Sheep may safely graze

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"Sheep may safely graze" (German: Schafe können sicher weiden) is a soprano aria by Johann Sebastian Bach setting words by Salomon Franck. The piece was written in 1713 and is part of the cantata Was mir behagt, ist nur die muntre Jagd, BWV 208.[a] The cantata's title translates The lively hunt is all my heart's desire, and it is also known as the Hunting Cantata.

Like the same composer's "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring", it is frequently played at weddings.[1] However, it was originally written for a birthday celebration, that of Christian, Duke of Saxe-Weissenfels. Bach was based at the nearby court of Weimar, and musicians from both courts appear to have joined together in the first performance in Weißenfels. Bach is known to have used the music again for other celebrations, but it remained unpublished until after his death.


For this number (movement 9 of the complete work), the singer is not accompanied by the full Baroque instrumental ensemble used elsewhere in the cantata, but by two recorders and continuo. Since the revival of Bach's music in the 19th century, "Sheep may safely graze" has been arranged for other instruments.


The title is well known in its English translation, and is referenced in discussions of how European culture depicts domestic animals and sheep in particular.[2][3]

Franck's words are given to mythological characters, in this case Pales, a deity of shepherds, flocks, and livestock. Pales compares the peaceful life of sheep under a watchful shepherd to the inhabitants of a state with a wise ruler.[4]

Schafe können sicher weiden
Wo ein guter Hirte wacht.

Wo Regenten wohl regieren
Kann man Ruh' und Friede spüren
Und was Länder glücklich macht.

Sheep may safely graze and pasture
In a watchful Shepherd's sight.

Those who rule with wisdom guiding
Bring to hearts a peace abiding
Bless a land with joy made bright.


The work has been often recorded. It can be found in:


\relative c'' {
  \set Staff.midiInstrument = #"flute"
  \tempo 4 = 60
  \clef "treble"
  \time 4/4
  \key bes \major
  f8 f16( d) f8 f16( d) f8( g) g( bes)
  | es,8 es16( c) es8 es16( c) es8( a) a( c)
  | bes8~ bes32( c d16) bes( d) c( f,) bes8~ bes32\p( c d16) bes( d) c( f,)
  | bes8 d32\f( es f16) d( bes) c( a) bes8 d32\p( es f16) d( bes) c( a)
  | bes4 r r2

\relative c'' {
  \set Staff.midiInstrument = #"piano"
  \tempo 4 = 60
  \clef "treble"
  \time 4/4
  \key bes \major
  bes4 d8( c) c4. d8
  |es4 g8( f) d4\trill c8( bes)
  | d( bes) a( g) c4. d8
  | a4 g8( f) f2


"Sheep may safely graze" was arranged for piano by the American composer Mary Howe. American composer and electronic musician Wendy Carlos arranged and recorded "Sheep may safely graze" on a Moog synthesizer for her 1973 album Switched-On Bach II.

Band and orchestra[edit]

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.

The piece was arranged for string orchestra by British composer Granville Bantock.[6] There is also an orchestral arrangement by British composer Sir William Walton, part of the ballet score The Wise Virgins.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "BWV" is Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis, a thematic catalogue of Bach's works. In this catalogue, the range of Nos. 201 to 216a contains mostly extant secular cantatas.


  1. ^ "A Bride's Guide: Sample Wedding Music Programme". Naxos. Retrieved 13 August 2016.
  2. ^ Gayford, Martin (2002-08-14). "Clouds over the rural idyll". Retrieved 2018-02-19. Few words give as great a sense of reassurance as "and sheep may safely graze"
  3. ^ Leith. "Feral, by Geoge Monbiot - review: Sam Leith enjoys a vision of Britain where sheep may no longer safely graze". The Spectator. Retrieved 2018-02-18.
  4. ^ "Parallel text". University of Alberta. Retrieved 2018-04-02.
  5. ^ "Emma Kirkby Collection". Gramophone. Retrieved 2018-05-14.
  6. ^ Arrangements/Transcriptions of Bach's Works by Granville Bantock

External links[edit]