Advent Calendar Day 2 – Wachet! Betet! (J.S. Bach)

I am in the midst of a fairly intense obsession with Bach’s oratorios and cantatas, which is currently manifesting itself in me learning every alto (and sometimes soprano) aria I can get my hands on from any Bach aria (it turns out I can get my hands on quite a bit), and badgering any choir directors I have dealings with to do some Bach.

I thought I was going to get my wish this week, with this lovely (and, admittedly somewhat frenetic) opening movement of Bach’s Cantata 70 “Wachet betet, betet wachet”, which means “Watch and pray, pray and watch”.  But alas, it was not to be.  Since I had already spent some quality time with Youtube and various recordings of this cantata and bonded with it, I wasn’t going to let go quite so easily… which is one reason you are getting a musical advent calendar from me this year, as it happens.

The word ‘wachet’ here really means ‘watch’ in the sense of ‘stay awake’, and it can also mean ‘awaken!’ (see also ‘Wachet auf!’ for a cantata in which it gets this meaning).  Listening to the extremely lively pace of this piece, I’m pretty sure Bach was thinking about this when he wrote it.  From a choir perspective, you need to be very wide awake and on the ball to sing this music – and from the congregation’s point of view, I’m pretty sure the trumpet would do a good job of finishing anything the alarm clock left undone.

This piece also continues the theme of waiting that is fitting to this early part of Advent.


Advent Calendar Day 9: Wachet! Betet! (J.S. Bach)

A few months ago, when I was preparing for my exam, I sent the Bach alto aria I was learning to my German theologian friend, Anna, to check that my translation wasn’t too wildly wrong.  She sent back the translation with her comments, and also mentioned that in Bach, the alto soloist is usually the voice of the believing soul.  I thought that sounded gorgeous, and set out today to find some advent-suitable soulfulness to share with you.

And I found some.  But this isn’t it, because what I also found in my travels was that Bach, being the excellent church musician that he was, had actually written a cantata for the second Sunday in Advent – which is today.  I am not an excellent church musician, but I am a conscientious one, and having found beautiful music that was actually written for this precise day in the church year, I am incapable of choosing something else.

Continue reading