Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, BWV 140

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Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme
BWV 140
Chorale cantata by J. S. Bach
The bassoon part in Bach's hand from the archives of the Thomaskirche
Known as Sleepers Wake
Occasion 27th Sunday after Trinity
Performed 25 November 1731 (1731-11-25) – Leipzig
Movements 7
Cantata text anonymous
Chorale Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme
  • SATB choir
  • soprano, tenor and bass solo
  • horn
  • 2 oboes
  • taille
  • violino piccolo
  • 2 violins
  • viola
  • continuo

Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme (Awake, calls the voice to us),[1] BWV 140,[a] also known as Sleepers Wake, is a church cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach. He composed the chorale cantata in Leipzig for the 27th Sunday after Trinity 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.

History and text[edit]

Bach composed the cantata in Leipzig for the 27th Sunday after Trinity. This Sunday occurs only when Easter is extremely early.[2] 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).[3] The chorale cantata is based on Philipp Nicolai's Lutheran hymn in three stanzas, "Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme", which is based on the Gospel.[2] Bach composed the cantata to complete his cycle of chorale cantatas which he had begun in 1724.[4][5] 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 of recitative and duet.[6] He refers to the love poetry of the Song of Songs, showing Jesus as the bridegroom of the Soul.[4] According to Christoph Wolff, the text was already available when Bach composed his cycle of chorale cantatas.[7]

Bach performed the cantata only once, in Leipzig's main church Nikolaikirche on 25 November 1731.[4] According to Christoph 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.[2] He used movement 4 of the cantata as the base for the first of his Schübler Chorales, BWV 645.[7]

In the modern three-year Revised Common Lectionary, the reading is scheduled for Proper 27, or the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, in the first year of the three-year cycle of lessons.[8] Thus, the hymn and the cantata are commonly performed in churches on that Sunday. The text and its eschatological themes are also commonly associated with the early Sundays of the season of Advent, and so the cantata is commonly performed during that season.

Scoring and structure[edit]

The cantata in seven movements is scored for three soloists—soprano, tenor and bass—, a four-part choir, horn, two oboes, taille, violino piccolo, two violins, viola, and basso continuo.[6]

  1. Chorale: Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme (Wake up, the voice calls to us)
  2. Recitative (tenor): Er kommt (He comes)
  3. Aria (soprano, bass): Wann kommst du, mein Heil? (When will you come, my salvation?)
  4. Chorale (tenor): Zion hört die Wächter singen (Zion hears the watchmen singing)
  5. Recitative: So geh herein zu mir (So come in with me)
  6. Aria (soprano, bass): Mein Freund ist mein! (My friend is mine!)
  7. Chorale: Gloria sei dir gesungen (May Gloria be sung to you)


The first movement is a chorale fantasia based on the first verse of the chorale, a common feature of Bach's earlier chorale cantatas. It is in E-flat major.[5] The cantus firmus is sung by the soprano. The orchestra plays independent material mainly based on two motifs: a dotted rhythm and an ascending scale "with syncopated accent shifts". The lower voices add in unusually free polyphonic music images such as the frequent calls "wach auf!" (wake up!) and "wo, wo?" (where, where?),[4] and long melismas in a fugato on "Halleluja".[5]

The second movement is a recitative for tenor as a narrator[5] who calls the "Töchter Zions" (daughters of Zion).[4] In the following duet with obbligato violino piccolo, the soprano represents the Soul and the bass is the vox Christi (voice of Jesus).

The third verse as the closing chorale

The fourth movement, based on the second verse of the chorale, is written in the style of a chorale prelude, with the phrases of the chorale, sung as a cantus firmus by the tenors (or by the tenor soloist), entering intermittently against a famously lyrical melody played in unison by the violins (without the violino piccolo) and the viola, accompanied by the basso continuo. Bach later transcribed this movement for organ (BWV 645), and it was subsequently published along with five other transcriptions Bach made of his cantata movements as the Schübler Chorales.

The fifth movement is a recitative for bass, accompanied by the strings. It pictures the unity of the bridegroom and the "chosen bride".[3] The sixth movement is another duet for soprano and bass with obbligato oboe. This duet, like the third movement, is a love duet between the soprano Soul and the bass Jesus.[9] Alfred Dürr describes it as giving "expression to the joy of the united pair", showing a "relaxed mood" in "artistic intensity".[3]

The closing chorale is a four-part setting of the third verse of the hymn. The high pitch of the melody is doubled by a violino piccolo an octave higher, representing the bliss of the "heavenly Jerusalem".[3]




  1. ^ "BWV" is Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis, a thematic catalogue of Bach's works.


  1. ^ Dellal, Pamela. "BWV 140 – Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme". Emmanuel Music. Retrieved 3 November 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c Wolff, Christoph (2000). Johann Sebastian Bach: The Learned Musician. W. W. Norton & Company. p. 280. ISBN 0-393-04825-X. 
  3. ^ a b c d Dürr, Alfred (2006). The Cantatas of J. S. Bach: With Their Librettos in German-English Parallel Text. Oxford University Press. pp. 648–653. ISBN 0-19-929776-2. 
  4. ^ a b c d e Hofmann, Klaus (2012). "Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme / Wake up, the voice calls to us, BWV 140" (PDF). bach-cantatas.com. p. 5. Retrieved 5 December 2013. 
  5. ^ a b c d Mincham, Julian (2010). "Chapter 55 BWV 140 Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme / Awake! The Watchman's voice commands us.". jsbachcantatas.com. Retrieved 5 December 2013. 
  6. ^ a b Dürr, Alfred (1981). Die Kantaten von Johann Sebastian Bach (in German) 1 (4 ed.). Deutscher Taschenbuchverlag. pp. 531–535. ISBN 3-423-04080-7. 
  7. ^ a b Wolff, Christoph. "The late church cantatas from Leipzig, I" (PDF). bach-cantatas.com. pp. 21–24. Retrieved 5 December 2013. 
  8. ^ Lutheran Service Book, xv.
  9. ^ Grout, Donald; Palisca, Claude (200). Norton Anthology of Western Music: Volume 1 – Ancient to Baroque. W. W. Norton & Company. p. 547. ISBN 0-393-97690-4.