Bach Vespers for the Last Sunday after Trinity

On Saturday, November 24 at 5:00pm, the saints of First Lutheran Church will gather to celebrate the Last Sunday after Trinity with a Vespers service featuring the music of acclaimed Lutheran composer Johann Sebastian Bach. The Last Sunday after Trinity represents the consummation of the liturgical year, and in turn depicts the consummation of history in the second coming of Christ at the end of time. This story is told in the Gospel lesson for the day, Matthew 25:1–13: the parable of the five wise and five foolish virgins (who are pictured at left in statuary at Magdeburg Cathedral, a Lutheran institution with a particularly distinctive tradition of fine liturgy).

The bassoon part to BWV 140, written in Bach’s own hand

To that end, at the Vespers the FLC Choir and Baroque orchestra will present Bach’s brilliant cantata Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, BWV 140, based on the historic chief hymn for the Last Sunday after Trinity. We know it in its English translation, “Wake, Awake! For Night is Flying.” Dubbed “the King of Chorales,” this wonderful hymn by Philipp Nicolai plays off the theology of the Church as the bride of Christ. The end of time is pictured as a wedding banquet where all the baptized are joined to Christ forever.

The Vespers will begin with the historic Eucharistic chorale “The Bridegroom Soon Will Call Us,” with all seven stanzas as preserved in The Lutheran Hymnal (as opposed to Lutheran Service Book‘s four), and featuring the harmonization Michael Praetorius published when he composed the chorale tune. Psalm 100 will be sung by the choir in an eight-voice setting by Heinrich Schütz, of which four voices will be taken by the strings of the orchestra. The Magnificat will be sung in an alternatim setting (alternating chant and polyphony) by Hans Leo Hassler. And the Vespers will close with the congregation joining in to sing Nicolai’s wonderful chorale (with the choir singing the middle stanza in a rare setting by Bartholomäus Gesius).

The Vespers service will be preceded at 4:30pm by a prelude organ recital featuring Minister of Music Jonathan Wessler. He will play works of Bach, including the so-called “Schübler Chorales,” one of which is a transcription of the famous central tenor solo from the evening’s cantata. After the Vespers celebration, all are invited to the church undercroft to partake in a festive reception.

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