Bach-Friedman “Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme” BWV 645 (piano solo arr. with sheet music).
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A Protestant composer par excellence, Bach was a great connoisseur of theology, as evidenced by his library in which the various editions of the Bible are annotated in his own handwriting to indicate questions of a musical and spiritual nature.
Among his compositions, this is one of the ones I appreciate the most. It is a song, sweet, soft, melodic and, at the same time, attractive, intoned so that the people who listen to it do not fall asleep but wake up with a heart full of joy.
Initially, his goal is to remember that one day Jesus the messiah will return and that with a powerful voice he will cause the dead in him to wake up and rise to meet him (I Thessalonians 4: 16-17).
In-depth study of the work
This compilation structure can be understood particularly well on the basis of the cantata BWV 140. The three stanzas of Philipp Nicolai’s song ‘Wake up, calls us the voice’ (1599) act as supporting pillars that mark the beginning, middle and end of the composition in radiant E flat major.
The opening chorus, richly scored with four voices, three oboes, strings, horn and continuo and monumental in its tonal dimensions, is particularly effective. The chorale melody entrusted to the soprano in broad note values is embedded in a constantly accelerating musical event, the course of which has repeatedly been described as a musical ‘awakening process’, which, however, also shows signs of a procession-like movement (‘you must go towards it!’). In the juxtaposition of oboes and strings one can see both the opposition of the wise and foolish virgins and the midnight calls and answers.
In the virtuosic setting of the Alleluia line, a moment of ecstasy sounds that also characterizes the cantata’s solo movements.
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The tenor recitative “He is coming, the bridegroom is coming” brings the transition into the present and at the same time into the world of Christian bridal mysticism inspired by the Song of Solomon, which Bach sets to music as a dialogue between Jesus (bass) and the believing soul (soprano). However, their two duets could hardly be more different. «When are you coming, my salvation? I come, your part», with its questioning pauses, the dark C minor and the fragile cantilena of the violino piccolo (a violin pitched a third higher), still appears as a nocturnal adagio serenade full of doubt and uncertainty. Completely different is the oboe-accompanied «My friend is mine / And I am his» – in light B flat major, in voluptuous consonances and with an infectious joy, a love is told that nothing can part.
This was preceded by a bass recitative (‘So go in to me’), which allows the promise of the highest not to emerge as a dusty dogmatic statement, but as a tender confession of love. The accompanying strings therefore do not mean the ringing halo of the Passion, but the enchanted glow in the eyes of the beloved.
In Chorale No. 4, set to music as a trio, the tenor acts as a veritable ‘guardian’ who – supported by the deep unison strings – uses the song’s catchy triad motif to express the joy of the daughter Zion over her bridegroom. The festive movement is particularly popular in its arrangement for organ (BWV 645), printed by Johann Georg Schübler around 1748.
The closing stanza of the song No. 7, ‘Gloria sei dir sungen’, is one of those magnificent Bach chorale movements to which it is difficult to imagine that the assembled congregation should not have joined in spontaneously.