Composers Datebook®

Bach's "wake up" call?

J.S. Bach (1685 – 1750) — Cantata No. 140 (Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme) (Bach Ensemble; Helmuth Rilling, cond.) Laudate 98.857

Composer's Datebook - November 25, 2021


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November 25, 2021


As a busy church musician Johann Sebastian Bach wrote around 300 sacred cantatas. That seems a high number to us – but consider that his contemporaries Telemann and Graupner composed well over a thousand cantatas each!

In what surviving documents we have, Bach himself rarely uses the Italian term “cantata” to describe these pieces, preferring “concertos” or simply “the music” to describe these works intended for Lutheran church services. It was only in the 19th century, as Bach’s music was being collected and catalogued, that the term “cantata” would become the official label for this sizeable chunk of Bach’s output.

On today’s date in 1731, the 27th Sunday after Trinity that year, Bach presented what would become one of his most popular cantatas: “Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme”, or “Awake, the Voice calls to us.” In that 19th century catalog of Bach’s works, this is his Cantata No. 140.

The text is based on a Gospel parable recounting the story of the wise and foolish virgins, who are called, ready or not, to participate in a wedding feast. The opening choral melody may have been already familiar to Bach’s performers and congregation, but his dramatic setting of it is downright ingenious.

Music Played in Today's Program

J.S. Bach (1685 – 1750) — Cantata No. 140 (Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme) (Bach Ensemble; Helmuth Rilling, cond.) Laudate 98.857

On This Day


  • 1785 - Austrian composer Franz Gruber, in Unterwweizberg; In 1818 he wrote the famous Christmas carol "Silent Night";

  • 1856 - Russian composer Sergei Taneyev, in Dyud'kovo , near Moscow (see Julian date: Nov. 13);

  • 1896 - American composer and music critic Virgil Thomson, in Kansas City, Mo.;

  • 1924 - American jazz saxophonist Paul Desmond, in San Francisco; Desmond and composer Dave Brubeck co-wrote the popular piece entitled “Take Five” for Brubeck’s famous 1959 Columbia LP entitled “Time Out”;


  • 1640 - Burial date of English Renaissance composer Giles Farnaby, age c. 77, in London;

  • 1755 - German violinist and composer Johann Georg Pisendel, age 67, in Dresden;

  • 1901 - German composer and organist Josef Rheinberger, age 62, in Munich;


  • 1731 - Bach: Sacred Cantata No. 140 ("Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme") performed in Leipzig on the 27th Sunday after Trinity;

  • 1847 - Flowtow: opera "Martha," in Vienna;

  • 1865 - Brahms: "Variations on a Theme of Paganini," Op. 35, for piano, in Zürich, Switzerland;

  • 1882 - Gilbert and Sullivan: operetta "Iolanthe" at the Savoy Theater in London;

  • 1898 - Rimsky-Korsakov: opera “Mozart and Salieri,” in Moscow (Gregorian date: Dec. 7);

  • 1901 - Mahler: Symphony No. 4, by the Kaim Orchestra of Munich, with soprano soloist Margarete Michalek and the composer conducting;

  • 1951 - Lou Harrison: "Seven Pastorales, in New York City, by the Collegium Musicum, Fritz Rikko conducting;

  • 1954 - Prokofiev: opera "The Fiery Angel" (sung in French), in a concert performance in Paris;

  • 1955 - Piston: Symphony No. 6, by the Boston Symphony, Charles Munch conducting;

  • 1958 - John La Montaine: Piano Concerto No. 1, in Washington, D.C.; This work won the Pulizter Prize in 1959;

  • 1960 - Mussorgsky: opera "Khovanscchina" (in the arrangement by Shostakovich), in Leningrad at the Kirov Theater;

  • 1978 - H.K. Gruber: "Frankenstein!" a "pan-demonium" for baritone and orchestra, by the Liverpool Philharmonic, with Simon Rattle conducting and the composer as the vocal soloist; A revised chamber version of this work premiered on Sept. 30, 1979, in Berlin, with the composer conducting;

  • 1992 - Peter Maxwell Davies: "Strathclyde Concerto" No. 7 for double bass and orchestra, at Glasgow's City Hall, by the Scottish Chamber Orcherstra conducted by the composer, with soloist Duncan McTier;


  • 1720 - Handel’s Keyboard Suites, First Collection), is published in London (see Julian date: Nov. 14);

  • 1835 - Scottish-born American industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, is born in a small weaver’s cottage in Dumfemline, Fife (Scotland); He funded the creation of a concert hall in New York that opened on May 5, 1891, and now bears his name; The building was originally called the “Music Hall,” but the earlier title was deemed to have too many associations tied to the “lower class” vaudeville acts typical of the British “music hall,” and was eventually changed to “Carnegie Hall,” in honor of its funder;

  • 1934 - Conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler's article "The Hindemith Case" defending Hindemith's music appears in several German newspapers; A response attacking both Hindemith and Furtwängler appears in the Nazi newspaper "Der Angriff" on November 28; Furtwängler resigns all his official German posts on December 4 and leaves Berlin for several months; On December 6 Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels denounces Hindemith as an "atonal noisemaker" during a speech at the Berlin Sport Palace.