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Was mir behagt, ist nur die muntre Jagd, BWV 208

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Title: Was mir behagt, ist nur die muntre Jagd, BWV 208  
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Subject: Brandenburg concertos, Weißenfels, East Village Opera Company, Bach cantata
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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" (or "Sheep may safely graze"), is the most familiar part of this cantata. A normal performance lasts for about forty minutes.

Schafe können sicher weiden
File:Sheep May Safely Graze BWV 208.ogg
Sheep may safely graze (This is an instrumental arrangement of Bach's aria, which was originally scored for soprano with 2 recorders and continuo)

Problems playing this file? See media help.

History and text

Bach composed the cantata 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).

The birthday celebrations are given a mythological setting. In particular, Franck draws on mythological references to hunting. Duke Christian is named four times in the libretto and is equated with the classical deity Pan. The hunt is characterized as an activity appropriate for princes.

Personnel and instruments



  • 2 horns, 2 recorders, 2 oboes, taille, bassoon, 2 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.[1] The concerto has similar scoring to the cantata.


  1. Recitative: Was mir behagt, ist nur die muntre Jagd! (in F major/B flat major, for soprano I with continuo)
  2. Aria: Jagen ist die Lust der Götter (in F major, for soprano I with 2 horns and continuo)
  3. Recitative: Wie, schönste Göttin? wie? (in D minor, for tenor with continuo)
  4. Aria: Willst du dich nicht mehr ergetzen (in D minor, for tenor with continuo)
  5. Recitative: Ich liebe dich zwar noch! (in B flat major/C major, for soprano I and tenor with continuo)
  6. Recitative: Ich, der ich sonst ein Gott (in A minor/G major, for bass and continuo)
  7. Aria: Ein Fürst ist seines Landes Pan (in C major, for bass with 2 oboes, English horn and continuo)[2]
  8. Recitative: Soll dann der Pales Opfer hier das letzte sein? (in F major/G minor, for soprano II with continuo)
  9. Aria: Schafe können sicher weiden (in B flat major, for soprano II with 2 recorders and continuo)
  10. Recitative: So stimmt mit ein und lasst des Tages Lust volkommen sein (in F major, for soprano I with continuo)
  11. 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)[3]
  12. Aria (duet): Entzücket uns beide, ihr Strahlen der Freude (in F major, for soprano I and tenor with violin solo and continuo)
  13. Aria: Weil die wollenreichen Heerden (in F major, for soprano II and continuo)[4][5]
  14. Aria: Ihr Felder und Auen, lass grünend euch schauen (in F major, for bass with continuo)
  15. 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)[6]


Bach appears to have re-arranged the music for cantata BWV 208a, the music for which is now lost. It was composed while he was living in Leipzig. Franck's text was adapted to honour the Nameday of Augustus III, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland.

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.


See also

Other birthday works by Bach include


External links

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