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Bach: Wachet auf for String Quartet

By Johann Sebastian Bach

Detailed Description

String Quartet - Intermediate - Digital Download
Composed by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750). Arranged by James M. Guthrie, ASCAP. Baroque Period, General Worship, Repertoire, Easter, Recital. Score, Set of Parts. 18 pages. Published by jmsgu3 (S0.377617).

Item Number: S0.377617

Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme (Awake, the Voice is calling us) from Cantata BWV 140. Duration: ca. 4:20, Score: 10 pages, Program this for church services during the Easter season, weddings, or as a recital encore.

Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme

(Awake, the Voice is calling us) also known as: Sleepers Awake

Bach composed his church cantata Wachet auf (BWV 140) as part of his second annual cantata cycle covering the entire annual church calendar. It is based on the hymn of the same name by Philipp Nicolai (1599). The hymn text covers the readings for the 27th Sunday after Trinity. Bach designed the cantata in seven movements, setting the stanzas in various forms. Among these forms are the chorale fantasia, the chorale prelude, and a four-part chorale. He casts the new lyrics as recitatives – in a manner similar to the opera.

Fourth Movement

Bach writes the fourth movement, Zion hört die Wächter singen (Zion hears the watchmen singing), in the style of a chorale prelude with the chorale phrases performed as a strict cantus firmus. The phrases seem to enter at times erratically against the famous lyrical melody. The violins play this melody in unison as a foil against the cantus phrases. The violin melody is so independent and complete that when the cantus melody appears it catches the listener at times totally off-guard. Bach later transcribed this movement for organ (BWV 645). This transcription became No. 1 of the Six Schübler Chorales.

Bach Overview

First of all, Johann Sebastian Bach is maybe the greatest composer in music history. Certainly, he was prolific. As a result, everyone has heard of his works. Furthermore, these works number well over a thousand. It seems like people are probably most familiar with the instrumental works such as the Brandenburg Concertos, and the Goldberg Variations. But, similarly famous are such noteworthy works as the Well-Tempered Clavier, the Musical Offering, and certainly the Art of Fugue. Seems like his most famous vocal works include the most noteworthy Mass in B Minor. Also, most noteworthy, though, are the St. John Passion, and certainly the Christmas Oratorio.


Bach came from a long line of musicians and above all, composers. Consequently, he, first of all, pursued a career as a church organist. So as a result, he gained employment in various Protestant churches in Germany. For a while, he worked as a court musician in Weimar and Köthen. Here he probably developed his organ style and likewise his chamber music style. Eventually, he, therefore, gained an appointment as Cantor of St. Thomas in Leipzig. Here he worked until difficulties with his employer ultimately drove him away. The King of Poland finally appointed him as court composer.


It seems like Bach created a fascinating new international style. He synthesized elements of the most noteworthy European music ideas into his new style. Even more, this new style was probably his synthesis of European musical rhythm and form. Furthermore, he demonstrated a complete mastery of counterpoint and motivic development. His sense of harmonic organization probably propelled him to the top.


Mendelssohn conducted a Bach revival in the nineteenth century. His effort probably helped to re-familiarize the public with the magnitude of Bach’s works. During this period, scholars published many noteworthy Bach biographies. Moreover, Wolfgang Schmieder published the BWV (Bach Werke Verzeichnis). As a result, this is now the official catalog of his entire artistic output. The BWV number allows us to locate a work in the catalog. Sometimes scholars will simply use an “S” (Schmieder) as an abbreviation for “BWV”.


NASA launched two Voyager spacecraft in 1977. Onboard are phonograph records with sounds, music, and images of life on Earth. The purpose of the launch was to inform intelligent extraterrestrial life forms about conditions on Earth. The music on the disc is varied. There is Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Stravinsky among others. However, because Bach is so important in our music history, it contains three times more Bach that all the others combined.

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