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SLEEPERS, AWAKE! for concert band

Sleepers, Awake! (Chorale Prelude: Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme) by J.S. Bach, freely transcribed for concert band with thoroughbass realization by Merlin Patterson. Hear streaming audio on this page. Suitable for high school and college bands and community bands, 5 minutes duration, Grade 4.


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Sleepers, Awake! is one of J.S. Bach's most exquisite works, both in its cantata and chorale-prelude versions, and although some may not recognize it by name (or have heard the originals), many are nevertheless familiar with its hauntingly beautiful melodies. Much of this present-day fame is the result of the LP recording made by Eugene Ormandy conducting The Philadelphia Orchestra. His orchestral version was for many record collectors their first hearing of the music. Today, this band version delivers anew the same gift to students and audiences, providing them firsthand experience of some of the greatest music ever composed.

The Lutheran hymn-tune of Philipp Nicolai is central to Bach's two versions of Sleepers, Awake! , the first in 1731 in Cantata BWV 140, "Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme," and the next in 1746 as the first chorale prelude for organ in the Schubler Chorales BWV 645-650. Bach's texture is three-part: a florid, motivic, upper voice; the hymn tune below it; and a firm, supportive bass. Bach's brilliant working out of these elements yields a work of compelling grandeur and power.

Merlin Patterson


An effective band transcription of Baroque music should have the ornaments written out. In this way there is no doubt about how they should be played and when they should be played. In this transcription for concert band, all the ornaments are written out following current musicological information and practical experience.

The word ornamentation can be misleading to us. To the Baroque musician, ornamentation was the chief means of musical expression. The "ornaments" were so called because they were additions to the music, but they were expressive additions that changed the music.

Consider the trill. To the Baroque musician the trill was not realized merely as two pitches alternating. The Baroque musician would often begin on the upper note and hold it for some time before beginning the alternation of pitches; this note, being held, would create an expressive dissonance. Indeed, as performed by Baroque musicians, trills and other ornaments would change the melodies themselves.

Leaving out these ornaments is leaving out parts of the music. The difference between no ornaments and correct ornaments is every bit as real as the difference between speaking in a monotone and speaking with life and inflection. Therefore, correct realization of the ornaments becomes an issue of importance.

In truth, the elements and parts of music are just that. We can study them and appreciate them and practice playing them and concentrate on hearing them, but the whole -- all the parts assembled and working together -- is the living thing, and it is a magical thing. Like all good art, it keeps its secrets.


Bob Margolis
Director, Manhattan Beach Music



Copyright © 1999 Manhattan Beach Music. All Rights Reserved.

Performance by Donald S. George conducting the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Symphony Band.

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