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Cantata BWV 70
Wachet! betet! betet! wachet!
Cantata BWV 70a
Wachet! betet! betet! wachet!
Discussions - Part 2

Continue from Part 1

Discussions in the Week of December 18, 2005 (2nd round)

John Pike wrote (December 18, 2005):
BWV 70 - Inroduction to the Weekly Discussion

Thanks to Thomas Braatz for introducing the weekly cantata over the past 10 weeks. I will do my best to introduce the weekly cantata over the next 10 weeks.

As we proceed with our chronological survey of Bach's cantatas, in order of composition, the cantata for discussion this week (beginning 18th December) is BWV 70 "Wachet! betet! betet! wachet!", a 2 part cantata. The notes below are taken from sleeve notes, partly from Suzuki's recording [12] (by Klaus Hoffmann and Masaaki Suzuki, 2000) and partly from Harnoncourt's recording [8] (Ludwig Finscher, 1977).


Event in the Lutheran church calendar: Cantata for the 26th Sunday after Trinity.
Readings: Epistle: 2 Peter 3: 3-13; Gospel: Matthew 25: 31-46

Composed: This was originally based on a Weimar cantata (BWV 70a) from 1716, but all of this has been lost except for 3 string parts. The 1st, 3rd, 5th, 8th and 10th movements (in the Leipzig version) would seem to have been incorporated virtually unchanged from ! the earlier work. The violin and viola parts from the Weimar period were reused without alteration.

The continuo part was rewritten in 1723, and 2 parts were created on that occasion for the 3rd movement. One was a lively obbligato part for the organ and the other was a continuo part with a simpler rhythm, probably intended for violone and bassoon.

Since all the scores of BWV 70a have been lost, we have no information as to how the work was performed in Weimar. Considering the frequent intervallic leaps and the pitch range employed, however, it seems highly unlikely that this melodic line would have been performed by the organ alone. if the organ had been played, it would have been used solely as a continuo instrument and would most likely have been doubled by the cello.

1st performance: 21st November, 1723.
On the occasion of the second performance of the work in 1731, the obbligato part for the 3rd movement was amended and given the indication "violoncello obbligato", indicating that it was performed on that occasion by the cello.

Text: Anon (2,4,6,7,9); Salomo Franck, 1716 (1,3,5,8,10); Christian Keymann, 1658 (11).
The text (by Weimar poet Salomo Franck) for the original Weimar cantata was considerably extended in Leipzig but the introductory chorale, all four solo arias and the concluding chorale were all retained and Bach had only to write 4 new recitatives and a further chorale setting to end the first part of the cantata (which was performed before the sermon).

This cantata was originally intended for the second sunday in advent, but in Leipzig this Sunday formed part of the quiet period or "Tempus Clausum", between the 2nd and 4th Sundays in advent, when no cantatas were performed. and Bach reworked it for a proximate Sunday, and here, the 26th Sunday after Trinity served very well since! the gospel is thematically linked to to the gospel for the second sunday in Advent. Both gospels speak of Christ's second coming; the reading for the second sunday in advent (Luke 21, 25-36) admonishes us to "watch and pray" while the reading for the 26th Sunday after Trinity opens our eyes to the universal judgement.

The writer's task in adding items to the text was to adapt the cantata to its new liturgical context, in particular by including the theme of the last judgement.

Chorales used in this cantata

Bach used two different chorales in this cantata.

Mvt. 7: Verse 10 of the CT 'Freu dich sehr, o meine Seele' by Christoph Demantius (1620) set to the CM 'Freu dich sehr, o meine Seele' by Louis Bourgeois chorale/Psalm melody for the Geneva Psalm 42 "Ainsi que la biche rée" (1550), based secular song "Ne l'oseray je dire" (c1510). See:

Mvt. 11: Verse 5 of the CT 'Meinen Jesum laß' ich nicht' by Christian Keymann (1658) set to the its associated melody by Andreas Hammerschmidt (1658). See:

Useful information

Link to texts, translations, details of scoring, references, provenance, commentary, vocal score, music examples, and list of known recordings:

Link to previous discussions:

Link to details of BWV 70a:

Streamed over the internet, it is possible to hear Harnoncourt's [8] (currently unavailable) and Leusink's version of the whole cantata [11]. You will need Real Player and a fast internet connection to hear Leusink:

I look forward to reading your comments about this cantata and the available recordings.

Richard wrote (December 19, 2005):
I know practically all the recordings of this cantata which have been made for 50 years. The worse for me is Harnoncourt's [8] with poor singing and a horrible trumpet... I like very much Kurt Thomas' 1956 record (Oiseau-Lyre LD 164) [1], never re-issued on CD. There is a good recording by Rilling [6], but a little too quiet.

John Pike wrote (December 23, 2005):
BWV 70: "Wachet! betet! betet! wachet!"

John Pike wrote:
< As we proceed with our chronological survey of Bach's cantatas, in order of composition, the cantata for discussion this week (beginning 18th December) is BWV 70 "Wachet! betet! betet! wachet!", a 2 part cantata. >
I think parts of this cantata are absolutely wonderful, notably the opening chorus and the tenor aria at the beginning of part 2.

I have listened to Suzuki [12], Leusink [11], Rilling [6] and Harnoncourt [8]. I enjoyed them all, but I did have some reservations about the brass playing in the opening movement of Harnoncourt's recording. Leusink [11] gives a very nice account of this cantata.

Now back to the radio 3 Bachfest!

Neil Halliday wrote (December 23, 2005):
BWV 70

Most conductors take around 4 minutes for the splendid, martial opening chorus; Werner sounds too relaxed at 4.40 [5], otherwise this is a fine performance, with some pleasing stereo separation of the right and left hand sides of his choir.

Notice the only hint of the horrific turmoil to come occurs with descending notes in the sopranos at the words "...this world an end makes".

In the 1st bass recitative, the modulation to a D flat chord on the word "eternity" (in "it hastens .to eternal heart's sorrow") is remarkable, in the midst of the general tumult.

The alto aria in Richter's performance [9] is enhanced by a tasteful organ improvisation, and holds my attention despite it being the slowest of the recordings (but such things depend on personal perceptions - I perceive the organ to be a disaster in the opening movement).

The soprano and tenor arias are tuneful affairs, with the later being the only movement that sets a mood of cheerful, even joyful, confidence. I believe there are accurate analyses of the various recordings at the BCW.

Back to the destruction of the world in the 2nd bass recitative; notice the trumpet serenely gives out a chorale tune, in sections (melody "It is certainly at the time", according the score at the BCW), over the general tumult.

The tumult appears finally once more in the centre of the following bass aria; I notice Nimsgern manages to make himself heard in the entirety of the astonishing coloratura on "ruin" (Truemmern"), although I cannot say the actual pitch of the notes in this run is clearly conveyed by any of the bass vocalists (in Werner [5], Richter [9], Rilling [6], and Suzuki [12]) - but this is probably a tall order for a recording.

The independent, rich scoring for strings in the final chorale is noteworthy; occasionally Maurice Andre's trumpet can be heard backing the entire ensemble, in Werner's recording [5].

Back to the BBC's Bach marathon; just now JEG has introduced some of his yet to be released cantata recordings.

Peter Smaill wrote (December 23, 2005):
BWV 70, "Wachet! Betet", which closes the very long Trinity (26th Sunday) of 1723, offers several fine recordings (nine at least but avoid Harnoncourt [8]) of which Erato/Rilling [6] excels for that period in my view. We still await Gardiner! It will be interesting to hear what he makes of the wonderful antiphonal exchanges of the incipit and "seid bereit!" in the opening chorus.

"This is one of Bach's greatest choruses" (Robertson).

The Princeton celebration last month for the late Arthur Mendel, co-author of the "Bach Reader" and Professor of Music concluded with this Cantata in magnificent style - the vast Chapel suited to the large choral forces but one senses that the throwing about of the vigorous opening themes works even better in HIP and in a more confined space.

After thirty years of returning to this Cantata, some new insights have emerged recentlyin my experience. Chafe is interesting on its place in anchoring the Trinity sequence which we have all been studying, the "season characterised by themes that involve antithesis, of which the most prominent are God's judgement versus His mercy and the qualities of tribulation versus consolation, fear versus hope, and faith versus doubt in the believer's conscience."

BWV 70 acts as a consummation in particular of the tension between judgement and mercy. Given its position at the end of the church year, and the call to preparation for the second coming, it is again a meditation on time - the end of the world, its recreation via the Saviour. ("...until the Lord of Lords makes an end of this world"). The key here is the power with which Bach dramatises in literally operatic style (the borrowing from Handel's "Almira"), the predicament of the person who can be defined as the leading actor in the Cantatas - "Ich", "I". The focus is on the sole Christian's relationship to the economy of salvation.

Chafe also points out the sense of journeying, the soul's pilgrimage from the sin-spots of Sodom and Egypt to the promised Eden.

The final Chorales seal this self-focusing dramatic impulse: "Freu dich, O Mein Seele" (Rejoice greatly, oh my soul) - and "Nicht nach Welt (...Not after this world, not after heaven does my soul desire and long". In both case it is the answered needs of the worshiper, and not the objects of glory pertaining to the Trinity, which are uppermost. In this context it seems potentially significant that the chorale tune "Meinen Jesu lass ich nicht," the Hammerschmidt setting associated with "Nicht nach Welt", formed the conclusion to part 1 of the SMP in Altnickol's score of 1729.

This Chorale must thus have meant a great deal to Bach as evidenced by the many other settings noted in the CM link to this website. The text by the fine poet Christian Keimann perhaps became known to Bach only on arrival in Leipzig in his momentous first year as it appears to be his first use of it.


Continue on Part 3

Cantata BWV 70: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements from
Cantata BWV 70a: Details
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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