Music for Remembrance Sunday — November 8, 2020

Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme (BWV 140) – J. S. Bach (1685-1750)

The twenty-seventh Sunday after Trinity appears only every eleven years in the liturgical calendar, when Easter is celebrated very early in the season. In 1731, when the Sunday occurred, Bach wrote Cantata BWV 140, with the Philipp Nicolai hymn Wachet auf as its musical basis. The last parable of the year – that of the wise and foolish bridesmaids, this Sunday’s Gospel lesson – forms its textual basis. We hear the first movement (chorus) here, a setting in which Bach presents the chorale as a grand procession, quite likely reflecting the procession of the wise and foolish bridesmaids. The climax of this movement is the large and expressive “alleluia”; this is certainly one of the grandest of Bach’s chorale fantasias.

Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme
Der Wächter sehr hoch auf der Zinne,
Wach auf, du Stadt Jerusalem!
Mitternacht heißt diese Stunde;
Sie rufen uns mit hellem Munde:
Wo seid ihr klugen Jungfrauen?
Wohl auf, der Bräutgam kömmt;
Steht auf, die Lampen nehmt!
Alleluja! Macht euch bereit
Zu der Hochzeit,
Ihr müsset ihm entgegen gehn!

Awake, calls the voice to us
of the watchmen high up in the tower;
awake, you city of Jerusalem.
Midnight the hour is named;
they call to us with bright voices;
where are you, wise virgins?
Indeed, the Bridegroom comes;
rise up and take your lamps,
Make yourselves ready
for the wedding,
you must go to meet Him.

Nimrod (from Enigma Variations) – Edward Elgar (1857-1934)

The most famous of Elgar’s Enigma Variations, written in 1899, “Nimrod” is a musical depiction of the composer’s friend Augustus Jaeger. ‘Jaeger’ in German means ‘hunter’, and Nimrod in the Bible is described as ‘the mighty hunter’ – hence the name. The warmth of their friendship is reflected in this calm, reflective variation in E flat major, which (intentionally) also has a hint of the second movement of Beethoven’s Pathétique Sonata to it.

Quintessentially British, “Nimrod” is the work that sealed Elgar’s fame. Its profound beauty and reflective nature make it a favourite among those seeking a moment of calm – and it’s all in the fluctuating dynamics, unresolved tension and monumental timpani rolls. It is always played at the Cenotaph, Whitehall in London at the National Service of Remembrance.

Gerald Harder