Sunday, December 11, 2011

Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme

Below is Bach's Cantata 140, from 1731, the entire cantata in a 28-minute video. Wachet auf ("Sleepers, Wake!") is based on Phillip Nicolai's wonderful Lutheran hymn from around 1598; that hymn was sung today to open St. Thomas' Festal Eucharist for Gaudete Sunday.

From the YouTube page:

Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, BWV 140 (1731)

I. Chorus: Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme (Sleepers awake, the voice is calling us) [0:00]
II. Recitative: Er kommt (He comes) [7:09]
III. Aria (duet): Wann kommst du, mein Heil? (When will you come, my salvation?) [8:07]
IV. Chorale: Zion hört die Wächter singen (Zion hears the watchmen singing) [14:39]
V. Recitative: So geh herein zu mir (So come in with me) [18:38]
VI. Aria (duet): Mein Freund ist mein! (My friend is mine!) [20:15]
VII. Chorale: Gloria sei dir gesungen (May Gloria be sung to you) [26:39]

A church cantata by German composer Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), with the cantata chorale based on the Lutheran hymn "Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme" ("Sleepers awake, the voice is calling") by Philipp Nicolai. The text is based on the Parable of the Ten Virgins in Matthew 25:1-13, the reading of which is scheduled for the 27th Sunday after Trinity in the Lutheran lectionary. This cantata was first performed in Leipzig on November 25, 1731. Bach later transcribed the fourth movement chorale for organ (BWV 645) and published it along with the Schübler Chorales.

English text:

I. (Chorus)

Wake ye maids! hard, strikes the hour,
The watchman calls high on the tower,
Awake, awake, Jerusalem.
Midnight strikes, hear, hear it sounding,
Loud cries the watch, with call resounding:
Where are ye, o wise virgins, where?
Good cheer, the Bridegroom come,
Arise and take your lamps!
Ye maids beware:
The feast prepare,
So go ye forth to meet Him there.

II. Recitative:

He comes.
The Bridegroom comes!
And Zion's daughter shall rejoice,
He hastens to her dwelling claiming
The maiden of his choice.
The Bridegroom comes; as is a roebuck,
Yea, like a lusty mountain roebuck,
Fleet and fair,
His marriage feast he bids you share.
Arise and take your lamps!
In eagerness to greet him;
Come! hasten, sally forth to meet him.

III. Aria (Duet)

[Soul] Come quickly, now come.
[Jesus] Yea quickly I come.
[Soul] We wait thee with lamps all alighted!
The doors open wide,
Come claim me my bride!
[Jesus] The doors open wide,
I claim me my bride.
[Soul] Come quickly!
[Jesus] Forever in rapture united

IV. Chorale

Zion hears the watchmen calling,
The Faithful hark with joy enthralling,
They rise and haste to greet their Lord.
See, He comes, the Lord victorious,
Almighty, noble, true and glorious,
In Heav'n supreme, on earth adored.
Come now, Thou Holy One,
The Lord Jehovah's Son!
We follow all
The joyful call
To join Him in the Banquet Hall!

V. Recitative

So come thou unto me,
My fair and chosen bride,
Thou whom I long to see
Forever by my side.
Within my heart of hearts
Art thou secure by ties that naught can sever,
Where I may cherish thee forever.
Forget, beloved, ev'ry care,
Away with pain and grief and sadness,
For better or for worse to share
Our lives in love and joy and gladness.

VI. Aria (Duet)

[Soul] Thy love is mine,
[Jesus] And I am thine!
[Both] True lovers ne'er are parted.
[Soul] Now I with thee, and thou with me.
[Jesus] In flow'ry field will wander,
[Both] In rapture united forever to be.

VII. Chorale

Gloria sing all our voices,
With Angels all mankind rejoices,
With harp and strings in sweetest tone.
Twelve bright Pearls adorn Thy Portals,
As Angels round Thy glorious Throne.
No ear has ever heard
The joy we know.
Our praises flow,
Eeo, eeo,
To God in dulci jubilo.

Text of the Parable of the Ten Virgins:

Matthew 25:1-13 (WEB)

'Then the Kingdom of Heaven will be like ten virgins, who took their lamps, and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. Those who were foolish, when they took their lamps, took no oil with them, but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. Now while the bridegroom delayed, they all slumbered and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, "Behold! The bridegroom is coming! Come out to meet him!" Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, "Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out." But the wise answered, saying, "What if there isn't enough for us and you? You go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves." While they went away to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins also came, saying, "Lord, Lord, open to us." But he answered, "Most certainly I tell you, I don't know you." Watch therefore, for you don't know the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.'

Here's something about the hymn itself, and about Nicolai, from the website "The Hymns and Carols of Christmas":

From July 1597 to January 1598, a terrible pestilence ravaged the town of Unna, in Westphalia. For weeks, up to 30 funerals were held in the church. The parsonage of the Lutheran pastor overlooked the graveyard. Over 1,300 fell victim to an agonizing death. Son of a Lutheran pastor, Pastor Philipp Nicolai was regarded as an outstanding and influential preacher, who gained his Doctor of Divinity degree from Wittenberg University in 1594.

During this fearful time, Pastor Nicolai’s thoughts turned to death, and then to God in Heaven, and, finally, to the Eternal Fatherland. He wrote, in the preface (dated Aug. 10, 1598) to his Frewden-Spiegel:

"There seemed to me nothing mere sweet, delightful and agreeable, than the contemplation of the noble, sublime doctrine of Eternal Life obtained through the Blood of Christ. This I allowed to dwell in my heart day and night, and searched the Scriptures as to what they revealed on this matter, read also the sweet treatise of the ancient doctor Saint Augustine [De Civitate Dei].... Then day by day I wrote out my meditations, found myself, thank God! wonderfully well, comforted In heart, joyful in spirit, and truly content; gave to my, manuscript the name and title of a Mirror of Joy, and took this so composed Frewden-Spiegel to leave behind me (if God should call me from this world) as the token of my peaceful, joyful, Christian departure, or (if God should spare use in health) to comfort other sufferers wham He should also visit with the pestilence.. . . How has the gracious, holy God most mercifully preserved me amid the dying from the dreadful pestilence, and wonderfully spared me beyond all my thoughts and hopes, so that with the Prophet David I can say to Him "O how great is Thy goodness, which Thou hast laid up for them that fear Thee," &c.

He was especially moved by the death of his fifteen-year-old former pupil, Count Wilhelm Ernst who died at Tubingen, September 16, 1598, in the very midst of this horror. These feelings gave rise to one of Nicolai's most beautiful hymns: "Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme" ("Wake, Awake, For Night Is Flying" and many other translations). Described by John Julian as "one of the first rank" the hymn has a deep scriptural basis. While it comes primarily from the story of the wise and foolish maidens as recorded in Matthew 25: 1-13, it is not limited to that parable, but expands to include:

  • Rev. 19:6-9 and 21:21 - Marriage references in Revelation between the Lamb and the Bride:
    • Rev. 19:6-9 ("And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth. Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints. And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of God.")
    • Rev. 21:21 ("And the twelve gates were twelve pearls; every several gate was of one pearl: and the street of the city was pure gold, as it were transparent glass.")
  • I Corinthians 2:9 ("But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him."). Emphasis added.
  • Ezekiel 3:17 ("Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me."). Emphasis added.
  • Isaiah 3:8 ("For Jerusalem is ruined, and Judah is fallen: because their tongue and their doings are AGAINST THE LORD, to provoke the eyes of his glory.").

According to Julian, it first appeared in the Appendix to his Frewden-Spiegel, 1599, in 3 stanzas of 10 lines, entitled "Of the Voice at Midnight, and the Wise Virgins who meet their Heavenly Bridegroom. Matt. 25.", and was widely reprinted after that.

In structure, it is a reversed acrostic, W. Z. G. for the Graf zu Waldeck, viz. Count Wilhelm Ernst. Probably the opening lines;

"Wachet anf! ruft uns die Stimme
Der Wächter sehr hoch auf der Zinne"

are borrowed from one of the Wachter-Lieder, a form of lyric popular in the Middle Ages, wrote Julian. But while, formerly, the voice of the Watchman from his turret summons the workers of darkness to flee from discovery, with Nicolai it is a summons to the children of light to awaken to their promised reward and full felicity.

The melody is also apparently by Nicolai, though portions of it, according to Julian, may have been suggested by earlier tunes. He continues, "It has been called the King of Chorales, and by its majestic simplicity and dignity it well deserves the title."

The first harmonized version of the tune appeared in the mid-16th century, in the famous Scandinavian collection Piae Cantiones of 1582, subsequently by Praetorius and then Bach. Sir John Stainer's popular 19th century harmonization is the version most familiar to us today.

Displaced while his home underwent reconstruction, J. S. Bach wrote this most famous of his cantatas, #140.

This cantata remains popular with people of all ages, according to Alan C. Collyer. He writes that the fourth movement based on the second verse "Zion hears..." appeals to many young people today with its beautiful, biting counter melody against the chorale sung by the tenors. The first movement appears as an extended chorale with the sopranos singing the melody in long notes with each other part weaving around in glorious counterpoint. The final verse with its magnificent transcendent text, combined with Bach's harmonization in E flat (a bit high for the congregation!) can be called, writes Collyer, a deeply spiritual and religious experience.

No comments:


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...