Tune of the Day: Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme
No. 140 is one of the best-known and most theatrical of Bach's sacred cantatas. It was written in 1731 as part of Bach's series of five cantatas for every Sunday and special feast day in the Lutheran calendar. This particular cantata was written for a rarely occurring date, the 27th Sunday after Trinity, which only exists in years when Easter comes unusually early.
The chorale used in the cantata comes from a 1599 hymn tune by Philipp Nicolai. Literally, the title translates as “Wake up, the voices are calling us”. To fit the three syllables of the German, the more commonly found translation “Sleepers Wake” is used, and it is by this name that it is best known in English. Please note that this should be read as an imperative, as in “Sleepers, Awake!”, and not as in “Finnegan's Wake”.
The fourth movement, based on the second verse of the chorale, is one of Bach's most famous pieces. It is written in a trio sonata-like texture for the tenors of the chorus, oboe da caccia, and 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.