Programme notes

Cantata 140: Wachet auf, Bach

This cantata, first performed in 1731, isn’t really an Advent cantata, although it is often performed at Advent because its themes are associated with endings, new beginnings and preparing for the coming of the Lord.

Its original hymn was written by Philipp Nicolai, a Lutheran pastor, when he believed he was dying of the plague. He based his hymn on the verses from Matthew about the Wise and Foolish virgins. We have chosen it because of what it is: one of the greatest of Bach’s cantatas, with one of the greatest tunes of all in the fourth Chorale.

The original hymn is present throughout in various forms, sometimes sung by one voice while the other voices embroider a complex and ornamental texture, sometimes strongly present in unison singing, and finally in the form of the original chorale. Many of you may have sung the same melody to the hymn in English – 'Wake, O wake, for night is flying'.

Mike Torbe

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