Cantata 140, Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme

Here is some more specific information on the Bach cantata featured on our playlist. Please note that this reading deals with all seven movements of the piece. On the listening exam, you will only be responsible for movements I, IV, and VII.


Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme (Awake, calls the voice to us), BWV 140, also known asSleepers Wake, is a church cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach. He composed the chorale cantatain 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.

Scoring and Structure

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.

  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. 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?), and long melismas in a fugato on “Halleluja.”

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

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.” 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. Alfred Dürr describes it as giving “expression to the joy of the united pair,” showing a “relaxed mood” in “artistic intensity.”

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.”