I shall henceforth sin no more.
Thus shall God
take me again into His grace.

5. Chorale

Though I have turned aside from Thee,
yet shall I return;
for Thy Son hath saved us
through His fear and pain of death.
I do not deny my guilt,
but Thy mercy and Thy grace
is much greater than my sins,
which I always find within me.


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