Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme (‘Awake, calls the voice to us’), BWV 140, also known as Sleepers Wake, is a church cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach, regarded as one of his most mature and popular sacred cantatas. He composed the chorale cantata in Leipzig for the 27th Sunday after Trinity and first performed it on 25 November 1731.
Bach composed this cantata to complete his second annual cycle of chorale cantatas, begun in 1724. The cantata is based on the hymn in three stanzas “Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme” (1599) by Philipp Nicolai, which covers the prescribed reading for the Sunday, the parable of the Ten Virgins. The text and tune of the three stanzas of the hymn appears unchanged in three of seven movements (1, 4 and 7). An unknown author supplied additional poetry for the inner movements as sequences of recitative and duet, based on the love poetry of the Song of Songs. Bach structured the cantata in seven movements, setting the first stanza as a chorale fantasia, the second stanza in the central movement in the style of a chorale prelude, and the third stanza as a four-part chorale. He set the new texts as dramatic recitatives and love-duets, similar to contemporary opera. Bach scored the work for three vocal soloists (soprano, tenor´and bass), a four-part choir and a Baroque instrumental ensemble consisting of a horn (to reinforce the soprano), two oboes, taille, violino piccolo, strings and basso continuo including bassoon.
Bach used the central movement of the cantata as the basis for the first of his Schübler Chorales, BWV 645. Bach scholar Alfred Dürr notes that the cantata is an expression of Christian mysticism in art, while William G. Whittaker calls it “a cantata without weakness, without a dull bar, technically, emotionally and spiritually of the highest order”.
Johann Sebastian Bach