Friday, November 29, 2013

Wake Up!

It's time for Advent again, that not very warm and fuzzy time that leads up to Christmas. A year ago, during the first Friday installment of this blog, I pointed out that the first week of Advent in the Revised Common Lectionary, which is a prescribed set of scripture readings for each week of the year, followed by all Catholics, and many Protestant, churches, contains some pretty dark, apocalyptic readings. And I played for you a not very warm and fuzzy rendering of an ancient Advent hymn by non other than Johann Sebastian Bach. In that version, the tune booms out in the pedals like a peal of doom while the counterpoint swirls on top. This year for the first week in Advent I'm playing two other versions of the same Advent hymn by different composers, a dancelike setting from the late Renaissance by Hieronymus Praetorius, and a more regal setting by Johann Pachelbel. (you can always hear what I'm playing in church that week by visiting the Godmusic page at

Meanwhile, I thought maybe I should make all that gloom and doom up to you by playing something that I will not be playing in church this Advent season, but of which I happened to make a recording earlier this year. It's based on the very same scriptural attitude of being vigilant because you never now when the end will come, but the music is much friendlier. It is commonly translated as "Sleepers, awake! A voice is calling" and it is one of Bach's best known tunes. (I prefer a closer translation, "Wake up! A voice calls out to us!") Bach himself seems to have liked it particularly, because it was originally part of one of his church cantatas, sort of a weekly sermon for choir and orchestra, and he later arranged it for organ solo.

As usual for a sort of "chorale prelude" the faster notes are Bach's, written to harmonize with the hymn tune, or rather to babble alongside it delightfully. The hymn tune itself doesn't come in for about 45 seconds, in the reed stop. One year at church the low Eb trumpet pipe, which is the first note of the melody, decided to stop working on Sunday morning, and I had to substitute the krummhorn stop instead, which is a nice reed, but too polite to wake everybody up for an apocalypse. However, I prefer the 8 foot covered flute stop which happens to be on the same manual as the trumpet (which means you can't have both!) so you'll just have to stay vigilant on your own. Have some strong coffee or something.

listen to Wachet auf  by J. S. Bach

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