Johann Sebastian Bach, Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme (Sleepers Awake, BWV 645); Rodney Gehrke, organ
Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme (Awake, calls the voice to us), BWV 140, also known as Sleepers Wake, is achurch cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach. He composed the chorale cantata in Leipzig for the 27th Sunday afterTrinity and first performed it on 25 November 1731. It is based on the hymn “Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme” (1599) by Philipp Nicolai. Movement 4 of the cantata is the base for the first of Bach’s Schübler Chorales, BWV 645. The cantata is a late addition to Bach’s cycle of chorale cantatas, featuring additional poetry for two duets of Jesus and the Soul which expand the theme of the hymn.
Bach composed the cantata in Leipzig for the 27th Sunday after Trinity. This Sunday occurs only when Easter is extremely early. The prescribed readings for the Sunday were from the First Epistle to the Thessalonians, be prepared for the day of the Lord (1 Thessalonians 5:1–11), and from the Gospel of Matthew, the parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1–13). The chorale cantata is based on the Lutheran hymn in three stanzas, “Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme” of Philipp Nicolai, which is based on the Gospel. Bach composed the cantata to complete his cycle of chorale cantatas which he had begun in 1724. The text of the three stanzas appears unchanged in movements 1, 4 and 7, while an unknown author supplied poetry for movements 2 and 3, 5 and 6, both a sequence ofrecitative and duet. He refers to the love poetry of the Song of Songs, showing Jesus as the bridegroom of the Soul. According to Christoph Wolff, the text was already available when Bach composed his cycle of chorale cantatas.
Bach performed the cantata only once, in Leipzig’s main church Nikolaikirche on 25 November 1731. According toChristoph Wolff, Bach performed it only this one time, although the 27th Sunday after Trinity occurred one more time during his tenure in Leipzig, in 1742. He used movement 4 of the cantata as the base for the first of his Schübler Chorales, BWV 645.