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Cantata BWV 176
Es ist ein trotzig und verzagt Ding
Discussions - Part 4

Continue from Part 3

Discussions in the Week of June 11, 2017 (4th round)

William Hoffman wrote (June 11, 2017):
Trinity Sunday Cantata BWV 176

1 Cantata 176 BCW Details & Discography, Score Vocal & Piano,; Score BGA, References: BGA XXXV (Cantatas 171-180, Alfred Doerffel 1888), NBA KB 1/15 (Trinity Sunday, Robert Freeman 1968), Bach Compendium BC A 92.

Free of the Pentecost festival need to use self-borrowed music, Bach in the 1725 Trinity Sunday festival Cantata BWV 176, “Es ist ein trotzig und verzagt Ding / um aller Menschen Herze” (There is something obstinate and desperate / in the heart of every human being, Jeremiah 17:9), is able with Mariane von Ziegler’s commissioned, unique text -- here concise and vivid -- to demonstrate both his musical and theological gifts with a unique blend of motet-like opening chorus, contrasting soprano gavotte aria, and the alto aria and congregational chorale celebrating the Trinity. The form is symmetrical Cycle 1 with opening chorus, closing chorale and pairs of alternating recitatives and arias – all in the most concise of musical sermons lasting between 10 and 13 minutes, depending on tempi. The closing chorale text (No. 6) is the concluding eighth stanza, “Auf daß wir also allzugleich / Zur Himmelspforten dringen” (In this way therefore we / break through to the gates of heaven), of Paul Gerhardt’s Trinity Sunday hymn, “Was alle Weisheit in der Welt” (All knowledge was in the world), set to the Johann Walther BAR Form melody, “Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam (Christ our Lord to the Jordan came).1

Trinityfest Cantata 176 was premiered on 27 May 1725 at the Thomaskirche before the sermon (not extant) on the day’s Gospel by Pastor Christian Weise and later that day at the vesper service of the Nikolaikirche before the sermon (not extant) on the day’s Epistle, Rom. 11:33-36, (The depth of the riches of God), by student M. Dornfeld, in lieu of Subdeacon substitute Georg Samuel Wagner, says Martin Petzoldt in his Bach Commentary, Vol.2, Advent to Trinitatisfest.2 The Epistle and Gospel text in German 1545 Martin Luther translation and the English text Authorized (King James) Version of 1611 are found at BCW The Introit Psalm for the Trinity Festival is Psalm 27, Dominus illuminatio, The Lord is my light (KJV), says Perzoldt (Ibid.: 1053)

2 Martin Petzoldt, Bach Kommentar: Theologisch Musikwissenschaftlicke Kommentierung der Geistlichen Vokalwerke Johann Sebastan Bachs; Vol. 2, Die Geistlichen Kantaten vom 1. Advent bis zum Trinitatisfest; Internationale Bachakademie Stuttgart (Kassel: Bärenreiter, 2007: 1068).

Cantata 176 Context

Cantata 176 marks the end of Bach first two years of prodigious and impressive church-year cantata production with a work of brevity but high quality as Julian Mincham provides a contextual, contemplative Commentary introduction ( << Perhaps it does not come as a surprise that even the final cantata of the cycle brings with it a number of puzzles and problems; Bach keeps us guessing until the very end! It is the last of nine, or possibly ten, libretti written by Mariane von Ziegler. It furthermore marks the end of Bach’s most intense period of cantata composition from May 1723 to May 1725 encompassing the complete first and second cycles. This burst of uninterrupted creativity produced 114 church cantatas in two years, allowing for the repetition of C 4 in each cycle (Wolff, JSB, Learned Musician: 270-278). And even though a number of earlier works were pressed into service, particularly in the first year, it is still an extraordinary body of imaginative, inventive and highly original work.

Any views about what Bach might have felt at the time of the composition of C 176 must, of course, be speculative. It may be that he was not sorry to sever the relationship with von Ziegler; he appears never to have worked with her again and his alterations of her texts indicate some degrees of dissatisfaction. His focused creative efforts over the previous two years had been simply gargantuan and it is possible that he was looking forward to spending more time on the composition of repertoire outside of the immediate weekly service requirements. He had, by now, fully proved himself in Leipzig, having been responsible for an astonishing range of ecclesiastical composition and performance; and here we should also note the inclusion of the Saint John Passion, Easter Oratorio and Magnificat in his church music repertoire.

Bearing all this in mind, what impact may these circumstances have had on the composition of C 176? For a start, it is one of the shortest in the repertoire, typically lasting not more than ten minutes in performance. It has no chorale fantasia, no hybrid chorale/recitatives and both arias are under three minutes long. Was Bach impatient to get this final work out of the way and proceed to other projects? We shall never know although, once again, we have to note that, even though the scale of this work is much diminished, both the quality and intensity remain extremely high.

The structure is unsurprising, two paired recitatives and arias separating an opening chorus and closing chorale. There is no solo role for the tenor. We have seen that of the last thirteen cantatas of the [Easter-Pentecost] cycle, only four begin with a large-scale chorus not based upon the phrases of a chorale; C 6, a delicately wrought tone poem, C 74, a more declamatory piece arranged from an earlier duet and Cs 103 and 176, both of which are energetic, almost belligerent, minor-mode fugues. Of the latter two, C 103 is much larger in scale, a monumental piece consisting of two dynamic sections separated by a recitative. C 176 is a more concentrated chorale fugue with independent instrumental accompaniment, but no introduction or ritornello. It seems as if Bach, liberated from the self-imposed constraints of the chorale fantasia, became intent upon exploring as many forms of cantata and chorus shape and structure as possible in the final dozen works of this cycle.

It is always dangerous to attempt to deduce great composers’ moods or emotional states from their music. It is well known that composers in dire stress could produce joyous music and vice versa. This is because they were professionals, often composing several hours a day and used to fulfilling commissions with varying requirements at very short notice. Even so, it is difficult not to conclude that Bach ended his two years of immense cantata production with less enthusiasm than when he had begun it. The small scale of this work is one possible indication. Even more illuminative is the character of the first chorus which is terse, laconic and bordering upon the aggressive. With no introduction, choir and orchestra leap straight into the fugal exposition. It is almost as if Bach is saying, let’s get on with it and get it over with! But if any antagonism suggested by the music is indicative of Bach’s frame of mind at this time, it is certain that neither his attention to detail nor his creative personality were in any way diminished. >>

Cantata 176 movements, scoring, text, key, meter (Ziegler text and Francis Browne English translation, BCW

1. Chorus fugue (Risoluto), motet-like [SATB; Oboe I/II, Oboe da caccia, Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo]: “Es ist ein trotzig und verzagt Ding / um aller Menschen Herze.” (There is something obstinate and desperate in the heart of every human being, Jeremiah 17:9); c minor; 44.
2. Recitative secco [Alto, Continuo]: “Ich meine, recht verzagt, / Dass Nikodemus sich bei Tage nicht, / Bei Nacht zu Jesu wagt. / Die Sonne musste dort bei Josua so lange stille stehn, / So lange bis der Sieg vollkommen war geschehn; / Hier aber wünschet Nikodem: O säh ich sie zu Rüste gehn!” (I think that really desperate / Nicodemus not by day / But by night dared to meet Jesus. / There the sun had to stand still so long for Joshua [10:12-13], / so long until the victory was achieved; / But here Nicodemus wishes: “Oh, if only I saw it setting!”; g minor; 4/4.
3. Aria ABB’ (Poco allegro) with ritornelli, opening da capo 15 mm [Soprano; Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo Bassetchen]: A. “Dein sonst hell beliebter Schein / Soll vor mich umnebelt sein, / Weil ich nach dem Meister frage, / Denn ich scheue mich bei Tage.” (Your beloved light which is otherwise bright /for me must be covered over with clouds, / so that I may ask for the master, / for I am afraid by day.); BB’, “Niemand kann die Wunder tun, / Denn sein Allmacht und sein Wesen, / Scheint, ist göttlich auserlesen, / Gottes Geist muss auf ihm ruhn.” (No man can do the miracles / since his omnipotence and essence, / it seems, is divinely chosen, / God's spirit must rest on him.); B flat Major; 2/2 gavotte style.
4. Recitative secco, arioso [Bass; Continuo]: Recit. 4/4 (8 mm) F Major, “So wundre dich, o Meister, nicht, / Warum ich dich bei Nacht ausfrage! / Ich fürchte, dass bei Tage / Mein Ohnmacht nicht bestehen kann. / Doch tröst ich mich, du nimmst mein Herz und Geist / Zum Leben auf und an” (Therefore do not be astonished, O Master, / that I question you by night! / I fear that by day / my weakness cannot endure. / Yet I comfort myself, my heart and spirit / are accepted and taken up by you into life,); arioso (Andante) ¾ (25 mm) g minor, “Weil alle, die nur an dich glauben, nicht verloren werden.” (for all who only believe in you will not be lost, John 3:16).
5. Aria three-part with ritornelli complex [Alto; Oboe I/II e Oboe da caccia all' unisono, Continuo]: A. “Ermuntert euch, furchtsam und schüchterne Sinne, / Erholet euch, höret, was Jesus verspricht:” ( Take courage, fearful and timid spirits, / recover, hear what Jesus promises): B. “Dass ich durch den Glauben den Himmel gewinne. / Wenn die Verheißung erfüllend geschicht” (that through faith I shall gain heaven, / when the promise is fulfilled); C. “Werd ich dort oben / Mit Danken und Loben / Vater, Sohn und Heilgen Geist Preisen, der dreieinig heißt.” (there above / with thanks and praise / I shall glorify the father, son and holy spirit / who are called triune.); E flat Major; 9/8 gigue-style.
6. Chorale plain BAR Form [SATB; Oboe I e Violino I col Soprano, Oboe II e Violino II coll'Alto, Oboe da caccia e Viola col Tenore, Continuo]: A. Stollen “Auf dass wir also allzugleich / Zur Himmelspforten dringen” (In this way therefore we / break through to the gates of heaven); A’ “Und dermaleinst in deinem Reich / Ohn alles Ende singen” (and one day in your kingdom / we shall sing without end); B. Abgesang “Dass du alleine König seist, / Hoch über alle Götter, / Gott Vater, Sohn und Heilger Geist, / Der Frommen Schutz und Retter, / Ein Wesen drei Personen.” (that you alone are King, / high above all the gods, / God the Father, son and holy spirit / protector and saviour of the devout / one being, three persons.); f minor to c minor (dorian-aeolian, last lne); 4/4.

3 Klaus Hofmann Cantata 176 notes, BCW; BCW Recording details,

Ziegler Text: Bach’s Treatment

Bach’s treatment of librettist Ziegler’s Cantata 176 text, in particular his setting of the opening chorus, the contrasting gavotte-style soprano aria (No. 3), and the illusions to the Holy Trinity in the alto aria (No. 5) and closing chorale are discussed in Klaus Hofmann’s study in the Masaaki Suzuki BIS recording.3 << Bach’s cantata for the Feast of the Trinity on 27th May 1725 – the last Sunday of his second year of employment in Leipzig – refers to the gospel reading for that day, John 3, 1-15, more specifically to a longer description: Nicodemus, a Pharisee and ‘ruler of the Jews’ – and thus one of Jesus’ adversaries – seeks Jesus out under the cover of night and confesses that Jesus must have been sent by God ‘for no man can do these miracles that thou doest’. Bach’s librettist Mariane von Ziegler directs our attention towards Nicodemus’s fear, and by extension also towards timidity in faith, and lends courage to those whose minds are ‘furchtsam und schüchtern’ (‘fearful and shy’, fifth movement). At the beginning of the cantata are the words ‘Es ist ein trotzig und verzagt Ding um aller Menschen Herze’ (‘There is a daring and a shy thing about the human spirit’, a free adaptation of Jeremiah 17:9).

Bach set the opening words as a choral fugue that is built up from the bass, by way of tenor and alto, to the soprano, all of whom then sing to the end. The opposition of ‘daring’ and ‘shy’ is unmistakably expressed in the fugue theme by means of the inherent contrast between a rhythmically striking, wide-ranging and rapid melodic writing on the one hand and chromaticism on the other. Overall, however, Bach has taken greater pleasure in depicting defiance than in representing timidity (and has thus departed to some extent from his librettist’s intention).

The dance-like soprano aria (third movement), a light-footed gavotte that might have reminded Bach’s Leipzig listeners that the Cantor of St. Thomas had until recently been a court conductor, forms an effective contrast to the weighty introductory chorus. Bach illustrates the words ‘hell beliebter Schein’ (‘dear [bright] light’) by brightening the sound picture, repeatedly letting the continuo fall silent. In the following bass recitative (fourth movement), Nicodemus to some extent speaks for all the hesitant believers. The alto aria (fifth movement) contains a surprise in its instrumental obbligato, with the very unusual unison writing for the two oboes and oboe da caccia. At the end its words of encouragement and hope for the afterlife, combined with the vision of participation in the heavenly praise of the Father, make an allusion to the Holy Trinity and thus to the feast of the Trinity. In the final strophe by Paul Gerhardt (1653) the choir takes up this idea, on behalf of the congregation.
© Klaus Hofmann 2007

Production Notes. This cantata has also survived principally in the form of Bach’s own manuscript of the full score (Berlin State Library, Mus. ms. Bach P 81) and the original parts (in the possession of a private Ame- rican collector). The set of parts does not, however, include the second violin doublet (the part used by the second player) that one would normally expect to be present, or a transposed continuo part for the organ. (It was reported recently, however, that this organ part, which had been believed lost, turned up at an auction held at Sotheby’s in 2005 and was donated to the Juilliard School of Music.) Harmonic figuring is inscribed in the untransposed continuo part (although this may have been added at a later date), and we have therefore decided to use the harpsichord as usual.
© Masaaki Suzuki 2007

“Provocative Thought,” “Musical Exegesis”

Cantata 176 is “crammed with provocative thoughts and musical exegesis,” says John Eliot Gardiner in his liner notes to the Bach Cantata 2000 Pilgrimage.4 Nicodemus’ night-time visit in the Gospel that Ziegler emphasizes from the human perspective enabled Bach to “set up a dramatic antithesis between headstrong aggression and lily-livered frailty,” as emphasized in the opening chorus dfrom Jeremiah 17:9, says Gardiner. The ascending-descending contour in the opening motet-like fugue ( is an “arresting comment on the human condition,” says Gardiner, who wonders whether this “reflected Bach’s own views, particularly as regards the intractable attitude of the Leipzig Consistory.” “Exploration of these twin facets of human behavior continues all the way through this cantata. The juxtaposition of Nicoedmus (night) and Jesus (day) in the alto recitative (No. 2) is implied in the soprano-as-gavotte in B flat (No. 3), the “timid, hesitant yet happy believer,” “in contrast to the rebellious mind portrayed in the opening chorus.” “Nicodemus is personified in the bass recitative” (No. 4), to which Bach adds the concluding arioso paraphrase from John 3:16, “for all who only believe in you will not be lost.” The consoling alto aria (No. 5), “Take courage, fearful and timid spirits,” leads to the persistent ascent-descent contour in the closing chorale where Bach adds two bars with the assertion of the essence of the Trinity, “one being, three persons.”

4 Gardiner notes, BCW; BCW Recording details,

Notes on Text, Music

Overall form. Cantata 176 has a classic ascent-descent pattern appropriate for the final part of the Easter/Pentecost season, imitation Christ’s ascension and the descent of the Holy Spirit 10 days later on Pentecost, says Eric Chafe in “Tonal Planning in the Leipzig Cantatas II: Ascent-Descent Cantatas.”5 Cast in the key of c minor instead of triumphal D Major, it moves up to B flat in the soprano gavotte aria (No. 3) then down through g minor to E flat for the alto aria then to the model c minor of the closing chorale. Its innovative setting of Ziegler’s texts utilizes various sensory elements that enhance this tonal contour in the the four key movements (Nos. 1, 3, 5, and 6], as well as the contrast between dark and light and other ingredients. Through this inverted parabola tonal pattern, Cantata 176 conveys both “the [divine] majesty and [human] incomprehensibility of God, as expressed in the Epistle for the day, Rom. 11:33-36, (The depth of the riches of God).

5 Eric Chafe, Chapter 7, Tonal Allegory in the Vocal Music of J. S. Bach (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991: 211ff).

One of the key features within this tonal plan, primarily emphasizing human rather than divine qualities, is the emotional roller coaster of the human heart ranging from aggression and aspiration, “ultimately the same,” to human weakness and frailty in the opening, contrasting motet. “As the second recitative [No. 4] makes clear, Nicodemus’s weakness in coming forth only by night can be seen positively – an acknowledgment of human weakness and an inability to comprehend God’s ways,” says Chafe (Ibid.: 212).

The affirmative tenor aria (No. 5) contrasts “Ermuntert euch” (Take courage) with “furchtsam und schüchterne Sinne” (fearful and timid spirits). “The final chorale returns the idea of ascent/descent to the appropriate human perspective.”

Opening Chorus Music, Scene Setting

The Cantata 176 concise opening chorus is a “manipulation of, and elaboration upon, a traditional motet style,” says Mark a Peters in “BWV 167/1: An elaboration of motet style.”6 In its basic conception, the motet-like features are text presented in imitation with each voice double by instruments and contains no separate instrumental sections (ritornelli). Bach altered the traditional motet form in several ways: entire text presented in one statement rather than sections based on a new text line with new melody motive, fast rhythmic and harmonic motion in 4/4 rather than in 2/2 alle breve conventional long notes, independent but not thematic string parts (rushing passages like the Fifth Brandenburg Concerto), based on vocal themes. The “chorus is splendidly effective, the vehement declamatory lines producing a turbulent mass of surging tone,” says W. Gillies Whittaker in “Choral Cantatas: Original Texts-Additions.”7

Mark A. Peters' A Woman's Voice in Baroque Music: Mariane von Ziegler and J. S. Bach (Ashgate, 2008: 99ff).

7W. Gillies Whittaker. The Cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach (Oxford University Press: London, 1958: 226).

Instead of opening with the Gospel parable dictum, Ziegler sets the scene with Old Testament teachings, as explained in Alfred Dürrs Cantata 176 essay.8 beginning with the prophet Jeremiah’s observation (17:9) in the motet chorus that the human heart is simultaneously “obstinate and desperate.” Then in the alto recitative (No. 2), in contrast to the sun standing “still at Gibeon until the hoards of the Amorites had been vanquished (Joshua 10:12f),” says Dürr, the Pharisee Nicodemus longs for night to come before going to Jesus to seek wisdom (

8 Alfred Dürr, Cantatas of J. S. Bach, revised and translated by Richard D. P. Jones (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005: 376)

The soprano aria (No. 3) continues this idea with Nicodemus, “a master of Israel” (John 3:10), realizing that, says Dürr, “no one could do the signs that Jesus does unless God were with him. The aria “praises the light of God” in a “frank and delightful gavotte,” says Whittaker (Ibid.: 227). The “aria may remind the listener of that for alto found in the later cantata C 30 from 1738, says Mincham (Ibid.). “Both are gavotte dances with extended ritornello themes in binary form. Both develop from sturdy crotchet and quaver rhythms into streams of triplet quavers. The texts are not entirely dissimilar; that for the later aria tells of the Saviour calling the sinners to waken and proceed to Grace whilst this one describes the bright light, which only God can generate, attracting all towards him. It is extraordinary how similar texts set years apart may still reveal strong points of convergence in Bach’s approach, although it must be admitted that the salient characteristics of the gavotte dance seem more immediately apparent in this earlier work.”

“The second recitative-aria pair gives an indication of the comfort that the fearful Christian derives from faith in Jesus,” says Dürr. Bach adds to Ziegler’s text in the bass recitative, personifying Ncodemus, a closing line paraphrasing John 3:16: “for all who only believe in you will not be lost.” The second aria for alto (No. 5), “Ermuntre dich,” “is somewhat dance-like,” says Dürr (Ibid.: 377),, with “the theme being another direct product of the [Gospel] text” and a musical display of joy. The closing chorale praises the names and praises the Trinity as “protector and saviour” of the believer, giving the shepherd symbol to all three: God the father as Shepherd over the people of Israel, the son Jesus as the Good Shepherd who lays down his life (as the saviour and redeemer) for the sheep, and the sanctifying Holy Spirit as the protector of the believing Christian.

Closing Trinitarian Chorale

Cantata 176 closes with Paul Gerhardt’s BAR Form “Was alle Weisheit in der Welt,” It has eight stanzas of nine lines (8.7 8.7 8.7 8.7.; ab ab cd cde) and was first published in the 1653 (Berlin) edition of Johann Crüger’s Praxis Pietatis Melica, to the Johann Walther 1524/41 BAR Form melody (Zahn 7246, EKG: 146), “Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam (Christ our Lord to the Jordan came), says Charles S. Terry.9 The dictum is based on Revelation 22:7 (KJV), “Behold, I come quickly: blessed is he that keepeth the sayings of the prophecy of tbook.” The hymn is found in the de tempore section (Trinityfest, No. 207) of the Dresdener Gesangbuch 1725/36, says Petzoldt (Ibid.: 1068). It also is found in the Leipzig hymn schedules where it “is even the first among four to be named” for this festival, says Günther Stiller.10 The chorale (Fischer-Tümpel, III, #415) is listed in the Gerhardt Register über Zuordnung der Lieder zu den Sonn- und Feiertagen des Kirchenjahres as No. 32 for Trinity Sunday, his only setting for this day. It is not found in Das neu Leipziger Gesangbuch of 1682 while the Walther melody is found in the NLGB as No. 176, Catechism Baptism hymn. More information on the text and melody is found at BCW and “Motets & Chorales for Trinity Sunday, BCW

9 Charles S. Terry, Bach’s Chorals. Part I: 2 The Hymns and Hymn Melodies of the Cantatas and Motetts (Cambridge University Press, Vol. 2. June 5, 2017),, Cantata CLXXVI.

10Günther Stiller, Johann Sebastian Bach and Liturgical Life in Leipzig, ed. Robin A. Leaver (St. Louis MO: Concordia Publishing,1985: 141f).

The first stanza of the text is “Was alle weisheit in der welt / Bei uns hier kaum kann lallen, / Das läßt Gott aus dem himmelszelt / In alle welt erschallen, / Daß er alleine könig sei, / Hoch über alle götter, / Groß, mächtig, freundlich, fromm und treu, / Der frommen schutz und retter, / Ein wesen, drei personen.” (Source: Kirchen-Gesangbuch: für Evangelisch-Lutherische Gemeinden #150), with the full text at

The last stanza, closing Cantata 176, is in Francis Browne’s English translation: “In this way therefore we / break through to the gates of heaven / and one day in your kingdom / we shall sing without end / that you alone are King, / high above all the gods, / God the Father, son and holy spirit / protector and saviour of the devout / one being, three persons.” As a hymn to the Trinity, it – “as with the entire series of post-Easter cantatas,” emphasizes the perspective and concerns of humanity in the present world as their goal,” says Eric Chafe in “Trinity Sunday: Cantata 176, Es ist ein trotzig und vesagt Ding.”11

Eric Chafe, Chapter 13, J. S. Bach’s Johannine Theology: The St. John Passion and the Cantatas for Spring 1725 (Oxford University Press, 2014: 532ff).

The melody, "Christ, unser Herr, zum Jordan kam," “owing to its theme of baptism has a distinct connection to the [Gospel] dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus,” John 3:1-15, observes Chafe (Ibid.: 568f). The “textual Abgesang of this strophe is nearly identical to that of the first strophe of the [Walther] chorale,” says Chafe, citing Petzoldt (Ibid.: 1074). The Abgesang says: “that you alone are King, / high above all the gods, / God the Father, son and holy spirit / protector and saviour of the devout / one being, three persons.” The Walther chorale begins: “Christ our Lord came to the Jordan / in accordance with his father’s will, / he received baptism from Saint John, / to fulfil his work and ministry.” This suggests that “the choice of the chorale was indebted to its mirroring the catechism function of the chorale while at the same time affirming the eschatological character of a doxology for the ending of the cantata,” says Chafe in his footnote (Ibid.: 569).

The final phrase of the chorale, “Christ unser Herr,” ending in b minor, “Ein Wesen drei Personen.” (one being, three persons), mirrors “the opposition of Adam and Jesus in the final verse, and giving more pronounced emphasis to the idea of new life,” says Chafe, being spiritually “reborn,” involving Jesus Christ through the second incarnation or rebirth through the Spirit. Chronologically in the church year the Trinity Sunday feast anticipates the two feasts soon to follow in the omnes tempore (Ordinary Time) second half of the church year: The incarnational Feasts of the Birth of John the Baptist and his baptism of Jesus in the Jordan (June 24) and the Visitation of Mary (July 2) were both celebrated in Bach’s time as principal festivals which could displace the Trinity Sunday observances. Both required the performance of a cantata / and a concerted Latin Missa: Kyrie Gloria and Sanctus at the main festival service and a Magnificat setting at the later vesper service. These cantatas and their theological theme of incarnation will be studied in the coming weeks of the BCML Discussion 4th Cycle as the beginning of the so-called Christological cycle involving: Zechariah's Blessing Canticle and Prophecy of the pending birth and Blessing at the Birth of John the Baptist (June 24, Luke 1:67-79), and Mary's immediate Visitation (July 2) to her ?aunt Elizabeth, wife of Zechariah, with Mary’s Magnificat canticle of praise (Luke 1:46-56). Cantata 30, a 1738 joyous celebration of John the Baptist in progressive style, will be examined, especially its parodied text, possibly by Picander, and probably Bach’s last major, extant cantata composition, which incidentally coincides with Bach’s Nameday, John the Baptist (BCML Discussion, Week of June 25).

The melody is sung in the tenor in the opening chorale fantasia of the 1724 John the Baptist Cantata BWV 7. Bach also harmonized the melody set to Stanza 7 in the plain chorale in E minor/dorian/aeolian, closing Cantata 7. Having focused on Zechariah's original, incarnational Canticle and Prophecy (Luke 1:68-79) in his 1723 first cantata for the Feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist, BWV 167, "Ihr Menschen, rühmet Gottes Liebe" (You people, sing the praises of God's love), Bach moved on in his 1724 chorale cantata cycle to Martin Luther's Catechism hymn on the actual baptism in Cantata BWV 7, "Christ, unser Herr, zum Jordan kam" (Christ our Lord came to the Jordan), see BCML Discussions Part 3, week of January 20, 2013, Luther's 1741 hymn is based on the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River by John the Baptist in all four Gospels -- Mat. 3:3-17, Mark 1:9-11, Luke 3:21-22, and John 1:29-34 - as well as Christ's Great Commission to his disciples, Mat. 28-16-20 (Stanza 5). As Luther's last Catechism teaching hymn, it is titled: "A Spiritual Song of our Holy Baptism, which is a fine summary of What is it? (Stanzas 1, 4, 7) Who established it? (Stanzas 2, 3) What are its benefits? (Stanzas 5-6)."

The melody is set as a free-standing plain chorale, BWV 280, in D minor/dorian/aeolian, set to Luther's text. The Walther melody is set twice as a Catechism organ chorale (1739) in the Clavierübung III, liturgical German Catechism Organ Mass, BWV 684 with cantus firmus in the bass in g minor 4/4, and BWV 685 "alio modo manualiter" in ¾ with modal progression. It is listed as a chorale prelude in the Orgelbüchlein collection (Weimar, c.1714) but not set.

Cantata 176 Summation. Cantata 176 “was crafted with immense care for its placement in the liturgical season and its unique treatment of the subject of the Trinity,” says Café (Ibid.: 569). It “appears that Bach and Ziegler worked together in forming its conception.” Baptism references in the text signify “entrace into the church, a new beginning,” says Chafe. As to the differences in text between Bach’s Cantata 167 and Ziegler’s 1728 cantata cycle published libretto, Chafe suggests (Ibid.: 555) that were done in 1725 either by Bach or Ziegler herself that she later removed, possibly initially prompted by “theological considerations” involving the Leipzig Consistory /or the pietist faction on the Town Council which continually asserted its pre-publication imprimatur over Bach’s church service text books, officially as late as 1739, possibly with the St. John Passion, on Good Friday.

The importance of John’s Gospel for Trinity Sunday involved several significant Johannine symbols or references. In the cosmic prologue of this unique non-synoptic Gospel interpreting the meaning of Jesus Christ, is its reference to the beginning of Genesis and of Jesus as the Incarnate Word: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God.” Then comes the symbolic son as light out of darkness, “In him was life; and the life was the light of men.”

The evangelist John then announces the coming of John the Baptist: “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe.” “In the liturgy, Pentecost completes God’s revelation of the spirit,” says Chafe (Ibid.: 348), with the Epistles from Acts of the Apostles describing the actual coming of the Holy Spirit, and John’s Gospel readings “provide the timeless spiritual context and meaning of the Holy Spirit for humanity.”

The Epistle for Trinity Sunday in Bach’s time (Rom. 11:33-36) “then celebrates the depth and wisdom and knowledge of God, his all-encompassing nature and glory,” while John’s Gospel 3:1-15, Jesus’ dialogue with Nicodemus “centers in the necessity of being born [become incarnate] again through water and the spirit to eternal life,” says Chafe. Trinity Sunday “was truly a bridge between the two halves [of the church year], based on a doctrine rather than an event, following logically from Pentecost” and the affirmation of the Trinity, says Chafe (Ibid.: 549), moving from centering on the life of Jesus to the era of salvation history, the time of the church, omnes tempore (Ordinary Time). Bach presented three other cantatas in Leipzig for Trinity Sunday. Cantata 165 “centers on themes of the Jesus/Nicodemus dialogue”: baptism through water and then spirit, and affirming then relationship to Pentecost. Cantata 194 “emphasizes God’s greatness and glory, mirroring the tone of the epistle for Trinity Sunday.” Chorale Cantata 129, composed two years after Cantata 176, is a general, festive work, and as a pure-hymn work presents all five verses of Johann Olearius’s “Gelobet sei der Herr, mein Gott” (Praise be to the Lord, my God).

Cantata 176 progresses from the theme of light and darkness to the theme of hearing and music, says Chafe (Ibid.: 552). Now, “its context is the acceptance of Jesus’s physical absence, then presence of the Holy Spirit, and the hope of fearful and timid humanity [like Nicodemus] for eschatological fulfillment, mirrored symbolically in music.” Often this music of praise and thanksgiving includes the trumpet and in Cantata 176, Joshua’s victory over the Amorites (10:12-14), is a spiritual (typological) prefiguration of Jesus, says Chafe (Ibid.: 553), “his trumpet symbolizing God’s word, and his triumphant leading the Isrealites into the promised land as [Lutheran] allegory of the passing of scripture from the law to the Gospel, thereby the Christus Victor theory of Christ’s sacrifical atonement as found in Bach’s St. John Passion and an expression of Luther’s Theology of the Cross, says Chafe (Ibid.: 554).

Trinity Festival Importance12

Source, “Motets & Chorales for Trinity Sunday (May 31, 2015), BCW

<<Bach’s four extant cantatas for the final festival in the <de tempore> half of the Christian church year represent a strong reflection of the meaning of Trinity Sunday as well as exemplars of both unity of sacred purpose, such as Lutheran teaching and chorales, as well as diversity of poetic texts and cantata forms – all emblematic of his goal of a well-ordered church music to the glory of God.

Beginning with the Protestant Reformation in 1519, the Sunday Festival of the Holy Trinity became a pivotal observance in which the Lutheran teachings through the chorales and the Catechism systematically exemplify and illustrate the biblical and doctrinal teachings, often with music. Thus, the original Lutheran hymns and Bach’s resulting cantata musical sermon settings demonstrate and celebrate the meaning and significance of this tradition as found at Trinity Sunday, now usually called the First Sunday After Pentecost. “In the Lutheran liturgy, Trinity Sunday ends this sequence [Proprium Temporale] of “proposer of the time (of Christ, de tempore)], celebrating the completed revelation of God’s triune nature and serving as a kind of symbolic ‘doxology’ to the first half of the year, says Eric Chafe in Analyzing Bach Cantatas (New York Oxford Univ. Press, 2000: 12). In a very broad sense, the dynamic of the Temporale can be described as a pattern of descent (extending from the incarnation of Jesus’ death and burial) followed by ascent (Jesus’ resurrection and ascension), after which the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, traditionally viewed as the “birthday of the church,” describes another symbolic incarnation, or descent, that returns the liturgical focus of the year to the perspective of the church on earth [omnes tempore].”>>

Holy Trinity Festival History

<< The Festival of the Holy Trinity (ordered by Pope John XXII, 1332) reflects upon all of the events commemorated during the first half (<de tempore>) of the church year and celebrates them as its culmination. Whereas the other< de tempore> festivals annually observe historic events in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ (Christmas, New Year, Epiphany, Easter Sunday and Pentecost Sunday), the Trinity Festival is the expression of the great Doctrine of the Church, worshipping the Trinity of God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The institution of the Trinity Festival came shortly after the end of the Crusades in 1291, emphasizing the Mystery of the Trinitarian Doctrine which previously had been expressed widely in liturgical practice such as the Baptismal Formula, Glorias, Doxologies, and the Terminations of the Collects (Paul Ze ller Strodach, <The Church Year>, United Lutheran Publication House, Philadelphia PA, 1924: pp. 179-181). Ordinary Time or < omne tempore> are the 33 weeks of the seasons of Epiphany and Trinity, the second half of the Church Year.>>

As John Eliot Gardiner observes in his 2000 Bach Cantata Pilgrimage diary (Ibid.:): “Cantatas for Trinity Sunday, St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwal. “Trinity Sunday does not register today as one of the more exciting of the church’s festivals. Yet in Bach’s day, it had a climactic importance: it marked the end of the Temporale, the first half of the liturgical year which celebrates the events in the life of Jesus. For Bach personally it signified the completion of the annual cantata cycles he composed in Leipzig (his first official cantata as Thomascantor in 1723 happening to be the first Sunday after Trinity), and not surprisingly drew from him works of summary significance: cantatas that were challenging even by his standards. For us in 2000 it was a half-way point, and thus a milestone to look forward to, especially as we were due to travel to the most northerly point on our pilgrimage route, to Kirkwall in Orkney.”

Bach’s Trinity Festival Music

<<Bach four sacred cantatas as well as Latin Mass Movements most appropriate for the Sunday Festival of the Holy Trinity are:

1. Cantata BWV 165, “O heil’ges Geist- und Wasserbad” (O Holy Spirit- and water-bath); premiered in 1715, with repeats ?1716 (Klaus Hoffman BJ 1993:29, Boyd OCC:JSB:331)and 1724; an intimate solo (SATB) work typical of poet Salomo Franck’s sermon-text with symbols, teachings, and affections.
2. Cantata BWV 194, “Höchsterwünschtes Freudenfest” (Highest wished-for joy-feast), performed in 1724 (Part 1 only, in a double-bill with BWV 165). Cantata 194 is an extensive two-part chorus cantata parodied from a Cöthen congratulatory serenade (BWV 194a) in the style of a dance suite and originally recomposed for the service of a church remodeling and organ dedication (1723) and partially repeated as BWV 194b (1726, Movements Nos. 12, 2-5, 7, 10), 1731 (?Part 1 only), and after 1750 in Halle with Friedemann.
3. Cantata BWV 176, “Er ist ein trotzig und verzagt Ding” (It is an obstinate and hopeless thing), premiered in 1725, a chorus cantata with opening biblical dictum, alternating arias and recitatives and closing chorale, typical in form of the first group in the first cycle (1723-24), according to Alfred Dürr, <Cantatas of JSB> (2005: 27); the last in a series of nine cantatas by progressive Leipzig poetess Mariane von Ziegler, and later assigned to Bach’s hybrid, incomplete third cantata cycle (1726-27).
4. Cantata BWV 129, “Gelobet sei der Herr, mein Gott” (Praise be the Lord, my God) premiered on June 15, 1727, based on a recently-found cantata textbook (Tatiana Shabalina, Bach UK Network, Understanding Bach 4, 2009) and repeated in 1732-35, 1743-46, 1744-47, 1755 (Penzel); a pure-hymn chorale cantata.
5. Mass sections: Sanctus in C, BWV 237, 5/15/16 or 5/23/1723; Missa in B Minor (Kyrie-Gloria), BWV 232I, possibly performed in Leipzig in 1732-35); and the four Missae (Kyrie-Gloria), BWV 233-236, possibly performed in Leipzig or Dresden in 1735-38) as part of Bach’s Christological Cycle of sacred works.>>



Aryeh Oron wrote (June 22, 2017):
Cantata BWV 176 - Revised & updated Discography

Cantata BWV 176 "Es ist ein trotzig und verzagt Ding" (There is something obstinate and desperate) was composed by J.S. Bach in Leipzig for Trinity Tuesday of 1725. The cantata is scored for soprano, alto & bass soloists; 4-part Chorus; and orchestra of 2 oboes, oboe da caccia, 2 violins, viola continuo.

The discography pages of BWV 176 on the BCW have been revised and updated. See:
Complete Recordings (14):
Recordings of Individual Movements (4):
The revised discography includes many listening/watching options as part of the recording details. When you click a link to video/audio, a new window will open above the discography page and the video/audio will start to play.

I also put at the BCW Home Page:
2 audios & 2 videos of the cantata. A short description below the audio/video image is linked to the full details at the discography pages.

I believe this is the most comprehensive discography of this cantata. If you are aware of a recording of BWV 176 missing from these pages, or want to correct/add details of a recording already presented on the BCW, please do not hesitate to inform me.

You can also read on the BCW the recent discussion of the cantata in the BCML (4th round):



Cantata BWV 176: Es ist ein trotzig und verzagt Ding for Trinity Sunday
Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements
Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Recordings & Discussions of Cantatas: Main Page | Cantatas BWV 1-50 | Cantatas BWV 51-100 | Cantatas BWV 101-150 | Cantatas BWV 151-200 | Cantatas BWV 201-224 | Cantatas BWV Anh | Order of Discussion
Discussions of General Topics: Cantatas & Other Vocal Works | Performance Practice | Radio, Concerts, Festivals, Recordings


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Last update: Tuesday, September 12, 2017 00:53