Cantata Profana (subtitled A kilenc csodaszarvas; English: The Nine Splendid Stags; German: Die Zauberhirsche) Sz. 94, is a choral work for tenor, baritone, choir and orchestra by the Hungarian composer Béla Bartók. It was written in 1930 and first performed on BBC Radio on 25 May 1934 by the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Aylmer Buesst.
The Hungarian text is based on a Romanian colinda (a type of Christmas carol) about a father who teaches his nine sons the art of hunting. One day they cross a haunted bridge deep in the forest and are turned into nine stags. Their father arrives and aims his bow at them but when he learns that they are in fact his sons he begs them to return home. The stags reply that this is no longer possible since their antlers would not fit through the door; their new life is in the forest. The critic Paul Griffiths believes Bartók was attracted to the story because it shows "the accordance of dignity and rightness to a natural as opposed to a civilised state: the implicit elevation of the peasant above the townsman..." (Griffiths p.140).
Bartók's musical style in Cantata Profana was influenced by Bach's Passions, though as the title of the work suggests it is more pagan than Christian. The great technical difficulties the piece presents mean it has had few performances.
- Cantata Profana (with The Wooden Prince) John Aler (tenor), John Tomlinson (baritone), Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, conducted by Pierre Boulez (Deutsche Grammophon, 1992)
- Cantata Profana Tamás Daróczy (tenor), Alexandru Agache (baritone), Choir of Hungarian Radio & TV (Kálmán Strauss, chorus master), Budapest Festival Orchestra, conducted by Sir Georg Solti (London, 1998)
- Cantata Profana (with Samuel Barber's Prayers of Kierkegaard and Ralph Vaughan Williams' Dona nobis pacem) Richard Clement (tenor), Nathan Gunn (baritone), Atlanta Symphony Chorus and Orchestra, conducted by Robert Shaw (Telarc, 1998). This Grammy-winning recording is performed in an English translation created by Shaw.
- Paul Griffiths: Bartók (J.M. Dent, "The Master Musicians", 1984)
- Booklet note to the Boulez recording
- English translation of the cantata