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Bach Cantata Listener's Guide

Wachet, betet, seid bereit (Watch, pray, be prepared)

Cantata 70

  • Twenty-sixth Sunday after Trinity
  • Epistle: 2 Peter iii. 3-13 (Christ's second coming)
  • Gospel: Matthew xxv. 31-46 (The Last Judgement)
  • Rating: 2+

At the time of the composition of cantata BWV 70, Bach's creative energies may very well have been concentrated on the Magnificat, which was to be performed on Christmas day 1723. Indeed, Bach apparently had most of Advent free (no cantatas were performed after the first Sunday during Advent in Leipzig) and made more time available before Advent by adapting previous works for the pre-Advent Cantatas. BWV 70 is adapted from a work intended for use at Weimar (BWV 70a, music now lost).

The theme is of Christ's second coming and of the Last Judgement and don't we know it immediately with the glorious trumpet introduction to the opening movement! After the orchestral ritornello is stated, the choir enters unaccompanied to give a tremendous forewarning of the last Judgement. Robertson describes this as "one of Bach's greatest choruses": Who am I to disagree? The pace immediately drops, for after the first recitative, the alto aria is far more laid back, the languid cello triplets accompanying. The following soprano aria is more upbeat, with an insistent and very catchy violin accompaniment. Apparently this aria was borrowed by Bach from a bass aria in Handel's opera Almira, an early example of Bach absorbing Italianate influences into his music. A recitative and straightforward chorale setting end the first half of the cantata. The second half opens with a fine tenor aria which itself sounds slightly Handelian. The next recitative is all action, thudding bass in the continuo, unsettled higher strings and the last trumpet intoning a chorale melody. But as the text becomes more consoling, so the music settles. The following bass aria starts and ends with a simple and gentle melody, as the soul contemplates heavenly bliss, but is interrupted with a final outburst reflecting judgement day. A simple chorale setting rounds off the cantata.

Copyright © 1995 & 1998, Simon Crouch.