In English this hymn is known by various titles: ‘Wake, awake, for night is flying!’, ‘Wake, O wake! With tidings thrilling’ and ‘”Sleepers, wake!” A voice astounds us’ are a few of the translations. The original German text was written by Philipp Nicolai (1556-1608), a Lutheran pastor. He wrote and published the hymn in 1599 under the title ‘Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme’.
Nicholai was a pastor in Westphalia when he wrote the hymn. At the time, the region in which his parish was located had been badly hit by pestilence and many of Nicholai’s congregation perished. It was published along with the famous tune, which is thought to have been composer by Nicholai himself.
The hymn is associated with the time of Advent as one of its strong themes is preparation. J.S. Bach wrote a choral cantata which uses both Nicholai’s text, and the tune appears in many of the movements.