Cantata BWV 176 begins with a motto from Jeremiah, "It is an obstinate and cowardly thing that hides in men's hearts," set with the sternness and angularity of a woodcut, an unrelenting fugue based on strikingly graphic gestures. Curiously enough, the strings refuse to participate in much of this, instead playing long, soft tones. is this a metaphor for the dividedness of doubt?

The cantata continues with a recitative packed with biblical references. In John III, Nicodemus is the Pharisee who comes to Jesus by night, and, granting that he perceives Jesus to be "come from God", is still troubled, asking various questions. He is the opposite of Joshua who, asking God for help in battle, said "Sun, stand thou still!" The remainder of the cantata continues ambiguously. The soprano, in a graceful gavotte, laments that her sun is surrounded by clouds. And the alto, emerging from doubt, is accompanied by the dark exotic color of three unison oboes.

As the piece ends, its most vivid gestures, those of the opening chorus, still seem unresolved by what followed.

©John Harbison

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