BWV 70 “Luther’s on muh mind” – J.S. Bach

BWV 70 Wachet! betet! betet! Wachet! is a Bach cantata with binary characters. The title itself expresses this dualism with its two contrasting moods. Watch! (Wachet!) and pray (betet!) lend themselves to Bach’s own musical characterization with hurried flourishes while watch is sung, and long held chords during pray. The text is apocalyptic and sets the pains and sinners of an earthly world against the judgement and ultimate forgiveness for those who believe in Jesus, and Bach continues the musical dualism between setting texts describing apocalypse, and texts that describe Jesus redemption for those who have faith.
Bach emphasis on creating a separation between earthly suffering and imminent judgment echoes many of Luther’s own sentiments toward the separation of earthly and heavenly kingdoms, and the true imminence of the apocalypse. Luther himself believed the apocalypse to be so near to his life time that he worked to quickly translate and publish the bible book by book, in order to reach and save as many people as possible. This coupled with Bach’s exegesis on how we should react to worldly suffering makes this cantata an extremely Lutheran work.
In continuing my research I hope to corroborate Luther’s specific principles about apocalypse and the two kingdoms within Bach’s treatment of the text, and the emphasis he places on specific statements. I anticipate most of my sources to be primary source texts by Luther in order to form opinions about the musical setting of Bach, and I hope to only use secondary texts written about this cantata to gain a better understanding of currently thought and scholarship, and to look for possible counter arguments or differences in interpretation.

Leave a Reply