Was mir behagt, ist nur die muntre Jagd, BWV 208
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.
"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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History and text
It is Bach's earliest surviving secular cantata, composed while living in Weimar. The text is by Salomon Franck, the Weimar court poet, who published it in Geist- und Weltlicher Poesien Zweyter Theil (Jena, 1716). Duke Christian was a keen hunter, and Franck draws on mythological references to hunting for his libretto. Duke Christian is named four times and is equated with the classical deity Pan.
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.
Bach had a variety of instruments available including, appropriately for their hunting associations, horns. It has been suggested that the cantata opened with a sinfonia (BWV 1046a) which was an early version of the first Brandenburg concerto. The concerto has similar scoring to the cantata.
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)
Bach recycled the music while he was living in Leipzig. Bach arranged music from two arias for the cantata Also hat Gott die Welt geliebt, BWV 68, composed in 1725. Also Bach appears to have re-arranged the music for cantata BWV 208a, the score for which is now lost. Franck's text was adapted to honour the name day of Augustus III, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland.
"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
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)
- "On linking Bach's F-major Sinfonia and his Hunt Cantata". Bach: the Journal of the Riemenschneider Bach Institute 23 (2): 31–46. 1992.
- 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)