1 "Wake, awake, for night is flying,"
the watchmen on the heights are crying;
"Awake, Jerusalem, arise!"
Midnight hears the welcome voices
and at the thrilling cry rejoices:
"Where are the virgins pure and wise?
The Bridegroom comes: Awake!
Your lamps with gladness take!
With bridal care and faith's bold prayer,
to meet the Bridegroom, come, prepare!"
2 Zion hears the watchmen singing,
and in her heart new joy is springing.
She wakes, she rises from her gloom.
For her Lord comes down all-glorious
and strong in grace, in truth victorious.
Her star is risen, her light is come!
Now come, O Blessed One,
Lord Jesus, God's own Son.
We answer all in joy your call;
we follow to the wedding hall.
3 Lamb of God, the heavens adore you,
the saints and angels sing before you
with harp and cymbals' clearest tone.
Of one pearl each shining portal,
where, joining with the choir immortal,
we gather round your radiant throne.
No eye has seen that light,
no ear the echoed might
of your glory;
yet there shall we in victory
sing shouts of joy eternally!
Psalter Hymnal, 1987
|First Line:||Wake, awake, for night is flying, The watchmen on the heights are crying (Winkworth)|
|Title:||Wake, Awake, for Night Is Flying|
|German Title:||Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme|
|Author:||Philipp Nicolai (1599)|
|Liturgical Use:||Scripture Songs|
st. 1 = Matt. 25:1-13, Isa. 52:1, 8
st. 2 = Rev. 22:16-20
st. 3 = Rev. 5:11-13, Rev. 21:21, Isa. 64:4, 1 Cor. 2:9
In 1597 the Westphalian (German) village where pastor Philipp Nicolai (PHH 357) lived experienced a terrible pestilence, which claimed some thirteen hundred lives in his parish alone. Nicolai turned from the constant tragedies and frequent funerals (at times he buried thirty people in one day) to meditate on "the noble, sublime doctrine of eternal life obtained through the blood of Christ." As he said, “This I allowed to dwell in my heart day and night and searched the Scriptures as to what they revealed on this matter.” Nicolai also read Augustine's City of God before he wrote this great Advent text and arranged its tune.
The original German text (“Wachet auf! ruft uns die Stimme”) and tune were published in Nicolai's collection of devotional poetry, Frewden-Spiegel dess ewigen Lebens (1599), with a title that read (translated into English), "Of the Voice at Midnight and the Wise Virgins who meet their Heavenly Bridegroom." Catherine Winkworth's (PHH 194) English translation was published in her Lyra Germanica (1858). The Psalter Hymnal includes that translation as altered in the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978).
The parable of the ten virgins (Matt. 25:1-13) was the inspiration for stanzas 1 and 2, and John's visions of the glory of Christ and the new Jerusalem (Rev. 19, 21, and 22) provide the basis for stanza 3. Erik Routley (PHH 31) says this hymn is filled with "pageantry, energy, light, color, and expectancy"; it is surely a great hymn about the joyful anticipation of Christ's coming again, and one that brings comfort and hope to Christians in all situations.
Advent; other times when our eyes of faith long for the return of Christ; with preaching on Matthew 25.
--Psalter Hymnal Handbook, 1987
Philipp Nicolai was a German minister whose parish of Unna in Westphalia was struck with a pestilence that killed 1300 people in the six months from July 1597 to January 1598. During that time, when he performed as many as thirty burials in one day, Nicolai began to meditate on what he called “the noble, sublime doctrine of Eternal Life obtained through the Blood of Christ” (as quoted in John Julian, Dictionary of Hymnology, vol. 1, p. 805). The result of his meditation was a book titled Freuden-Spiegel des ewigen Lebens (Mirror of the Joy of Eternal Life), which was published in 1599 at Frankfurt-am-Main. The text of this hymn was included.
Numerous translations have been made of this text. One of the best-known and most popular is by Catherine Winkworth, and appeared in her second series of Lyra Germanica in 1858. Many hymnals have altered Winkworth's translation or made a composite translation based on hers, though the three-stanza structure and basic meaning are retained.
WACHET AUF is usually regarded as composed by Philipp Nicolai, but he may have borrowed parts of the tune from other sources such as the melody “Silberweise” by Hans Sachs (1494-1576) or the fifth Gregorian psalm tone. It was published with this text, for which it is named, in Nicolai's Freuden-Spiegel in 1599. Like many German chorale tunes, WACHET AUF has two versions for the rhythm. The original version is called the rhythmic version, because it retains the variety of note values as the composer wrote them, while in the isorhythmic version, the notes are adjusted to a more regular rhythm, often by making all notes of equal value.
“Wake, Awake, for Night Is Flying” is often associated with Advent, and appropriately so, for the celebration of Christ's first coming naturally leads to anticipation of His Second Coming as well. However, it was written for the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins in Matthew 25:1-13 and the theme of eternal life, and is also appropriate for services on those themes.
In 1731, J. S. Bach wrote a cantata (BWV 140) at Leipzig based on this hymn for the 27th Sunday after Trinity, the last possible Sunday before Advent in the Lutheran liturgical calendar of the time. Advent was a penitential season in Leipzig, during which ornate music like a cantata was not performed. Hence, this hymn provided the basis for Bach's last opportunity for free musical expression before Christmas. WACHET AUF is the main melody for three of the seven movements, one of which was later reworked for the well-known setting of this tune in the Schübler Chorales for organ. WACHET AUF has been called the King of Chorales (another Philipp Nicolai tune, WIE SCHÖN LEUCHTET, is the Queen). It is very popular in settings for the organ, which is the instrument most closely associated with chorale tunes. Preludes, postludes, and improvisations in various styles abound in collections such as “Improvisations for the Christmas Season, Set 1,” the Advent suite “The King of Glory Comes,” and “Advent Postludes for Organ.”
Tiffany Shomsky, Hymnary.org