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Cantata BWV 70
Wachet! betet! betet! wachet!
Cantata BWV 70a
Wachet! betet! betet! wachet!

Nicholas Anderson | Alfred Dürr | Eric Chafe | Thomas Braatz


Aryeh Oron wrote (November 25, 2002):
BWV 70 - Background [Nicholas Anderson]

The background below, quoted from the liner notes to the CD reissue of Erato recording by Erato, was written by Nicholas Anderson:

"Wachet! Betet! Betet! Wachet!" (BWV 70) is a parody of a Weimar cantata intended for the Second Sunday in Advent. For performance in Leipzig on the 26th Sunday after Trinity, 1723, Bach added four recitatives and an additional chorale (which concludes Part One of the Leipzig version). Since the Gospel reading for each of these Sundays concerns the Last Judgement and the coming of Christ, Bach was able to retain the original text by the Weimar poet, Salomo Franck, with complete propriety.

The opening "da capo" chorus is immediately arresting for its trumpet calls, heralding the Last Judgement, and for the declamatory character of the vocal writing. This is more subtle than may at first appear, for Bach skilfully, and to great effect, highlights the contrasting images implied by "Wachet" (Watch), on the one hand and "Betet" (Pray), on the other. The oboe, strings and trumpet of this resonant opening movement are retained for the accompanied bass recitative, in arioso style. It pronounces fearfully on the fate of hardened sinners but gives way to more restrained and contemplative emotions which prevail throughout the remainder of Part One of the work. This consists of an alto aria with cello obbligato and continuo, two short unaccompanied tenor recitatives, a soprano aria with strings, and a verse from the hymn, "Freu dich sehr, o meine Seele" (1620) with instruments doubling the four-part vocal texture.

Part Two of the Cantata begins with a tenor aria accompanied by oboe and strings. This wonderfully lyrical piece, with its expansive, cantabile melody and expressive octave intervals, first heard in the second bar of the ritornello, must rank among Bach's finest achievements in aria form. But its meditative spirit is shattered by the uncompromising seventh-chord intrusion of the following accompanied bass recitative, impetuously recalling the horrors of the Day of Judgement. This vividly pictorial section is lent further colour by the trumpet which intones the melody of the hymn, "Es ist gewißlich an der Zeit". The last aria is for bass. The structure is unusual since it not only dispenses with a ritornello but is also cast in three parts without "da capo". In the opening and closing "adagio" sections, which provide the framework, the text anticipates Heavenly joy. Here the voice is accompanied by continuo alone. The contrast between these and the centrally placed "Presto" is both stark and startling as Bach, for the last time, depicts the apocalypse with trumpet calls, agitated string passages and declamatory vocal writing. The Cantata ends with a verse from Christian Keymann's hymn, "Meinem Jesum laß ich nicht" (1658), in which the voices are accompanied by the full instrumental complement, with trumpet and oboe augmenting the chorale melody.

Thomas Braatz wrote (December 1, 2002):
BWV 70 - Commentaries:


In the 1st mvt. (Weimar, 1716) Bach is experimenting on a grand scale with the compositional technique called “Choreinbau’ [the choral parts are superimposed upon the repeated, extended sections of the orchestral ritornelli.] This creates a strong tension between the alternating sections for orchestra alone and the sections that include the voices. The structure of the mvt. is a modified, shortened da capo form that resembles the aria form. This is due to a madrigal-like text as opposed to other introductory choral mvts. based on a line or two of biblical text where a motet form is preferred.

Dürr sees the structure of the mvt. as follows:

Bipartite Introductory Sinfonia: parts ‘a’ and ‘b’


A – Main Section (= “Wachet! betet!....”):
Sinfonia ‘a’ + Choir
Imitative Choral Subsection (with instrumental accompaniment)
Sinfonia ‘a’ ‘b’ + Choir

B – Middle Section (“Seid bereit…”):
Bipartite Imitative-Chordstructured Choral Subsection (with instruments in either a pausing or accompanying mode)

A’ – Main Section (shortened) (“Wachet! betet!....”):
Sinfonia ‘a’ ‘b’ + Choir

The sound of the orchestral accompaniment is characterized by the use of a trumpet along with oboe, strings and bc. The opening motifs of the trumpet influence the very lively figures played by the other instruments as well as those sung by the choir. In addition to these figures, the choir (in its Choreinbau passages) has short calls of “wachet” and long, held chords on “betet,” thus illustrating and giving life to Franck’s text and allowing the listener to experience it with great plasticity and a very exciting directness.

Using an accompagnato recitative style involving all the instruments, Bach, in mvt. 2, paints a sequential tableau emphasizing the terror felt by sinners, the peace and calm of the chosen ones as well as their joy (lively coloraturas), the destruction of the cosmos, and finally the hesitation of those called before Christ’s presence, a hesitation which receives a message of comfort in the words of the recitative.

Mvt. 3 is basically a ‘Continuosatz’ – a mvt. that consists simply of a vocal solo and the bc; however, here the bass line is split into a calm, supporting bc and an additional bass line that loosens up the former with musical figures. The latter was played by the organ (and violoncello) for the 1723 performance, but was later scored only for a violoncello for the 1731 performance, while the supporting bc was expanded to include the organ, a bassoon and violone. By means of the numerous repetitions in the instrumental part, ostinato-like effects are achieved. The vocal part takes over the main instrumental motif takes on a similar motion to that of the obbligato instrumental part. Only certain words like “fliehen” and “Feuer” are emphasized by an even more lively treatment.

A secco recitative (mvt. 4) becomes the bridge leading into the 2nd aria, in which the violins and violas join together to become the obbligato part, albeit with continually changing dynamics as well as pauses. There is probably no other work by Bach that has a comparable effect. Once again, both the ritornello and the vocal part have the same thematic material, however the orchestral accompaniment surpasses that of the voice through the fast scale-passages executed by the 1st violin. A short secco recitative leads into the plain 4-pt. chorale that concludes the 1st part of the cantata.

The 2nd part of the cantata begins with mvt. 8 where the strings, which had played in unison in mvt. 5, now receive separate parts with, however, predominance of the 1st violin supported by the oboe, while the other strings have a subordinate, accompaniment role, which makes this sound like an instrumental trio sonata. The opening part of the ritornello which is also taken over by the voice, is reminiscent of a melody contained in “O Gott, du frommer Gott” (Darmstadt, 1698.) This same motif with its upward movement also illustrates the request, “Hebt euer Haupt empor” (Luke 21, 28.) It is questionable if Bach was referring specifically to this chorale, but it is more likely that he was thinking of another chorale text that uses the same chorale melody: “Was frag ich nach der Welt.”

The last aria with its preceding recitative bring about an unexpected intensification of the dramatic element: both aspects of the Day of Last Judgment, terror and joy are directly juxtaposed while all the instruments in the orchestra are asked to play along with the musical material contained in the bc, thus the orchestration of the 4 arias in this cantata undergoes a steady increase as it moves toward the end of the cantata.

The recitative (mvt. 9) begins with a ‘Furioso’ which is supposed to picture the “unerhörten letzten Schlag” while the trumpet intones the chorale, “Eist gewißlich an der Zeit.” Gradually a calming effect takes place as the voice reaches an arioso climax with a long, drawn-out coloratura on the words, “Wohlan, so ende ich mit Freuden meinen Lauf.

Suddenly, without any preparation by a ritornello and without anything but the bc, the bass voice begins the aria “Seligster Erquickungstag” with an otherworldly, transfigured quality that resemble more an arioso than the stricter form of an aria. Then follows a tremendous contrast with the ‘presto’ middle section, “Schalle, knalle, letzter Schlag,” which, once again depicts the destruction of the heavens and the earth. Another sudden shift offers a quasi repeat of the arioso, this time with the words, “Jesus führet mich zur Stille an den Ort, da Lust die Fülle.”

As this grand panorama subsides, the final 7-pt. chorale brings this cantata to a grand conclusion. It is the 5th vs. of the chorale, “Meinen Jesum laß ich nicht’ by Christian Keymann (1658.) The joy of looking forward to the Day of Final Judgment, a joy which now brings comfort because the listener feels secure in having attained the support of Jesus, has finally brought about a sense of victory.

[Notice that Dürr makes no reference to the type of claim that Simon Crouch picked up from some of the sources that Aryeh quoted:

“The following soprano aria is more upbeat, with an insistent and very catchy violin accompaniment. Apparently this aria was borrowed by Bach from a bass aria in Händel's opera Almira, an early example of Bach absorbing Italianate influences into his music. A recitative and straightforward chorale setting end the first half of the cantata. The second half opens with a fine tenor aria which itself sounds slightly Händelian.”

This 1st opera by Händel is anything but very original. It is derives almost everything from other sources and influences among which can be mentioned: Steffani, Fedeli, Keyser who began the opera, but turned it over to Händel, Mattheson, and many others. Very likely Bach absorbed the Italianate influences directly from the same or similar sources that Händel did. Any question of copying or borrowing misses the mark entirely here.]

Eric Chafe:

For the 26th and last Sunday after Trinity, 1723, Bach reworked a Weimar cantata he had originally written for the 2nd Sunday in Advent, 1716, “Wachet! betet! betet! wachet!” (BWV 70a/BWV 70,) in which the juxtaposition of God’s judgment and His mercy in terms of the sinful and the elect is even more prominent than in BWV 60 and BWV 90. Since the 2nd Sunday in Advent was traditionally occupied with Jesus’ second coming, as judge of the world, it overlapped closely with the end of the Trinity season, rendering Bach’s recasting “Wachet! betet!” for the Sunday before rather than after Advent Sunday a relatively straightforward matter. Bach expanded it from a 1-pt. cantata in 6 mvts. to 2 pts. that comprise 11 mvts. In the Weimar version a chorus and chorale in C frame a series of four arias in a, e, G, and C. For the Leipzig version Bach retained the basic sequence of keys; but in dividing the work between the E minor and G major arias, in adding 3 recitatives and a concluding G major chorale to the 1st part and a 4th recitative to the 2nd part, he created not only a more imposing work with which to end the liturgical year but also one in which the juxtaposition of the damned and the elect dramatizes and intensifies the themes of destruction and restoration, fear and hope, that run throughout the late Trinity season.

Once again, ending and beginning imagery is very prominent, the former associated with fear and the latter with hope. The opening chorus, in C, urges readiness for the coming end of the world – “Wachet! betet! betet! wachet! Seid bereit allezeit, bis der Herr der Herrlichkeit dieser Welt ein Ende machet” (Watch! pray! pray! watch! Be prepared at all times, until the Lord of Lords makes an end of the world) – after which the 1st recitative sets God’s judgment of the „verstöckten Sünder“ against the „Anfang wahrer Freude” that He shows to the “erwählte Gotteskinder.” The 1st aria, in a, then compares the believer’s oppressed state of mind to that of Israel in Egypt, likening the world to Sodom before the destruction and urging the faithful to awaken to the reality of the coming end: “Wenn kömmt der Tag, an dem wir ziehen aus dem Ägypten dieser Welt? Ach! laßt uns bald aus Sodom fliehen, eh uns das Feuer überfällt! Wacht, Seelen, auf von Sicherheit, und glaubt, es ist die letzte Zeit!“ (When will the day come on which we will depart from the Egypt of this world“ Ah! Let us flee at once from Sodom before the fire comes upon us! Awaken, souls, from your security, and believe that it is the end of time!) From this point on the mvt. sequence represents an increasingly positive series of affections that culminate in the chorale ending Pt. 1. The 2nd recitative/aria pair, in E minor, describes the conflict of flesh and spirit that surrounds the believer in the world, anticipating Jesus’ second coming and announcing that His word will continue even after the destruction of the world. Next, the G major recitative envisions God’s protection of the elect and His restoration of them to a “himmlisch Eden.” And, finally, the concluding chorale, “Freu’ dich sehr, o meine Seele,” also in G, voices pure joy in the believer’s anticipation of the after life, its triple meter and very secure tonal design seeming to affirm the certainty of his salvation.

The sequence of mvts. just described represents a progression that begins with images of destruction in the past (the Old Testament narratives of Israel in Egypt and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah), moves through expression of the believer’s conflict in the present (centered on the New Testament text “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak,” cited near the close of the 2nd recitative) and his trust in God’s word, and ends with his anticipating the joy of eternity in the future. The sequence is, of course, indebted to the pattern of traditional hermeneutics, and its character is that of the replacing of fear by hope. After the very positive ending of pt. 1, the G major aria “Hebt euer Haupt empor and seid getrost, ihr Frommen” (Lift your heads up high and be comforted, ye pious,) begins pt. 2 by reaffirming the believer’s hopes for eternal life; the line “ihr sollt in Eden grünen, Gott ewiglich zu dienen” (you shall flourish in Eden, eternally to serve God) refers back to the C major ending of the last recitative in pt. 1: “Indem er sie in seiner hand bewahrt und in ein himmlisch Eden setzet” (while He protects you in His hand and places you in a heavenly Eden.) Eden, then, is a metaphor for the believer’s restoration and reconciliation with God in eternity. Drawing its principal melodic line from the melody of the chorale “Was frag’ ich nach der Welt,” this aria centers its optimistic outlook on eternity. The accompanied recitative and aria that follow, both in C, then return to the theme with which the cantata began, the coming end of the world, treating that theme in terms of the antithesis between the destruction itself and the believer’s hopes for salvation. The recitative, for bass, trumpet, and strings, introduces the eschatological chorale “Es is gewißlich an der Zeit” in the trumpet, while the voice and other instruments take up the contrast between God’s wrath and His mercy. The aria projects the antithesis of destruction and restoration by means of a tripartite design featuring ‘adagio’ outer sections that express the believer’s hopes for salvation and a ‘presto’ representation of destruction in the middle section. And the final chorale, again, C, places the believer’s longing for “Jesus and His light” above that for heaven and earth, proclaiming that Jesus has reconciled the believer to God and freed him from judgment.

In summary, then, “Wachet! betet! betet! wachet!” presents the theme of destruction and restoration in terms of the antithesis of God’s judgment and His mercy, the former associated with the eof the world and the latter with the second coming of Jesus the redeemer, bringing light to the world, freeing the believer from God’s judgment (Egypt, Sodom), and restoring the faithful to the new “Eden.” In pt. 1 Bach represents the believer’s progression from the “Ägypten dieser Welt” to the “himmlisch Eden” with the aid of the tonal motion from a to G, which culminates in the believer’s joyful anticipation of eternal life. In the work as a whole, however, this progression in enclosed within a quasi-symmetrical C major framework centered on the antithesis of destruction and restoration. In “Wachet! betet!” the literal, or descriptive, aspect of the idea of destruction figures much more prominently than in the other cantatas, in which the idea of spiritual destruction is closely associated with tribulation and suffering rather than with apocalyptic visions of the end (as in Cantata 21). Nevertheless, the idea of a progression from the sphere of worldly torment (Egypt) to that of joy (Eden) emerges unmistakably in the Leipzig version of the work.

4-pt. and 7-pt chorales:

[The following text has been only slightly modified to fit the discussion of this cantata.]

The numbers 4 and 7 were associated in certain numerological schemes with the world (4) and heaven or eternity (7), respectively….The major triad was taken in the Lutheran tradition to symbolize the Trinity, the symmetrical ascent—descent figure with which the trumpet begins the 1st mvt. has associations with God in majesty. Identical mottos announced by trumpets occur in BWV 21 and BWV 71. The expansion of this idea to an ascent-descent arpeggio and the rising 5th which follows it, introduce a further thematic association of a similar kind. This related theme appears in other of Bach’s works, often in pronouncedly eschatological contexts. In one of the most eschatologically oriented of all Bach’s works, BWV 70, this theme appears 14 times in the trumpet in conjunction with a vision of God’s coming as judge to make an end of the world. The number 14 might well have symbolized for Bach the idea of the “A” and “O” (Alpha and Omega), Jesus as the beginning and ending of existence, creator and judge. This interpretation derived from the book of Revelations, where the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet served as a metaphor for Jesus’ control over life and death; from there it was carried over into the 1st and 14th letters of the Latin and German alphabets (remember the ‘I’ and ‘J’ were not counted separately!) The number 14 thus took over associations of the number 7 in Revelations [Chafe gives a long argument with illustrations from BWV 21 regarding this.]

My comment:

Chafe failed to mention the most important factor regarding ‘14’ = in Gematria the most significant number as it is the total of the numbers associated with each letter in Bach’s last name: B = 2; A = 1; C = 3; H = 8; hence BACH = 14. Now count the number of times that the tromba plays the initial motif. This is, among other things, Bach’s signature imposed musically upon this opening mvt.!

I had commented earlier on Chafe’s connection between this theme (the trumpet motif) in its various manifestations including the Brandenburg Concerti some of which may already have been composed around the same time (very relatively speaking) as the first (Weimar) version of BWV 70. [Bach received the commission for the Concerti as early as 1718.] Here is a repeat of what I had written earlier:

BWV 52
Eric Chafe, in an extensive footnote, relates a connection that does give credence to one of Marie Jensen's ideas (4). In speaking about the 'emblematic character of the thematic material in BWV 21, Chafe contends that Bach used the, in this case, C major triad ascending stepwise up the chord to the octave and then downward again to represent 'a vision of God in His sphere by drawing on widespread associations of majesty. The use of this symmetrical ascent-descent figure on the word "Alleluja" is followed by a rising fifth. This brings about a further association that is often used by Bach in other works, "often in pronouncedly eschatological contexts."

This is where the footnote, located at the end of the book "Analyzing Bach Cantatas," begins. Before reading this footnote, try to hear in your mind or simply play the very beginning of the 1st mvt. of the 1st Brandenburg Concerto. Listen carefully to the first horn figure. This is a major chord figure with the ascent-descent motif + the upward leap of a fifth. This is the very theme of holiness associated with horns that Marie Jensen pointed out. Eric Chafe places the emphasis on the motif which could be played by other instruments as well. Here is the footnote quoted exactly as it appears:

"Perhaps the best-known occurrence of this theme in Bach's work is as the horn call of the 1st movement of the 1st Brandenburg Concerto, where Bach assigns it a triplet rhythm that stands apart from the quadruple meter of the other parts and the mvt. as a whole. Bach used a version of the 1st mvt. of this concerto as introductory Sinfonia to the final cantata of the Trinity season in 1726, Cantata BWV 52, "Falsche Welt, dir trau ich nicht," for the 23rd Sunday after Trinity. In Cantata BWV 127 ("Herr Jesu Christ, wahr'r Mensch und Gott," for Quinquagesima, 1725) Bach introduces this theme at the beginning of the apocalyptic bass solo "Wenn einstens die Posaunen schallen," a representation of the Last Judgment; there its C major arpeggio juxtaposes to the C minor (with recorders and other "soft" devices, such as pizzicato bass) of the preceding mvt, "Die Seele ruht in Jesu Händen," a representation of the "sleep of death." Other prominent appearances of this theme occur in Cantata BWV 119 for the changing of the Leipzig town council in 1723 (in association with the majesty of Leipzig, interpreted allegorically as Jerusalem) and Cantata BWV 130, for St. Michael's Day, 1724 (as the principal theme of the aria "Der alte Drache brennt vor Neid"); closely related forms of this theme occur in Cantata BWV 147 for the Visitation of Mary, 1723 (as principal theme of the aria "Ich will von Jesu Wunden singen," whose Weimar original text for the 4th Sunday of Advent, 1716 "Laß mich der Rufer Stimme hören," has a character that is comparable to the 1st mvt. of "Wachet! Betet!"). All the latter mvts. are in C. Versions of this theme also appear in the other trumpet key, D, generally with associations of majesty and/or victory: Cantata BWV 172, the aria "Heiligster Dreieinigkeit"; Cantata BWV 214, on the words "Erschallet, Trompeten"; the SJP, in the middle section of the "Es ist vollbracht" on "Der Held aus Juda siegt mit Macht"; Cantata BWV 249, later the Easter Oratorio, at "Wir sind erfreut [daß unser Jesum wieder lebt)." The 1st appearance of this theme that is known to me is in the setting of Psalm 136 from Heinrich Schütz's Psalmen Davids of 1619, where it is associated with God's majesty. It appears also in the Intrada 1st mvt. of Heinrich Biber's string suite, titled "Trombet und musicalischer Tafeldienst" (around 1673-74), where it is played by solo violin in imitation of the trumpet (headed "Tromba luditur in violino solo") above a sustained C major chord on the lower strings."


Parodies in Bach’s Vocal Works

BWV 52 and the Brandenburgs / Brandenburg / The Cantata – Brandenburg Concertos Connection / Parodies

After making the discovery of the 'holiness' theme present in the 1st mvt. of the 1st BB courtesy of Eric Chafe last night, I happened to hear the 2nd Brandenburg on WFMT early this morning. Still half dozing off, I began to recognize the theme that Chafe was talking about in the 1st mvt. of the 1st BB. My first thought was "This is too easy. We're talking about 'walking up and down a major chord with a tag ending.' Certainly this is the most basic element in music and will be ever-present, particularly in Baroque music." My secondthought was "Bach being the recognized master could have chosen any other type of motif to show off his skill, had he wanted to do this. Why this simple, basic motif? Could it also serve as a unifying element in all six of the BB's?"

The answer is yes.

What this could also mean is that Bach could and would have used all the 1st mvts. of the BB's in church. It is very possible then that he may have recycled all of them as introductory sinfonias in the cantatas. We simply do not have all the cantatas that he composed.

This is what I found:

1st BB BWV 1046

This has the motif in its purest form in the opening horn signal of the 1st mvt. Bach is announcing not only the theme of the 1st mvt. of the 1st BB, but also states what will become the unifying element for all 6 BB's! With Bach's skill and ability in embellishing a theme, he will not stick to a simple, repeated device that is always easily recognized. Consider how Bach is able to transform the melodic line of a chorale!

2nd BB BWV 1047

The motif first appears in the bc in mvt. 1 and is repeated there a number of times: ms. 6-7, 26-27, 37-38, 116-117 The trumpet gets the motif without the tag (a leap of a fifth at the end) in ms. 47, 81. You can hear a slightly modified version of the motif in ms. 1, 2.

3rd BB BWV 1048

The violas at the beginning of the 1st mvt. have the pattern but omit the upper octave note in ms. 1, 104. This pattern is repeated by other groupings of strings. This modified motif seems almost like a carry-over of the slightly modified trumpet fanfare in the 2nd BB.

When the 3 violins enter with the motif in ms. 21, Bach marks only these instruments with a 'forte,' thus drawing attention to it. Why would he have to do this, other than for the reason that he wants to mark the motif and not have it get lost in the overall orchestral sound. It appears again at ms. 34, 102.

The 1st violin in ms. 77,78 uses a further modification of the motif as a fugal subject.

The 3rd mvt. uses only the beginning 3-note fragment of the theme.

4th BB BWV 1049

The 2nd recorder immediately begins with the motif at the beginning of the 1st mvt., this time the arpeggiation begins on the 3rd rather than the base of the triad and the tag, instead of having a leap of a 5th, now is a 6th.

5th BB BWV 1050

In mvt. 1 the violins have a modified version of this motif in ms. 1, 19, 219 - 220. The cellos have it in ms. 35, 36. The harpsichord has it in the left hand in ms. 81, 83, 85, 87, 89 with the final interval dropping down rather than jumping up.

6th BB BWV 1051

In the 1st mvt. the violas da braccio I,II in ms. 1 after coming down the embellished chord give the most highly embellished version of the motif in ms. 2, 3, also ms. 47, 48 and 115-117.

The 3rd mvt. contains short fragments of the motif.


Cantata BWV 70 & BWV 70a: Details & Complete Recordings of BWV 70 | Recordings of Individual Movements from BWV 70 | Details of BWV 70a | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Commentaries: Main Page | Cantatas BWV 1-50 | Cantatas BWV 51-100 | Cantatas BWV 101-150 | Cantatas BWV 151-200 | Cantatas BWV 201-224 | Other Vocal Works BWV 225-524 | Sources


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Last update: Friday, September 01, 2017 13:25