Wachet! Betet! Betet! Wachet!

BWV 070 // For the Twenty-sixth Sunday after Trinity

(Watch ye, pray ye, pray ye, watch ye!) for soprano, alto, tenor and bass, vocal ensemble, tromba, oboe, bassoon, violoncello, strings and continuo

Originally composed in Weimar for the Second Sunday in Advent, Bach reworked cantata BWV 70 in Leipzig in 1723, moving it to the 26th Sunday after Trinity and thus to the end of the church year, a shift that was facilitated by the eschatological theme of both Sundays. In this revision, Salomo Franck’s Weimar Libretto of 1717 was extended by three recitatives, and a further chorale movement (no. 7) was added to complete the work’s transformation into a two-part “sermon cantata”.

J.S. Bach-Stiftung Kantate BWV 70


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«Lutzogram» for the introductory workshop

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Olivia Fündeling, Guro Hjemli, Susanne Seitter, Gunta Smirnova, Noëmi Sohn Nad

Jan Börner, Antonia Frey, Kazuko Nakano, Liliana Lafranchi, Damaris Rickhaus

Marcel Fässler, Clemens Flämig, Manuel Gerber, Walter Siegel

Oliver Rudin, Manuel Walser, Tobias Wicky, William Wood


Rudolf Lutz

Plamena Nikitassova, Dorothee Mühleisen, Christine Baumann, Petra Melicharek, Christoph Rudolf, Ildiko Sajgo

Martina Bischof, Matthias Jäggi, Sarah Krone

Maya Amrein, Hristo Kouzmanov

Iris Finkbeiner

Dominik Melicharek

Susann Landert

Tromba da tirarsi
Patrick Henrichs

Nicola Cumer

Jörg Andreas Bötticher

Musical director & conductor

Rudolf Lutz


Karl Graf, Rudolf Lutz

Reflective lecture


Jan Assmann

Recording & editing

Recording date

Recording location

Sound engineer
Stefan Ritzenthaler

Meinrad Keel

Production manager
Johannes Widmer

GALLUS MEDIA AG, Switzerland

J.S. Bach Foundation of St. Gallen, Switzerland

About the work


Text No. 1, 3, 5, 8, 10
Salomo Franck, 1717

Text No. 11
Christian Keymann, 1658

Text No. 2, 4, 6, 7, 9
Poet unknown

First performance
Twenty-sixth Sunday after Trinity,
21 November 1723, Leipzig

In-depth analysis

The opening chorus sets a scene of dramatic tension that is characterised by fanfare motives and contrasting energy: while the gesture of “Wachet!” (watch ye!) is somewhat brusque in style, the extended ­“Betet!” (pray ye!) figure takes shape as a long, beseeching moment of tonal suspension against the looming orchestral passages. Here, the sweeping gestures and purposeful harmonic development lend the movement an expansive character that anticipates the cantata choruses of Bach’s sons. In the more relaxed middle section, however, the disparate passages and unexpected developments evoke a sense of uncertainty: the end of the world will come, yet we know not the day or hour, and must be prepared.

The bass accompagnato is set as a great procession in which a baroque representation of justice is present in the brilliancy of the trumpet calls. That the collapse of earthly order represents not only an end, but also a promise for “God’s own elected children”, is implied in the arioso passages. The alto aria then responds with a mellifluous cello cantilena, which is assigned to the organ in an alternative (possibly later) version. In this movement, the urgency to repent in face of the “final hour” (interpreted here as deliverance from the inner “Sodom and Egypt” of sin and bondage) is not declared as a thundering prophecy, but rather as a poignant, brotherly warning. Yet the struggle of the “weak flesh” to remain true to this “heavenly longing” is felt all too clearly in the tenor recitative, whose unsparing soul-searching culminates in an imperfect cadence on the words “sorrowful alas!” The following soprano aria then unfolds as music of great fortitude and strength, with resolute unison strings layered over an energetic continuous bass: despite all derision and scorn, “Christ’s word… stands unshaken” – a statement Bach underscores with high long-notes. Indeed, the certainty of experiencing the vision of the saviour inspires even the continuo to a brief, ascending passage of elation (“for it will and has to happen!”). Accordingly, the tender tenor recitative offers a glimpse of the “heavenly Eden”, ere the chorale “Now be glad, O thou my spirit” (added for the Leipzig version) closes the first part of the cantata in flowing, triple metre.
The aria “Lift high your heads aloft” opens the second part of the work with a long overture and sonorous string setting that radiates a warm sense of fullness and trust. Seldom has a two-part cantata fulfilled its function as the framework for a sermon so effectively: the comforting promise of redemption, so potently elucidated by the predicant, is musically interpreted here in a powerful tenor solo that, although mellifluous, also reveals a confident hero. Indeed, no triumphant commander holds forth, but rather a sanguine coach who ensures his charges are prepared for each and any difficulty.

Nevertheless, “doubting, fear and terror” make a final return, and the “child of sin” in the ensuing bass accompagnato can barely resist the temptation crowding in from all sides. Consolation, however, is at hand through the integration of the chorale melody “Es ist gewißlich an der Zeit, daß Gott der Herr erscheinet”, sounded wordlessly by the trumpet – a bold innovation that works not only to transform the movement’s form: indeed, with the chorale’s Cantus Firmus and its message of Christ’s return throning over the racing orchestra and floundering vocal part, the chaos of the Last Judgement as part of the divine plan is thrown into sharp relief, lending Bach’s setting of this scene a theological dimension.

The much slower aria “O most blest refreshment day” is music of inspired surrender that calls to mind parts of Handel’s oeuvre and Bach’s bass cantatas. Even the recurring signal motives of the presto middle section are no longer cause for distress, but instead proclaim ecstatic joy – all fear has been overcome; the Judgement can be emphatically affirmed. A misleading caesura – which sees the “End” as simply a passage to true life – then leads back to the adagio, whose suspended movement is a masterly musical reflection on the word “stillness”. After this grandiose triptych of fear of death, transition and arrival, one could hardly expect the work to scale further heights. Yet Bach masters even this challenge with apparent artistic ease: by suffusing the closing chorale verse with an all but surreal light through three obbligato violins, he evokes a tender forcefulness that longs to mercifully redeem the most unrepentant souls. The selected hymn text “Not for world, for heaven not” makes all too clear that the final purpose is not a measurable price, nor even the attainment of heaven, but only the arrival in God’s hands. Indeed, although this outcome could not have been foreseen at the cantata’s opening, it provides a theologically correct as well as philosophically profound solace, for which we may well envy Bach’s Weimar and Leipzig congregations…


Erster Teil
1. Chor

Wachet! betet! betet! wachet!
Seid bereit
bis der Herr der Herrlichkeit
dieser Welt ein Ende machet.

2. Rezitativ (Bass)

Erschrecket, ihr verstockten Sünder!
Ein Tag bricht an,
vor dem sich niemand bergen kann:
Er eilt mit dir zum strengen Rechte,
o! sündliches Geschlechte,
zum ewgen Herzeleide.
Doch euch, erwählte Gotteskinder,
ist er ein Anfang wahrer Freude.
Der Heiland holet euch, wenn alles fällt und bricht,
vor sein erhöhtes Angesicht;
drum zaget nicht!

3. Arie (Alt)

Wenn kömmt der Tag, an dem wir ziehen
aus dem Ägypten dieser Welt?
Ach! lasst uns bald aus Sodom fliehen,
eh uns das Feuer überfällt!
Wacht, Seelen, auf von Sicherheit
und glaubt, es ist die letzte Zeit!

4. Rezitativ (Tenor)

Auch bei dem himmlischen Verlangen
hält unser Leib den Geist gefangen;
es legt die Welt durch ihre Tücke
den Frommen Netz und Stricke.
Der Geist ist willig, doch das Fleisch ist schwach;
dies presst uns aus ein jammervolles Ach!

5. Arie (Sopran)

Lasst der Spötter Zungen schmähen,
es wird doch und muss geschehen,
dass wir Jesum werden sehen
auf den Wolken, in den Höhen.
Welt und Himmel mag vergehen,
Christi Wort muss fest bestehen.
Lasst der Spötter Zungen schmähen;
es wird doch und muss geschehen!

6. Rezitativ (Tenor)

Jedoch bei dem unartigen Geschlechte
denkt Gott an seine Knechte,
dass diese böse Art
sie ferner nicht verletzet,
indem er sie in seiner Hand bewahrt
und in ein himmlisch Eden setzet.

7. Choral

Freu dich sehr, o meine Seele,
und vergiss all Not und Qual,
weil dich nun Christus, dein Herre,
ruft aus diesem Jammertal!
Seine Freud und Herrlichkeit
sollt du sehn in Ewigkeit,
mit den Engeln jubilieren,
in Ewigkeit triumphieren.

Zweiter Teil
8. Arie (Tenor)

Hebt euer Haupt empor
und seid getrost, ihr Frommen,
zu eurer Seelen Flor!
Ihr sollt in Eden grünen,
Gott ewiglich zu dienen.

9. Rezitativ (Bass)

Ach, soll nicht dieser große Tag,
der Welt Verfall
und der Posaunen Schall,
der unerhörte letzte Schlag,
des Richters ausgesprochne Worte,
des Höllenrachens offne Pforte
in meinem Sinn
viel Zweifel, Furcht und Schrecken,
der ich ein Kind der Sünden bin,
Jedoch, es gehet meiner Seelen
ein Freudenschein, ein Licht des Trostes auf.
Der Heiland kann sein Herze nicht verhehlen,
so vor Erbarmen bricht,
sein Gnadenarm verlässt mich nicht.
Wohlan, so ende ich mit Freuden meinen Lauf.

10. Arie (Bass)

Seligster Erquickungstag,
führe mich zu deinen Zimmern!
Schalle, knalle, letzter Schlag,
Welt und Himmel, geht zu Trümmern!
Jesus führet mich zur Stille,
an den Ort, da Lust die Fülle.

11. Choral

Nicht nach Welt, nach Himmel nicht
meine Seele wünscht und sehnet,
Jesum wünsch ich und sein Licht,
der mich hat mit Gott versöhnet,
der mich freiet vom Gericht,
meinen Jesum lass ich nicht.

Bibliographical references

All libretti sourced from Neue Bach-Ausgabe. Johann Sebastian Bach. Neue Ausgabe sämtlicher Werke, published by the Johann-Sebastian-Bach-Institut Göttingen and the Bach-Archiv Leipzig, Series I (Cantatas), vol. 1–41, Kassel and Leipzig, 1954–2000.
All in-depth analyses by Anselm Hartinger (English translations/editing by Alice Noger-Gradon/Mary Carozza) based on the following sources:  Hans-Joachim Schulze, Die Bach-Kantaten. Einführungen zu sämtlichen Kantaten Johann Sebastian Bachs, Leipzig, 2nd edition, 2007; Alfred Dürr, Johann Sebastian Bach. Die Kantaten, Kassel, 9th edition, 2009, and Martin Petzoldt, Bach-Kommentar. Die geistlichen Kantaten, Stuttgart, vol. 1, 2nd edition, 2005 and vol. 2, 1st edition, 2007.

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