January 18, 2021

Advent Pic and Cantata of the Week II

December Fields

December Fields


Bach Cantata 70, “Watch! Pray!”

BWV 70 is an expansion of a cantata Bach wrote seven years earlier in Weimar. The music for this earlier work has been almost entirely lost. It was one of a group of three cantatas (BWV 70a.186a,147a) that Bach produced in December 1716 based on texts by the Weimar court poet Salomo Franck.

BWV 70a was written for the 2nd Sunday in Advent, however in Leipzig cantatas could only be performed on the 1st Sunday in Advent but since the readings for both Sundays deal with the end of time and the coming of Christ it was not for the anonymous librettist of BWV 70 to take over Franck’s text without change. Four recitatives were added, based on Matthew’s account of the last judgement (the gospel for the 26th Sunday after Trinity) and a chorale verse to conclude first part of the cantata. The six movement cantata of 1716 is thus expanded seven years later into an eleven movement work with a two–part structure.

Here is the tenor aria that begins the second part of this expanded cantata. In the Advent season, it calls us to lift up our heads with hopeful anticipation of the coming of Christ and the new creation.

(Source: Bach Cantatas Website)

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

Lift up your heads
and be consoled, you devout people,
may your souls blossom!
You are to flourish in Eden
to serve God for ever.

Cantata texts by Salomo Franck, Christian Keymann


  1. William H. Martin Jr says

    I guess the last line is hard for me to conceive, Why would a God complete in every way need me to serve Him. If by service it is meant to worship Him forever okay. I actually think it could be reversed. It was written in an instant we will know. It seems His nature and expression here was to be a servant. He said those who are greatest become a servant here. I only see God as the greatest. Wiping my tears away would be of great service to me.

    A couple hundred years and things could mean something totally different then how I would take it today. No one else committed so I did. Wasn’t going to. That last line has me puzzled some what.

  2. In 1972 Helmut Rilling recorded a version of BWV 70a by removing the movements added in Leipzig in 1723. That recording is posted on YouTube, and I posted it on my Facebook timeline this morning – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xfJEOKAIB64.

  3. startled crows
    wheel awkwardly
    into gray sky

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