Music to End the Day, 6 December 2020

Good evening, friends.

Our music to end the day features wonderful repertoire by the great baroque composers Bach and Handel.

Bach wrote the glorious cantata ‘Wachet auf rift uns di stimme’ (Sleepers Wake, the watch-cry pealeth) for Advent Sunday 1724. He takes the original hymn melody by Philipp Nicolai (1599) and gives it a joyful and uplifting harmonisation, before going on to incorporate the chorale skilfully in other parts of the cantata. The subject of the chorale is the Parable of the Ten Virgins in Matthew 25. You may recall that this was read to us by Jill Le Sueur in our Advent Carol Service last weekend. Before Bach’s chorale, I offer a reflective improvisation on Nicolai’s original melody:

[Post Handel And the glory of the Lord]

And now to Bach’s splendid chorale setting:

Sleepers, wake! The watch cry pealeth,
while slumber deep each eyelid sealeth:
awake, Jerusalem, awake!
Midnight’s solemn hour is tolling,
and seraph-notes are onward rolling;
they call on us our part to take.
Come forth, ye virgins wise:
the Bridegroom comes, arise.
Each lamp be bright
with ready light
to grace the marriage feast tonight.

Throughout the season of Advent we are enriched by the great prophecies of Isaiah, none more stirring than the words of Isaiah 40: Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people, read to us in our Advent Carol Service by Richard May-Miller last Sunday. Handel selects these words for the first chorus of his overture Messiah in 1741, and gives them a truly magnificent setting:

And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
And all flesh shall see it together,
For the mouth of the Lord, hath spoken it.

And so, to end our evening, an Advent prayer:

Lord Jesus, Master of both the light and the darkness, send your Holy Spirit upon our preparations for Christmas. We who have so much to do and seek quiet spaces to hear your voice each day, we who are anxious over many things look forward with great hope to your coming among us.


Goodnight, everyone.

Adrian Boynton