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Recordings & Discussions of Cantatas: 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

Cantata BWV 140
Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme
Discussions - Part 2

Continue from Part 1

Discussions in the Week of December 22, 2002

Dick Wursten wrote (December 20, 2002):
BWV 140 - Dutch Translation and theological background

As I already announced a few weeks ago, I completed a Dutch translation of next weeks cantata, BWV 140 (Wachet Auf). Aryeh has already taken the necessary arrangements to make it accessible. You can find it at:

This cantata has always been one of my favourites because of the music... While preparing the translation the text of the cantata also became intriguing and I did some theological and hermeneutical investigations about the intricate links between this cantata and the Song of Songs (both in the CHORAL of Nicolai and in the texts in between). To make this visible I prepared a separate page with extracts from the Song of Songs, which are most relevant to this cantata, both in Dutch and English (three hurrays, or hojos, ios for the computerized bible-editions): You can find them on a subpage from my homepage:
The references to the cantatatexts I italicized.

Finally I prepared a short overview of the history of the allegorical interpretaion of the Song of Songs (from rabbi Akiba, Origenes, Bernardus of Clairvaux..), since it is obvious that this interpretation of the Song of Songs is presumed to be present in mind and heart of the listener to this cantata. Also in English:

Enjoy this cantata next week. It is a beautiful cantata, very suited to celebrate Christmas from the inside.

Aryeh Oron wrote (December 24, 2002):
BWV 140 - Introduction

The subject of discussion in the week of December 22, 2002, according to Thomas Shepherd’s suggested list, is the Chorale Cantata for the 27th Sunday after TrinityWachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme’ (Wake up, the voice calls us).

Alec Robertson aptly summarises BWV 140 in his book: “The best-known and loved of all Bach’s church cantatas needs little description. The picture he paints of the summons in the night, the agitated scene that follows among the suddenly awakened virgins, the great hymn and melody by Philipp Nicolai (1599) – used in Mvts. 1, 4 and 7 – ringing out of the heights, the exultant Alleluias, make an unforgettably vivid impression”

The details of the complete recordings of Cantata BWV 140 can be found at the following page of the Bach Cantatas Website:

Almost every known Bach conductor recorded this cantata. Three of them - Felix Prohaska [2] [8], Karl Richter [5] [16], and Fritz Werner [9] [14] - did it twice! Also many singers recorded it more than once: Arleen Augér (Rotzsch [19], Rilling [20]), Jakob Stämpfli (Ristenpart [11], Werner [14]), Kurt Equiluz (Prohaska [8], Harnoncourt [22]), Theo Adam (Kurt Thomas [10], Mauersberger [12]), Peter Schreier (Mauersberger [12], Richter [16]), Elly Ameling (Gönnenwein [13], Leppard [18]), Henriette Schellenberg (Funfgeld [26], Honneger-Moyse [28]), Ruth Holton (Gardiner [27], Leusink [38]), Jeffrey Thomas (Rifkin [24], Jeffrey Thomas [30]). In short, there are recordings to everyone’s taste, from the legendary Scherchen [3] to the modest Hennig (this cantata is one of the few he recorded under his own name), large scale choirs (Shaw and others) and OVPP (Rifkin [24]), HIP and traditional, etc.

With at least 29 complete recordings this cantata is probably the most recorded of Bach’s ‘real’ cantatas. Indeed, Cantatas BWV 51 and BWV 82 have about 45 complete recordings each. But these two are solo cantatas, which demand one solo singer, modest instrumental forces and no choir. It means that their performance and recording is much easier to organise. BWV 140 is a cantata of much larger scale. If anybody is aware of additional complete recordings, please inform me, either through the BCML or to my e-mail address.

The chorale melody from this cantata is the best-known Bach’s piece. As it has at least hundreds of recordings, it will take me some time to compile a list of them.

Additional Information
Many commentaries in English on this cantata can be found on the Web:
Listener’s Guide (Simon Crouch):
All Music Guide (Virginia Sublett):
Bach Choir of Bethlehem (Dr. Carol Traupman-Carr):
E. Scott Smith:
Orchestra Seattle – Seattle Chamber Singers (Jeff Eldridge):

Original German text (at Walter F. Bischof’s Website):
English translation (by Z. Philip Ambrose):
Three members of the BCML contributed translations of the cantata (hosted at the Bach Cantatas Website):
English by Francis Browne:
English by Paul Farseth (2 versions):
Dutch by Dick Wursten:
The Bach Cantatas Website also includes an excellent Hebrew translation by Galia Regev:

Score (Vocal & Piano version):

You can listen to Harnoncourt’s recording [22] through David Zale’s Website:

I am quite sure that every member of the BCML has at least one recording of Cantata BWV 140. You have commentaries and translations available at one click of your finger. It means that you are well-equipped to listen to the cantata and understand its text and background. I really hope to see many of you particin the discussion.

Philippe Bareille wrote (December 24, 2002):
No wonder why this cantata is famous: it is a masterpiece from beginning to end. The great opening chorus is a magnificent fugue where "the lines of text and the orchestral interludes are arranged, in the manner of a chorale prelude, into seven sections, corresponding to the seven movements of the whole cantata. The twelve knocks (dotted notes) in the first four bars, repeated several times probably symbolise the midnight bell" (Gerhard Schuhmacher). The two (love) duets are a dialogue between Jesus (bass) and the soul (soprano). The first duet with a violino piccolo as a third partner is very "romantic" whilst the second one is more a kind of a dance. The 4th movement is probably one of the most famous chorale by Bach. "The unison strings and the continuo bass play an instrumental piece into which the hymn stanza is interwoven line by line" (Schuhmacher).

I have listened to Harnoncourt [22], Mauersberger [12] and Richter [16].

The Mauersberger version [12] is the very first record of Bach cantata I had when I was a child. I keep a sentimental attachment to this recording. It is imbued with a sense of oblation. It sounds more "modern" than Richter. The Thomanerchor Leipzig is eloquent, clear and very moving. The musical accompaniment lacks suppleness but still manages to capture the essence of the work. Agnes Giebel and Theo Adam are both admirable in the two duos. The soprano delivers an ideal performance. She sings with poise, and a purity of tone that befits her role as the soul. Unlike other sopranos she never tries to show off unduly and at the same time she is deeply expressive and engaged with the text. Peter Schreier is excellent as usual, sensitively accompanied by the orchestra.

When I listened to Harnoncourt recording [22] for the first time It was a shock eclipsing everything I had heard before. The passing of years has hardly dampened my enthusiasm. There is plenty to admire here: the Tölzer knabenchor, the concentus musicus which has rarely been so good and so supple, or the poignant Equiluz. I would like to single out the young Alan Bergius whose translucent tone and expression are outstanding. I know that some will object to using a boy in a loving duo but it is only a spiritual and musical experience. The soprano represents an angel and a good boy soprano with a clear voice like Bergius is probably the most satisfying option. Bach wrote for boy sopranos whether we like it or not. I am less convinced by the bass Hampson who is no match for Adam (let alone DFK). He has a problem with the control of his vibrato and I feel that Bach is obviously not his natural territory.

Richter [16] is to my ears the less satisfying recording. It sounds weighty, pedestrian and often out of place or too slow. I don't like the soprano Edith Mathis but DFK is too good to discard this version. The second duo is more lively though.

In summary: both Mauersberger [12] and Harnoncourt [22] provide thrilling accounts of this marvellous cantata.

Jane Newble wrote (December 24, 2002):
Listening to the six versions I have, Richter (LP with Edith Mathis) [16], Rilling [20], Gönnenwein [13], Werner [14], Leusink [38] and Koopman [32], I gradually realised that the one I really prefer is Werner.

Richter [16] never really gets going, and Rilling [20] leaves me breathless, although he at least expresses the longing excitement of the text. Gönnenwein [13] is fairly neutral and like Leusink [38] does not inspire me. Koopman [32] I usually enjoy, but I find this performance somewhat too theatrical.

In Werner's performance [14] I like everything. The duets are especially beautiful, with Jakob Stämpfli putting lots of expression in his voice, and the soprano without too much vibrato.

The mood in the Werner performance is solemn and joyful at the same time, which makes sense, when we know the background of this absolutely wonderful cantata, based on words and music written by Philipp Nicolai. He had shortly before faced death, had a glimpse of the coming bridegroom depicted in the parable, and was obviously looking forward to the second coming of Christ. Having been in a similar situation myself, I find the words very meaningful, and the music particularly suited. Bach's genius shows itself very clearly in this beautiful music.

Dick Wursten wrote (December 24, 2002):
Philippe Bareille wrote:
< The soprano represents an angel... >
No, the soprano represents the soul of the christian. And his soul is supposed to be female and head over heels in love with her bridegroom, Christ, who is coming to pick her lead her to the great weddingparty he has prepared for her... Her longing finds words in the little booklet from the First Testament, called Song of Songs (the book of canticles): shir ha-shirim, being - AFAIK - a hebrew superlative construction: So this little booklet is considered to be the best and most beautiful song ever written. And these littel lovesongs are canonized both by the jewish and the Christian 'patres'.

The text of the hymn of Nicolai mixes - in line with the christian tradition - elements from:
1. the parable of the bridesmaiden who are waiting for the bridegroom.... [situation: the bridegroom is still negotiating the dowry. The longer this takes the more valuable the bride!... Until night falls..]. They doze off and are wakened by the call of the best man of the bridegroom: He is coming ! Be ready, light up the fire. Prepare your lamps! Go to meet him..
2. the lovesick longing of the girl in the Song of Songs for her lover, friend. She wanders around at night. She often is accompanied by her friends: the daughters of Jerusalem and sometimes encounters the watchmen of the city.

The mix [together with the general symbolism of night / day] depicts the intimate bond between the people of God and God/Christ. Mystical love, piety and theology go hand in hand.

Of course I feel the temptation to go deeper in to this matter, but I think that would be too much theology for the BCML. So I stop here and refer to two subpages of my own homepage. On: I have grouped some relevant passages from the Song of Songs (in Enlish) on which the lines that are quoted in the cantatatext BWV 140 are italicized. At the end of this mail you can find the same passages, but of course without any styling or make-up.

A short overview (also in English) of the history of the allegorical interpretation of the Song of Songs (from rabbi Akiba, Origenes, Bernardus of Clairvaux..) is on another subpage:

BTW: I only have the Leusink [38] and are very happy with it. I recently heard a fragment of Richter [16] and had much difficulty in appreciating it at all...

More detailed comments will follow.

ch. 2
3 Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest
is my lover among the young men.
I delight to sit in his shade,
and his fruit is sweet to my taste.
4 He has taken me to the banquet hall,
and his banner over me is love.
5 Strengthen me with raisins,
refresh me with apples,
for I am faint with love.
6 His left arm is under my head,
and hisright arm embraces me.

7 Daughters of Jerusalem,
I charge you by the gazelles and by the does of the field:
Do not arouse or awaken love
until it so desires.

8 Listen! My lover!
Look! There he comes,
leaping across the mountains,
bounding over the hills.
9 My lover is like a gazelle
or a young stag.
Look! There he stands behind our wall,
gazing through the windows,
peering through the lattice.
10 My lover spoke and said to me,
"Arise, my darling,
my beautiful one, and come with me.
11 See! The winter is past;
he rains are over and gone.
[.]16 My lover is mine and I am his;
he browses among the lilies.
> Luther: der unter Rosen weidet : he that feedeth among roses
17 Until the day breaks and the shadows flee,
turn, my lover, and be like a gazelle
or like a young stag on the rugged hills.

Ch. 3
at night:
1 All night long on my bed
I looked for the one my heart loves;
I looked for him but did not find him.
2 I will get up now and go about the city,
through its streets and squares;
I will search for the one my heart loves.
So I looked for him but did not find him.
3 The watchmen found me
as they made their rounds in the city.
"Have you seen the one my heart loves?"
4 Scarcely had I passed them
when I found the one my heart loves.
I held him and would not let him go
till I had brought him to my mother's house,
to the room of the one who conceived me.

5 Daughters of Jerusalem,
I charge you by the gazelles and by the does of the field:
Do not arouse or awaken love
until it so desires.

Ch 8
1 Oh, if only you were to me like a brother,
who was nursed at my mother's breasts!
Then, if I found you outside,
I would kiss you, and no-one would despise me.
2 I would lead you
and bring you to my mother's house -she who has taught me.I would give you
spiced wine to drink,
the nectar of my pomegranates.
3 His left arm is under my head
and his right arm embraces me.

4 Daughters of Jerusalem,
I charge you: Do not arouse or awaken love
until it so desires.

5 Who is this coming up from the desert
leaning on her lover?
Under the apple tree I roused you;
there your mother conceived you,
there she who was in labour gave you birth.
6 Place me like a seal over your heart,
like a seal on your arm;
for love is as strong as death,
its jealousy unyielding as the grave.
It burns like blazing fire,
like a mighty flame. New International Version (NIB)

Dave Harman wrote (December 24, 2002):
Jane Newble wrote:
< Listening to the six versions I have, Richter (LP with Edith Mathis) [16], Rilling [20], Gönnenwein [13], Werner [14], Leusink [38] and Koopman [32], >
When did Koopman record BWV 140 ? It's not in any of the 12 volumes from Erato.

Also, the "cantus firmus" in the opening chorus is from early Gregorian Chant.

Thomas Braatz wrote (December 25, 2002):
Dick Wursten’s erudite discussion of the Biblical references and the theological background leading into the text of Philipp Nicolai’s hymn, “Wachet auf” I found to be very helpful in obtaining a better understanding of the text of this hymn and the extensions in the cantata text as well.

To this I would like to begin an additional thread based upon an insight that derives more directly from the literary/poetical secular song tradition which has strongly influenced the ideas and the musical form that Nicolai uses.

When considering the chorale texts and melodies from the 1st century or so after the Reformation, it is always important to remember that, despite the fact that Luther created texts/translations of church music that was already centuries old, there was also another important phenomenon that Luther and others who followed him utilized in the creation of new church hymns: the contrafact [Kontrafaktur] which involved taking a popular, secular song and converting/transforming it by supplying an entirely new text. The congregations at that time must certainly have been aware that they were singing a ‘pop’ tune with new words. Often there would be little or no connection between the original and the newly created sacred text; however in the case of Nicolai’s two very famous chorales [“Wie schön leucht’ der Morgenstern” and “Wachet auf”], the texts are much closer to their secular counterparts which supplied the text models upon which Nicolai constructed his texts.

With his two famous chorales, Nicolai has tapped into a traditional song-type known as the “Tagelied” [“Day(break) Song”] or “Wächterlied” [“Watchman Song”] also known as “Albe” or “Aube” in the French tradition. The MGG calls this one of the oldest, secular song types that have arisen on the European continent. This category of song might go back at least to the 12th century, but in one case, a part-Latin, part-Provençal song, its origin is clouded and impossible to define. Here is the text of this earliest of these Tagelieder:

Phebi claro nondum orto jubare,
Fert Aurora lumen terris tenue;
Spiculator pigris clamat: »Surgite!«
L'alba part umet mar atra sol;
Poy pas' a bigil, mira clar tenebras!

(Wenn der Sonne lichter Glanz noch nicht erschienen ist,
bringt die Morgenröte den Landen einen lichten Schimmer.
Der Wächter ruft den Schläfern zu: »Stehet auf!«
Die Morgenröte lockt jenseits des feuchten Meeres die Sonne herauf;
Über den Hügel blickt sie schielend, sieh, die Finsternis ist aufgehellt).

[When the splendor of the sun’s light has not yet appeared,
Dawn brings to the earth a shimmering light.
The watchmen cries out to the sleepers: “Get up!” [Sleepers, awake!]
Dawn is enticing the sun to appear from beyond the sea;
The sun squints over the hill, and lo! the darkness has made light!]

The New Grove’s describes the “Aube” as a Provençal term for a type of troubadour poem in which lovers part at dawn after having spent the night together. In the few poems of this type that survive not only are the words of one or both lovers heard but also those of a third person, a watchman, who warns the furtive lovers of the coming of day, and with it the danger of being discovered. Perhaps the most salient feature …is the occurrence of the word ‘alba’ (literally ‘white of dawn’) in a prominent position, usually near or at the end of each stanza….There are two poems that are more or less parodies of the normal dawn song and in which the word ‘alba’ occurs in the usual prominent position; but in these, instead of regretting the arrival of dawn, the poet actually looks forward to it because the has had to spend the night alone rather than with his beloved.

Here are some excerpts from a poem (possibly sung?) by one of the greatest German medieval poets, Wolfram von Eschenbach (13th century?) in the form of a dialogue between the watchman and a woman who has spent the night with a knight (sorry about this, I simply could not resist.) Since this is in Mittelhochdeutsch I will simply paraphrase and emphasize certain ideas:

Dawn is about to break and gray light is already appearing. I left a man in your company last night, but now I am going to get him out of there if I can.

What you are singing there does not make me happy at all. I don’t like the angry tone of your voice. I would be grateful to you, if you would allow my companion to stay on with me.

No way! He must hurry quickly, otherwise he will lose his honor. You must let him go and your love may then continue secretly. It was last night that you stole him from me with your kisses and embraces.

Ok, sing whatever you want, but let him stay here with me. The sound of your call has often startled us early in the morning even before the morning star [der Morgenstern – Nicolai’s other famous hymn] had risen.You have taken him from my arms, but not my heart.

Now, while the watchman was singing his warning, and with her final kisses, she became worried thatshe might lose him, while he, as a knight followed the voice of the watchman into the battles of the new day.

Here is a song text (in 3 parts from the Glogauer Liederbuch c. 1480) by an ‘unknown master’:

Ich sah einmal den lichten Morgensterne
Bei meinem Buhlen so wär ich allzeit gerne.
Es kann und mag doch leider nicht gesein.

[Once I saw the bright morning star
I would like to stay with my lover forever.
However this will unfortunately never come to pass.]

Here the reflection is a memory that implies a parting had to take place. The reference to “Morgenstern” relates more to the other important hymn by Nicolai.

An example of a secular composition (4-pt.) that comes quite close to “Wachet auf” is a Tagelied by Heinrich Finck (1445-1527):

Wach auf, wach auf mein höchster Hort,
des Wächters Wort dort hör’ ich an der Zinnen.
Der Tag erleucht am Firmament,
die Nacht sich wend’t, ich muß von hinnen.
Ach weh der Stund all Freud und Wonn’,
die ich begehrt,
ist mir verkehrt in Scheidens Pein,
kein solchen Schmerz
mein junges Herz noch nie gewann,
dann Scheiden von der Liebsten mein.

[Wake up, wake up! my dearest treasure,
I can hear the words of the watchman on the ramparts.
Daylight is beginning to light up the heavens,
Night is leaving and I must leave as well.
O woe to this hour in which all the joys
that I have ever desired are being transformed in the pain of parting,
my young heart has never experienced such pain
as that caused by parting from my dearest.]

And by Johann Walther (1496-1570):

Wohlauf, wohlauf! Mit lauter Stimm tut uns der Wächter singen:
Wer noch in tiefem Schlafe liegt, der mach sich bald von hinnen.
Ich seh’ daher die Morgenröt’ wohl durch die Wolken dringen.

[Get up, get up! With a loud voice the watchman sings to us:
Whoever is still in a deep sleep, he had better get going soon (so that he won’t be discovered.)
I can already see dawn penetrating through the clouds.]

And now for the Nicolai melody of “Wachet auf” itself. I can find no reliable reference to Dave Harman’s contention that it derives from early Gregorian chant. Where is the proof for this?

At most some musicologists see a vague connection to Hans Sachs, possibly his “Silberweise” [“Silver tune”], but there is nothing definitive here either.

None of the Tagelieder that I quoted above have the same melody as “Wachet auf.” This leaves us with the original printing of this chorale in a collection of songs entitled:

Frewden Spiegel deß ewigen Lebens (1599) [„The Mirror of Joys of Eternal Life“]

At the top of the page is the number “412” indicating the song/hymn number, under which appear the words:

Ein anders von der Stimm zu Mitternacht und von den klugen Jungfrauwen die jhrem himmlischen Bräutigam begegnen Matth. 25.

[„Here is another one (song) about the voice (heard) at midnight and about the wise virgins who meet their heavenly bridegroom.“]

The chorale text which appears here for the first time owes much to the tradition of the Tageslied, despite the fact that the secular element has now been removed and replaced with a sacred text based on a parable from the New Testament.

Here are some lines from the libretto of BWV 140 which may have been influenced by the Tageslied tradition:

Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme
Wake up, the voice calls us
Der Wächter sehr hoch auf der Zinne,
of the watchmen high up on the battlements,
Sie rufen uns mit hellem Munde:
they call us with a clear voice:
Wohl auf;
Get up;
Steht auf
Stand up!
Macht euch bereit
Make yourselves ready

2. Recitative Tenor
Er kommt, er kommt, [Think of ‘er’ as the watchman whose voice penetrates into the private sphere of the woman’s house.]
He comes, he comes,
kommt heraus,
come out,
aus der Höhe
from on high
In euer Mutter Haus.
to your mother's house.
Wacht auf, ermuntert euch!
Wake up, rouse yourselves
Dort, sehet, kommt er hergegangen.
There, see, he comes this way.

4. Chorale Tenor
Violino I/II e Viola all' unisono, Continuo
hört die Wächter singen,
hears the watchmen sing,
Sie wachet und steht eilend auf.
she awakes and gets up in haste.
Ihr Licht wird hell, ihr Stern geht auf.
Her light becomes bright, her star rises.

6. Aria (Duet) Soprano (Soul) Bass (Jesus)
Oboe solo, Continuo
[Consider this dialogue as taking place between the lovers before the watchman cries out that the day has begun.]
Mein Freund ist mein,
My friend is mine,
Und ich bin dein,
and I am yours
Die Liebe soll nichts scheiden.
Nothing shall divide our love.
Ich will mit dir in Himmels Rosen weiden,
I want to graze on heaven's roses with you.
du sollst mit mir in Himmels Rosen weiden,
You will graze on heaven's roses with me
Da Freude die Fülle, da Wonne wird sein.
There will be fullness of joy, there will be delight.

Dick Wursten wrote (December 25, 2002):
Dave Harman wrote:
< Also, the "cantus firmus" in the opening chorus is from early Gregorian Chant. >

I thought it was the melody of Wachet auf, created by Nicolai himself in the tradition of the 'Meistersinger' (Silberweise Hans Sachs) just as Luther is said to have done with some of his choral-hymns: melody and text born together.

Dick Wursten wrote (December 25, 2002):
Philipp Nicolai (1556-1608) was a fervent defender of the Lutheran doctrine, esp. against the calvinists. His favourite subject ('stokpaardje'... ride one's hobby- horse) was defending the omnipresence of Christ soul AND body after his resurrection and ascension to heaven against calvinist attacks...

In 1596 he was called to the town of Unna where the Lutherans had defeated the calvinists (which were supported by Dutch réfugé's) and now needed a strong personality as their preacher and pastor. He went there and made himself heard and known as he was expected to be. His self-assurance though was mitigated by an epidemic outbreak of the pest in 1597. Suddenly he had no time, nor energy for theological discussions, the practice of a pastor counseling and leading his flock over and against the sudden omnipresent threat of death was the only thing he had to occupy himself with. He lived alone in the vicarage, which bordered the church-yard. The epidemia lasted till spring 1598. Afterwards he wrote about it: "I practically lived on the church-yard, where every day 24, 27,29,30 bodies were buried. I use perfume (incense.. I don't know the neutral word) to avert the stench and to keep off the bad air.." Then he continues - surprise - : My perfume (incense) consists mainly of prayers to God. It is by his grace I don't feel fear and when all people talk about death, the only thing I can say to myself is: I live in Christ, I die in Christ; whether I live or die, I am his. May his mercy be my shelter".

It is in those days that the orthodox vicar of Unna became a poet and his prayers and meditations on life and death, on the unbreakable bond between Christ and his Soul flew into two hymns: Wachet Auf ruft uns die Stimme and Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern. He published them in 1599 in Freudenspiegel des ewigen Lebens.

I don't know this book personally, but I read about it that this book is meant to comfort the people and that it is mainly inspired by the apocalyptic visions of John. The communion between Christ and his church even in times of tribulation is the hermenutical key he uses. Also remarkable is that many times he refers to the authorities from the era that the church was not divided: the bright Middle-Ages. Augustine, Bernard of Clairvaux, Hugo of St. Victor. The very strong orthodox vicar not only had become a poet, but also oecumenical.

BTW he got married soon after and ended his 'career' in Hamburg, Katharinenkirche. They called him there: Chrysostomus redivivus.

sources: Ignace de Sutter / J.W.Schulte Nordholt

PS: I think I wrote about him before, but I don't remember the occasion. In case this posting makes a doublette, I apologize.

Paul Farseth wrote (December 25, 2002):
If you would like to try a sprightly singable translation of BWV 140, Bach's "Wachet auf ruft uns die Stimme" ("Wake, awake"), Aryeh was kind enough to post one that I did at:

This is, I think pretty faithful to sense of the original German, and closer to the literal German and its images than many performance translations. The first line may be startling, but it is probably how we would say things today in modern (as opposed to antique-store) English. I am happiest with my translation of the chorale stanzas. The translation of interpolated texts seems to be servicable and generally to work. Where possible, I have tried to follow German placement of words and images in the metrical lines.

I include also the German and a literal translation.

Matthew Neugebauer wrote (December 25, 2002):
[To Paul Farseth] Hope you don't mind if I try out my own metrical translation!

ps. I think there may be a few literary loose ends-tone, assonance, etc-but a great idea and a good effort!

Thomas Braatz wrote (December 25, 2002):
BWV 140 - Wachet auf (Dance mvts.)

Based upon Little & Jenne’s „Dance and the Music of J. S. Bach” (Expanded Edition – 2001), there are two dance-like mvts. in this cantata and both of these mvts. exhibit the characteristics of the Bourée which are:

1. Duple meter with 1-pulse upbeat
2. Joyful affect
3. Moderately fast tempo
4. Balanced 4 + 4 phrases, or multiples thereof, with extensions
5. Characteristic rhythmic patterns (defined elsewhere in the book)
6. Simple harmonies

“In most cases the beat [as found in many cantata arias and duets] is the quarter note, not the half note as in the titled bourées [the latter found only in Bach's works for keyboard or for small instrumental ensembles.] Several of these pieces begin in the middle of the measure[, but otherwise all the above characteristics apply.]”

“[In vocal music] the bourée lent itself to virtuosity because of its moderately fast tempo and affect of joy….

Mvt. 6 Duet
Other cantatas …[contain] clear bourée patterns…which require virtuoso soloists for their rendition. The superb duet for soprano and bass with obligato oboe, “Mein Freund ist mein” BWV 140, 6 celebrates the love between Christ and the soul, using the quarter note as the beat (ms. 9-12). The oboe part of this duet is particularly reminiscent of the bourée from the E-major French Suite, BWV 817.” What follows is an interesting reference to BWV 248, 62, an aria for 2 oboes d’amore and tenor, “Nun mögt ihr stolzen Feinde schrecken.” where the authors comment that this mvt. “has playfulness in the music reflecting a text that warns our foes that since our Savior is with us, we fear nothing.”

The real surprise comes with the other bourée-like mvt. which is none other than the very famous 4th mvt. which appears in so many transformations. This is the cantata mvt. that most people think of, or the one with which they might first have had any contact before hearing the rest of the cantata:

Mvt. 4 Chorale for tenor “Zion hört die Wächter singen
„One again, Bach amazes us in the cantata aria, „Zion hört die Wächter singen” BWV 140, 4 setting a bourée rhythm in the counter-melody to the chorale. The obbligato in the strings begins at a different time than the chorale, clarifying both lines.” “The same technique forms the basis of the final mvt. in the Christmas Oratorio, “Nun seid ihr wohl gerochenBWV 248, 64. The full orchestra, including 3 trumpets and organ, performs clear bourée phrases throughout the piece, while the chorus enters periodically with the chorale sections.”

In attempting to define the speed/tempo of the bourée, the authors are forced to rely upon conflicting statements by sources from the period. From one of these sources it becomes clear that there was a distinction between the slower ‘noble’ court dance known as the ‘bourée’ and the later, newer (possibly non-aristocratic or non-French dances of the 1720s and 1730s.) The authors state: “Some performers play the bourée extremely fast, but too fast a tempo will render the articulations of beats and pulses imperceptible, depriving the dance of its unique rhythmic qualities. A tempo of (half note) = MM 80-88 is not too slow for many bourées.

“Although the bourée was popular in early 18th-century French ballets and other theatrical works, it appears less often in French solo and chamber music. German composers of suites and symphonic music favored it more than did their French counterparts, and J. S. Bach wrote many of them.”

Again it becomes clear that ‘dance’ or ‘dance-like’ does not necessarily mean fast. There are many other elements that contribute to the unique ‘flavor’ of each dance type. These must be discovered and appropriately delineated by the performer before applying fast tempi as a cure-all which then actually serves just the opposite purpose: to obscure, to obfuscate the composer’s intentions.

Jane Newble wrote (December 25, 2002):
Dave Harman wrote:
< When did Koopman record BWV 140 ? It's not in any of the 12 volumes from Erato. >
It was in 1997 on TV I think - I have got it on video [32]. The details are on the page of complete recordings of BWV 140.

Marie Jensen wrote (December 25, 2002):
Jane Newble wrote:
<..............In Werner's performance [14] I like everything. The duets are especially beautiful, with Jakob Stämpfli putting lots of expression in his voice, and the soprano without too much vibrato. The mood in the Werner performance is solemn and joyful at the same time, which makes sense, when we know the background of this absolutely wonderful cantata, based on words and music written by Philipp Nicolai............... >
In June 2000 I bought the Werner set, and even wrote to the list about it, disappointed in many ways. But recently when I listened to his BWV 140 [14] again, I really liked it. So I have to say: Jane; I agree with you.

Merry Christmas to all of you

Er kommt, er kommt,
Der Bräutgam kommt!
(BWV 140)

Aryeh Oron wrote (December 25, 2002):
Dave Harman wrote:
< When did Koopman record BWV 140 ? It's not in any of the 12 volumes from Erato. >
Cantata BWV 140 was included in a series of 6 programmes dedicated to Bach Cantatas and performed by Koopman and his forces [32]. The series was produced by the Dutch TV and from time to time it is broadcast by Mezzo and other TV channels.

The details of all 6 programmes and review of them can be found at the following page of the Bach Cantatas Website:

Since Cantata BWV 140 is relatively late (1731), it was net yet appeared in Koopman's cantata cycle (first 12 volumes on Erato and from volume 13 on the new label 'Antoine Marchand'). Most probably it will be a different recording from the one on the TV programme.

Dave Harman wrote (December 26, 2002):
[To Dick Wursten] Luther would have been very familiar with Gregorian Chant and for some time composers had been turning to chant as inspiration for and accompliament with polyphony. To get a better sense of the Gregorian chant origional, sng the cantus firmus of the opening chorus at double speed.

BTW, the Christmas hymn "Adeste Fidelis" is an origional Gregorian Chant melody.

Thomas Braatz wrote (December 26, 2002):
BWV 140 - Provenance:

See: Cantata BWV 140 - Provenance

Dick Wursten wrote (December 26, 2002):
Mvt. 4: Zion hört die Wächter singen..

In the pianoscore of this cantata is suggested 'allegretto' and pitch: quarter=80. Leusink [38] is playing it a little slower (around 70). If I compare this with the suggestion of Little & Jenne's that Mvt. 4 hasmain characteristics of a bourree this suggestion sounds very plausible .


characteristics from Little & Jenne’s provided by Thomas Braatz:
1. Duple meter with 1-pulse upbeat
2. Joyful affect
3. Moderately fast tempo
4. Balanced 4 + 4 phrases, or multiples thereof, with extensions
5. Characteristic rhythmic patterns (defined elsewhere in the book) ???
6. Simple harmonies

... too fast a tempo will render the articulations of beats and pulses imperceptible, depriving the dance of its unique rhythmic qualities. A tempo of (half note) = MM 80-88 is not too slow for many bourées.

[I assume Bach wrote quarter-notes in stead of half notes].


This chorale-setting tot the text 'Zion hört die Wächter singen' many people know as the trio for organ from the so called Schübler Chorale (Schübler was the printer) with the title: Wachet auf ruft uns die Stimme...

A remarkable aspect of this double publication by Bach himself is, that he clearly has conceived this music for the SECOND verse of the hymn of Nicolai. Just grasp the general mood of the text: watchmen are singing, your heart is leaping with joy, because beloved friend is coming, you are invited tot a festive meal... that must be heaven !
But: when I studied the piece for organ my teacher tried to convince me that I had to interprete it as if it was an composition of Bach, in which the mood and message of the FIRST verse was expressed. So I tried hard to make the accompanying counter-melody sound like an alarm ('a call to wake up') and pulled the corresponding organ stops for the melody: trumpetlike. Many performances of this piece I heard obviously tried to create the same effect.

The first time I realized that this piece was a recyled cantata-composition made with the words of verse 2 in mind were a revelation and a relief for me: Now everything falls automatically in the right place. The struggle with the Organ Choral has ended.. It 's a different piece... The awakening is already behind you. You have - while playing the organ - to hear the Strings, and then sitting on the organ bench you can enjoy the intricate rhytmic pattern of the countermelod and in doing so this music should transport you to the noble court of heaven. And - as Gerardus van der Leeuw already knew – in Heaven, there is a dance..


Continue on Part 3

Cantata BWV 140: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7

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Last update: ýDecember 29, 2012 ý15:37:15