Es ist ein trotzig und verzagt Ding (There is something
defiant and fainthearted), BWV 176, is a church cantata
by Johann Sebastian Bach. He composed it in Leipzig for
Trinity Sunday on a text by Christiana Mariana von
Ziegler and first performed it on 27 May 1725,
concluding his second year of cantata compositions in
Bach composed the cantata during his second year in
Leipzig for Trinity. The prescribed readings for the
Sunday were from the Epistle to the Romans, reflecting
"depth of wisdom" (Romans 11:33--36), and from the
Gospel of John, the meeting of Jesus and Nicodemus
In his second year in Leipzig, Bach composed chorale
cantatas between the first Sunday after Trinity and
Palm Sunday, but for Easter returned to cantatas on
more varied texts, possibly because he lost his
librettist. Nine of his cantatas for the period between
Easter and Pentecost are based on texts of Christiana
Mariana von Ziegler, including this cantata. He later
inserted most of them, including this one, in his third
annual cantata cycle.
Ziegler took the idea from the Gospel that Nicodemus
came to speak with Jesus at night, afraid to be seen
with him, and deducted thoughts about the timidity of
Christians in general. She opened her text with a
paraphrase from Jeremia, describing the heart of man as
"trotzig und verzagt", the conflicting attributes
rendered for example as "daring and shy" or "contrary
and despairing" (Jeremiah 17:9). Literally "trotzig"
means "defiant", "verzagt" means "despondent". The
poetess continued with a paraphase of Nicodemus' words
that nobody could act as Jesus if God was not with him.
She used the eighth stanza of Paul Gerhardt's hymn "Was
alle Weisheit in der Welt" (1653) as a closing chorale,
sung to the melody of "Christ, unser Herr, zum Jordan
Bach first performed the cantata on 27 May 1725. It was
the conclusion of Bach's second year of cantata
compositions in Leipzig. The opening chorus in C minor
concentrates, without instrumental introduction, on a
choral fugue. A complex theme illustrates both
contrasting aspects that Jeremiah mentioned of the
human heart, rendering "trotzig" (defiant) twice, once
in a repeated high note reached by a triad fanfare,
then in an upward run with a surprising modulation,
whereas "verzagt" (timid) appears as a sighing motif in
chromatism. The strings accompany "trotzig" marked
forte, "verzagt" piano, while the oboes double the
voices. Klaus Hofmann notes: "Bach has taken greater
pleasure in depicting defiance than in representing
timidity (and has thus departed to some extent from his
librettist's intention). John Eliot Gardiner translates
the text as "There is something stubborn (or defiant or
wilful) and fainthearted (or disheartened or
despairing) about the human heart", describes the
movement as a "dramatic antithesis between headstrong
aggression and lily-livered frailty", and wonders
"whether this arresting comment on the human condition
reflected Bach's own views".
The soprano aria "Dein sonst so hell beliebter Schein"
(Your dear bright light) is in contrast a
"light-footed" gavotte, sometimes without continuo.
Jesus and Nicodemus, by Crijn Hendricksz,
In the following recitative, Nicodemus speaks for the
Christian.[Bach added a quotation from the Gospel to
Ziegler's printed text, "for whosoever believes in
Thee, shall not perish" and stressed it by setting it
as an arioso.
In the alto aria, an unusual obbligato of three oboes
in unison, including one oboe da caccia, alludes to the
Trinity that is celebrated.
The closing chorale is a four-part setting of the
archaic modal melody of "Christ unser Herr zum Jordan
kam". At the very end Bach adds two measures at a
higher pitch on the words "ein Wesen, drei Personen"
(one Being, three persons), reflecting the Trinity and
a "remoteness of God from his relationship to
humankind". Gardiner concludes that Bach "signs off his
second Leipzig cycle with this cantata crammed with
provocative thoughts and musical exegesis.
Although this Cantata was originally scored for three
vocal soloists (soprano, alto, and bass), a four-part
choir, two oboes, oboe da caccia, two violins, viola,
and basso continuo, I created this arrangement for
String Quartet (2 Violins, Viola & Cello).