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Music / Was mir behagt, ist nur die muntre Jagd

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The Duke Christian of Saxe-Weissenfels is celebrating his 31st birthday. His neighboring ruler, Duke William Ernest of Saxe-Weimar, decides to give him a birthday gift. As it happens, Ernest has a certain famous composer employed under him right now...

And so Johann Sebastian Bach meets Classical Mythology and enlists four of its gods to help throw a birthday celebration!

Was mir behagt, ist nur die muntre Jagd,English translation:  BWV 208, also known as the "Hunting Cantata", was composed in 1713. The Duke of Saxe-Weissenfels had a court with a tradition of brass playing and was also a keen hunter, so the use of horns to imitate hunting calls was only natural, hence the hunting-centric work.

The ninth movement, "Schafe können sicher weiden," ("Sheep May Safely Graze" in English) is the most well-known part of the cantata, and is a popular Standard Snippet for weddings alongside Lohengrin and Mendelssohn.

Besides "Sheep May Safely Graze," it is also noteworthy for being Bach's oldest surviving secular cantata, as well as for just how much he recycled the music for other works. The thirteenth movement was tapped and arranged twice, first as the basis for the Canonic Trio Sonata in F for Violin, Oboe, and Continuo, BWV 1040 (which is itself often appended to the end of the movement proper as a postlude), and then as the second movement in the religious cantata Also hat Gott die Welt geliebt, BWV 68 (1725). The seventh movement was also reused in BWV 68 as its fourth movement. And finally, the opening of the fifteenth movement also opens the first movement of Man singet mit Freuden vom Sieg, BWV 149 (1728-29). Ironically, "Sheep May Safely Graze" is not known to have been recycled in any way despite its popularity today.

And one more fun fact: some speculation exists that an early version of the first Brandenburg Concerto (a sinfonia with orchestration similar to that of this cantata, catalogued as BWV 1046a) was to be used as a prelude for this work.

You can listen to it here, and view an English translation of the lyrics here.

The Hunting Cantata contains examples of:

  • Ancient Grome: The characters featured as soloists are Roman deities Diana (Artemis in Greek mythos) and Pales (no Greek counterpart), and Greek deities Pan (Faunus in Roman mythos) and Endymion (no Roman counterpart, though his mythology was eventually composited into Diana during The Renaissance).
  • Birthday Episode: As far as Bach's works go, anyway.
  • Character Shilling: Except this time, they're shilling a real person.
  • The Grand Hunt: More or less the backdrop for the cantata.
  • "I Am" Song: The second aria is all about Diana's love for the hunt.
  • No Plot? No Problem!: The most visible shred of a storyline is in the first five movements, where Endymion worries that Diana has forgotten him in her rush to participate in the birthday celebration. The two eventually resolve to go together, and...that's pretty much it as far as plot is concerned.
  • Recycled Soundtrack: A rather large source of this for Bach's other compositions.

Alternative Title(s): Hunting Cantata