“The night is far gone and the day is at hand”

Die Nacht ist vergangen
An Advent cantata by
Christoph Graupner (1683-1760)

During his lifetime, Christoph Graupner was considered one of the great musical talents of Germany. Today, despite his prolific compositional output (operas, concertos, orchestral suites, keyboard works, and more than 1,400 church cantatas), very little of his work is known. Those who know a bit about music history may remember his name from his cameo role in a famous drama that involves Johann Sebastian Bach.

In 1723, there was an opening for the position of Kapellmeister (music director) at Leipzig’s renowned Thomaskirche (St. Thomas Church). The job was initially offered to the justly celebrated Georg Philipp Telemann, then holding a similar position in Hamburg. Hearing that Leipzig was trying to steal their prized musician from them, the Hamburg authorities raised Telemann’s salary to persuade him to stay. Crossing Telemann’s name off their list, the Leipzig committee approached their second choice, Christoph Graupner, who was had been working productively since 1709 in the court chapel of Ernest Louis, the Landgrave of Hesse-Darmstadt. The Landgrave insisted that the terms of Graupner’s contract didn’t permit his departure. Then Graupner’s past due salary was paid in full, he was given a raise in salary, and offered much more generous job security (no small thing for musicians). Graupner turned down the Leipzig offer. The town council was forced to settle for their third choice, Johann Sebastian Bach.

Meanwhile, Graupner continued to labor faithfully in Darnstadt and between 1709 and 1754 composed 1,418 cantatas for use in the Landgrave’s court chapel. Florian Heyerick has written that “The cantatas provide us with a portrait of a devoted and extremey motivated musician: devoted, because he composed according to the taste and needs of hiw sovereign lord, the church and his time. . . . Extremely motivated, because he followed the best Thomaskirche traditions and employed and could adapt the principles of musical rhetoric and the technique of ‘Affekten’ to the text, the word and its religious significance. A cantata that had been composed in this manner counted as a true musical commentary or homily on the Bible reading for that particulars Sunday of the ecclesiastical year.”

The cantata Die Nacht ist vergangen was composed for use on the first Sunday in Advent, 1722. The Epistle reading for that Sunday in the Lutheran lectionary (as in ours) was Romans 13: 11-14. The opening chorus (and title) of Graupner’s cantata for that Sunday is from verse 12: “The night is far spent.” Later movements echo the call in verse 13 to refrain from various sins: “Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying.”

The text for each of the seven movements is presented below the embedded video. The performance here is by the choral ensemble Ex Tempore and the instrumentalists of the Mannheimer Hofkapelle, directed by Florian Heyerick.

Die Nacht ist vergangen, der Tag aber herbei kommen.
The night is far gone and the day is at hand.
Lasset uns ehrbarlich wandeln als am Tage.
Let us walk ten in honor as if it were full day.

       Recitative (Soprano):
Erwacht, ihr schläfrige Gemüter, itzt ist die Stunde da, vom Sündenlager aufzusteh’n, denn seht; das Heil ist allzu nah.
Awaken, you sleepy folk, for the hour has now come to rise from your bed of sin; behold, salvation is at hand!
Der Herr beut seine Gnadengüter in reicher Fülle an.
The Lord now offers his grace in rich abundance.
Ach! wollt ihr nicht dem Glanz entgegcn geh’n?
Ah, do you not wish to confrint his glory?
Auf! auf! weicht von der Höllenbahn; die Nacht des Zorns ist nun verschwunden.
Up! Up!, and shun the road to Hell; the night of wrath is now past.
Eilt! braucht die angenehme Stunden.
Hasten now and use these pleasant hours.

       Aria (Soprano):
Angenehmster Tag der Gnaden,
Most welcome day of grace,
brich in meinem Herzen an.
May you now dawn within my heart.
Brich doch an! erwünschtes Licht!
Rise now, O light so long desired.
Säume nicht;
So not delay;
wecke, stärke meine Kräfte
awaken and strengthen my energies
zum Geschäfte
for deeds that can
das beim Licht bestehen kann.
withstand the full light of day.

       Recitative (Bass):
Gott lässt sein Licht, sein Heil, zwar aller Welt zum Trost entstehen;
God created his light and salvation for the consolation of the whole world;
allein der meiste Teil mag nicht zum Dienst des Lichtes gehen.
the majority of its peoples, however, are not free to serve this light.
Der Sünden Sklaverei hält Seele, Herz und Sinn gefangen.
The sins of slavery hold soul, heart and mind imprisoned.
Die Finsternis, die solcher Kerker hegt, lässt keinen Schein des Lichts in sie gelangen, bis endlich Satans Tyrannei den Sündenknecht in Höllenbande legt.
The darkness that envelops such a dungeon allows no array of light to appear within it and Satan’s tyranny finally binds the sinful knave in Hell’s own chains.
Doch würde dessen Macht die Menschen nicht so binden, wo sie nicht selbst mit Lust in seinen Diensten stünden.
His powers would affect the world much less if it did not take such pleasure in serving him.

       Aria / Chorus (Bass, SATB):
Rüste dich Seele! mit Waffen des Glaubens, stärke den Mut!
Arm yourself, my soul! Strengthen your courage with the weapons of faith!
Dampfe die Lüste der höllischen Brut.
Subdue the passions of Hell’s brood.
Sodoms verdammliche Werke zu treiben, heißt, sich dem Satan zum Sklaven verschreiben.

To engage in Sodom’s accursed works means to assign yourself to Satan as a slave.
Schande! wenn solches ein Christenmensch tut.

The shame, if a Christian should do such a thing!

       Recitative (Tenor):
Die Welt halt zwar den Kampf vor Spott, sie will bei Hader, Neid, bei Unzucht, Fressen, Saufen ganz frech in ihr Verderben laufen.
The world may well mock our struggles, openly seeking its downfall in discord, envy, immorality, gluttony and drunkenness.
Den Bauch macht sie zum Gott.

It makes its stomach into a god.
Kein Gnadenruf, kein Wahrheitslicht mag sie von solchem Wesen trennen.

No cry for mercy, no ray of truth can cause it to change its ways.
Ach! welcher Jammer ist das nicht, dass auch die solches tun, die sich doch Christen nennen.

Ah, what a shame it is, that those who call themselves Christians do such things.

       Chorale (SATB):
Die Welt halt zwar den Kampf
The world continues to battle
durch Deines Geistes Gnad’,
through the grace of your spirit;
dass wir nicht treiben draus ein’ Scherz,

May we not make a joke from this
der unsrer Seele schad’.

that will harm our souls.
O Jesu Christ, allein Du hist,
O Jesus Christ, you are the only one
der solches kann ausrichten.
who can pass on such tidings.