Bach: The Cantatas

Bach Cantatas

– Trinity Sunday – 4th June 2023 – J.S.Bach – cantata BWV 176 – ‘Es ist ein trotzig und verzagt Ding’ –

Jun 3, 2023

An oboe orchestra, + da caccia option, with four-part choir/soloists and continuo, this 6 movement setting contains no tenor solo, although there are two for alto voice.

The mention of Nicodemus, brings up the pithy philosophical subject of a contrast, that between day, night, day-light and darkness.
This idea dominates movements 2, through 4.


‘There is something perverse, stubborn, fainthearted and desperate, about the human heart.’

This desperation knows no bounds, as this cantata has absolutely no introduction prelude,
– or postlude, at all and choral basses only have a single quaver to breath before they and the orchestra enthusiastically commence.

This is a tight, concise, self-assured but short, choral fugue,
– fine, memorable and defiant, where the subject, 4 bars and a quaver, fall’s into two musical halves, a ‘trumpety-like’ arpeggio fanfare, triadic, with a semiquaver run-down-and-up, followed by a chromatic sinking-drop, by step and then some leaps, particularly in awkward 4ths. The strings pick-up on these ‘trumpety’ arpeggios, taking them into a semiquaver timing.
These two might be assigned, as ‘desperate’, marked forte in the score, and ‘perverse’, marked piano.

The oboes double the voice parts and the strings inject semiquaver energy, into the whole.

There are no orchestral interludes, or choral exposures.

The music is as finely crafted, as the text is concise.


‘A truly desperate Nicodemus, met with Jesus,
-although, not by day, but by night.
The sun long stood still for Joshua,
-certainly long enough, for the victory to be won.
Here, though, Nicodemus wishes he could see it set.’

This contemplative and narrative recitativo, is set easily and without musical distraction.

The first ‘…long…’, for Joshua, bar 6, is musically and figuratively longer, than the one, for the victory, bar 7.


‘Your dear light,
-usually so bright,
is clouded, for me.
when, by night, I go to look for the master.
(I am much too afraid, to go by day).
No-one can do these miracles’
because His almighty power and being,
– so it seems, are divinely chosen.
The Spirit of God, must rest on Him.’

A stoic and determined gavotte, that demonstrates two different rhythmic ideas, giving two different pictures, in its sixteen bars, of introduction.
The one, foursquare, confident, growing…and rising, bars 4, through 7,
-with crochets, quavers, dotted crochets, semiquavers and minims, perhaps shows the light, bright and beloved, and the other, easy, relaxed and almost slack,
-with a majority of triplets and sinking, as the fear, which leads to this nocturnal visit.

The vocal part is as broad as its range is wide and a central section, bar 40, is somewhat thoughtful regarding these miracles and the realisation the ‘…spirit of God must rest on Him.’.
The extremely long and sustained 4-and-a-half bar ‘G’, on ‘…Him…’, bar 48,allows the singer to rest,
-mid fach and us meditate, on the real reality, of this final sentence.


‘Master, please do not wonder why I need to question you at night.
By day, I fear that my weakness and powerlessness,
may not be able to endure.
I comfort myself, that you will accept and take up, my heart and spirit,
into life.
Whoever believes in you, will not be lost.’

At least two thirds of this setting is devoted to an arioso feel and setting, of the final sentence,
-and a final sentence, that has been added by Bach himself, onto the librettist’s original text.

The honesty of the opening lines, is reflected in the skill of the musical setting.

Notice the colour of ‘…nicht…’, bar 2 and ‘…Tage…’, bar 4 and the feeling of warmth, ‘…Dost trost,,,’, in bar 5.

The 25 bar arioso is educational in feel and delivery, rather than self -indulgent, as Bach highlights the concepts, of belief, as an alternative, to loss.


‘Rouse yourself and be courageous, fearful and nervous spirits.
Be so much better and hear what Jesus promises:
that, through faith, I shall inherit heaven.
When this promise is fulfilled, I shall, there,
– and with thanks and praise,
glorify those that are called the trinity,
– the Father, Son and holy spirit.’

Ambiguity of key, will certainly strike the searching, discerning and listening listener, as any certainty of an Eb tonality, is dashed, as soon as bar 3 and the passing reference, to a ‘Db’, is, as well challenged, bar 6.
Certainly, Bach is referencing to this doubting, double-minded and vacillation ‘self’.

A dancing, woody and reedy minuet, the opening, vocal upward-motion, is a call to ‘arms’,
-and the legs, of the fearful and nervous.

This trio of unison reeds, drops two of its members, during vocal moments, allowing the beautiful caccia alone, to encourage the voice,
-and visa-versa, towards these new attitudes and of course, during any forte ritornello, a strange and uncanny effect might be heard, between three reeds, who may not necessarily be completely in tune with each other.

Any ambiguity of key, is not the motive for the odd ‘Ab’s and ‘Db’s, here and there, but a direct colouring of the crux of the opening text, ‘…furchtsam und schuchterne…’, where some chromatic slithering, bar 26, sets up, with ease, that familiar, yet uneasy queasiness of stomach, of the sort always found in those who worry and falter.

In the final section, bar 75, Thanks and Praise dominate, with the greatest vocal sweep, 88, through 94, reserved for this holy trinity, father, son and holy Spirit.


‘Glorify Him,
so that, immediately, we can,
– and all at once,
one day, enter the gates of Heaven.
And in your kingdom,
to sing, forever, that you alone, are The King,
one that is high above all others.
God the Father, the Son and the Holy spirit,
Protector and deliverer of the faithful,
one being, yet three persons.’

This splendid setting, with its extended text, surely sounds truly  ‘Bachian’. One might even apply to it, a rather ambiguous description, that of ‘Lutheran’.

What do I mean by that?

I mean, that there is not here, any trace of that hi-jacked ‘British’ sound, of the the Stanford or Parry brand, so rightly loved by our nation, but sometimes so misunderstood,
-even by those,’ in-the-know’, to be the truly Bachian sound.

This here, is the truly Bachian sound, modally rooted and yet harmonically challenging,
-and thus, to our ear, fluid, yet so splendidly and rightfully right and fulfilling.

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