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Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, BWV645
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A perfect example of how Bach used the same music in different scorings is the well-known chorale prelude for organ, Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, BWV645 (‘Awake, the voice is sounding’) which also appears as the fourth movement of the cantata of the same name, No 140, where it is titled ‘Zion hört die Wächter singen’. The organ prelude is a trio, with the hymn tune ringing out in the left hand below a swinging, almost ‘catchy’ counter-melody in the right, the whole above a springy bass in the pedals. In the cantata version, the chorale is sung by a tenor soloist, the other melody is played by the strings, with the continuo filling in a figured bass. It is this latter version that Kempff is thinking of in his transcription. The words come from the second verse of the hymn by Philipp Nicolai (1599). Sung at the end of the Church year, before Advent, the initial call of ‘Sleepers, wake!’ is followed by ‘Arise, the bridegroom is coming, prepare for the wedding!’. The bride, Zion, reacts:

Zion hört die Wächter singen,
Das Herz tut ihr vor Freuden springen,
Sie wachet und steht eilend auf.
Ihr Freund kommt vom Himmel prächtig,
Von Gnaden stark, von Wahrheit mächtig,
Ihr Licht wird hell, ihr Stern geht auf.
Nun komm, du werte Kron,
Herr Jesu, Gottes Sohn!
Hosianna!
Wir folgen all
Zum Freudensaal
Und halten mit das Abendmahl.
Zion hears the watchmen singing,
Her beating heart with joy is springing,
She wakens and with speed arises.
Her friend appears in heaven’s glory,
Strong in Grace, in truth his story,
His light is bright, his star surprises.
Now come, you worthy crown,
Lord Jesus, God’s own Son!
Hosannah!
We all follow
To the hall of joy beyond compare,
The Lord’s own Supper there to share!

Transcriptions are often awkward to play because of their very nature, and this one demands that the counter-melody be played by the outer, weaker fingers of the right hand. Kempff talked about the importance of a true legato (necessary for any good Bach playing), and it is just as important in his transcriptions as in the ‘real’ Bach.

from notes by Angela Hewitt © 2001

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