Was mir behagt, ist nur die muntre Jagd, BWV 208
|Was mir behagt, ist nur die muntre Jagd|
|Secular cantata by J. S. Bach|
Former hunting lodge, where the cantata is believed to have had its first performance
Was mir behagt, ist nur die muntre Jagd (The lively hunt is all my heart's desire), BWV 208, also known as the Hunting Cantata, is a secular cantata composed in 1713 by Johann Sebastian Bach for the 31st birthday of Duke Christian of Saxe-Weissenfels. Aria 4, "Schafe können sicher weiden" ("Sheep May Safely Graze"), is the most familiar part of this cantata. A normal performance lasts about forty minutes.
History and text
It is Bach's earliest surviving secular cantata, composed while he was employed as court organist in Weimar. The work may have been intended as a gift from Bach's employer, William Ernest, Duke of Saxe-Weimar, for his neighbouring ruler, Duke Christian, who was a keen hunter.
Bach is known to have stayed in Weißenfels in 1713 for the birthday celebrations. He went on to earn more commissions from Saxe-Weissenfels, and in 1729, Bach was appointed Royal Kapellmeister, but this position as court composer did not require residence at court.
The text is by Salomon Franck, the Weimar court poet, who published it in Geist- und Weltlicher Poesien Zweyter Theil (Jena, 1716). As was common at the time, Franck's flattering text draws on mythological references. Franck also followed convention in associating good government with the hunt: the text praises Duke Christian as a wise ruler as well as a keen hunter. In reality, the Duke was to prove a spendthrift whose habits resulted in the financial collapse of his duchy.
Scoring and structure
The cantata was scored for four vocalist soloists:
The instrumental parts comprised two horns, two recorders, two oboes, taille, bassoon, two violins, viola, cello, violone, and continuo. Recorders are appropriate for their pastoral associations and horns for their hunting associations. So far as is known, it is Bach's earliest work featuring horns. He is assumed to have been writing for horn players employed at the Weissenfels court.
There has been speculation that the cantata opened with a sinfonia (BWV 1046a), which has similar scoring to the cantata and is an early version of Brandenburg Concerto No. 1 in F major (BWV 1046). The sinfonia seems to be intended for more able horn players than required for the cantata, and may have been composed later later, but it appears in some recorded versions of the cantata, for example those of Goodman and Suzuki.
The work has fifteen movements:
- Recitative: Was mir behagt, ist nur die muntre Jagd! (in F major/B flat major, for soprano I with continuo)
- Aria: Jagen ist die Lust der Götter (in F major, for soprano I with 2 horns and continuo)
- Recitative: Wie, schönste Göttin? wie? (in D minor, for tenor with continuo)
- Aria: Willst du dich nicht mehr ergetzen (in D minor, for tenor with continuo)
- Recitative: Ich liebe dich zwar noch! (in B flat major/C major, for soprano I and tenor with continuo)
- Recitative: Ich, der ich sonst ein Gott (in A minor/G major, for bass and continuo)
- Aria: Ein Fürst ist seines Landes Pan (in C major, for bass with 2 oboes, English horn and continuo)
- Recitative: Soll dann der Pales Opfer hier das letzte sein? (in F major/G minor, for soprano II with continuo)
- Aria: Schafe können sicher weiden (in B flat major, for soprano II with 2 recorders and continuo)
- Recitative: So stimmt mit ein und lasst des Tages Lust volkommen sein (in F major, for soprano I with continuo)
- Chorus: Lebe, Sonne dieser Erden (in F major, for sopranos I and II, tenor, bass with 2 horns, 2 oboes, English horn, bassoon and cello in unison, cords, violone and continuo)
- Aria (duet): Entzücket uns beide, ihr Strahlen der Freude (in F major, for soprano I and tenor with violin solo and continuo)
- Aria: Weil die wollenreichen Heerden (in F major, for soprano II and continuo)
- Aria: Ihr Felder und Auen, lass grünend euch schauen (in F major, for bass with continuo)
- Chorus: Ihr lieblichste Blicke, ihr freudige Stunden (in F major, for soprano I and II, tenor, bass with 2 horns, 2 oboes, English horn, bassoon, cords, cello, violone and continuo)
Adaptations by Bach
Bach appears to have revived the work a few years after its original performance, this time in honour of Duke Ernst-August, the co-ruler of Saxe-Weimar, who was also a hunter. Bach often re-used music written for "one-off" occasions, but this cantata is unusual for the extent to which he recycled it. While he was living in Leipzig he arranged music from two arias for the church cantata Also hat Gott die Welt geliebt, BWV 68, composed in 1725. Also Bach appears to have re-arranged the music in 1740 for cantata BWV 208a. The score for this piece is now lost, but the text is an adaptation of the original cantata to honour the name day of Augustus III, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland.
Adaptations by other people
"Sheep May Safely Graze" (This is an instrumental arrangement of Bach's aria, which was originally scored for soprano with two recorders and continuo)
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"Sheep May Safely Graze" can be played effectively on the piano, for example in the arrangement by Mary Howe.
Australian-born composer Percy Grainger wrote several "free rambles" on Bach's "Sheep May Safely Graze". He first wrote "Blithe Bells" (as he called his free ramble), for "elastic scoring" between November 1930 and February 1931. In March 1931, he scored a wind band version. It became one of his most famous arrangements.
- J.S. Bach: Cantata BWV 208, André Rieu, Monteverdi-Chor, Amsterdam Chamber Orchestra, Erna Spoorenberg, Irmgard Jacobeit, Tom Brand, Jacques Villisech, Telefunken, 1962
- J.S. Bach: Complete Cantatas Vol. 3, Ton Koopman, Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra & Choir, Barbara Schlick, Elisabeth von Magnus, Paul Agnew, Klaus Mertens, Antoine Marchand
- Wedding Cantata & Hunt Cantata (includes sinfonia), Roy Goodman, Parley of Instruments, Hyperion, 1985
- J.S. Bach: Hunting Cantata & Peasants' Cantata, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Yvonne Kenny, Angela Maria Blasi, Kurt Equiluz, Robert Hall, Concentus Musicus Wien, Arnold Schoenberg Choir, Teldec 2292-46151-2 1990
- Bach: Secular Cantatas Vol. 2 (Hunt Cantata), Bach Collegium Japan, Masaaki Suzuki, BIS, 2011
Other birthday works by Bach include
- Alles mit Gott und nichts ohn' ihn, BWV 1127 (1713)
- Durchlauchtster Leopold, BWV 173a (probably 1722)
- Entfliehet, verschwindet, entweichet, ihr Sorgen, BWV 249a (1725)
- van Boer, Jr., Bertil H (April 1980). "Observations on Bach's Use of the Horn Part I". Bach: the Journal of the Riemenschneider Bach Institute. Riemenschneider Bach Institute. pp. 21–28. Retrieved 6 October 2014. Accessed via JSTOR (subscription required).
- Marissen (1992). "On linking Bach's F-major Sinfonia and his Hunt Cantata". Bach:the Journal of the Riemenschneider Bach Institute 23 (2): 31–46. Accessed via JSTOR (subscription required).
- Chien, George. "BACH: Secular Cantatas, Vol. 2: Cantatas No. 208;1 No. 134a2". Fanfare. Fanfare. Retrieved 8 October 2014. Accessed via Highbeam Research (subscription required).
- Used in Aria 4 in Also hat Gott die Welt geliebt, BWV 68
- Oboe 1 with violin 1, oboe 2 with violin 2, English horn with viola; cello with bassoon, violone with continuo
- Continuo theme used in the trio BWV 1040
- Used in Aria 2 in BWV 68
- Used in Chorus 1 in BWV 149
- Cantatas, BWV 201-210: Free scores at the International Music Score Library Project
- Text in English translated by Z. Philip Ambrose
- Classical Net – J.S. Bach – Cantata Listener's Guide – BWV 208 Classical Net
- J.S. Bach – Cantates (201-216)