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Cantata BWV 208
Was mir behagt, ist nur die muntre Jagd!
Cantata BWV 208a
Was mir behagt, ist nur die muntre Jagd!
Discussions - Part 1

Sheep may safely graze

Zachary Uram wrote (August 8, 2000):
I just heard a very moving rendition of Bach's "Sheep may safely graze" for orchestra (strings, oboe, etc.) and I have several very excellent recordings of this in vocal form but I don't have it for the pipe organ or other instruments. Can anyone recommend moving recordings of this piece on organ or other instruments? I am curious anyone has sung this with one-voice-per-part? What did Bach score for in this piece in terms single/double choir?

Kevin Sutton wrote (August 9, 2000):
(To Zachary Uram) There is a lovely orchestral version of this work on a Vanguard CD with Leopold Stokowski conducting.

Aryeh Oron wrote (August 11, 2000):
< To Zachary Uram wrote: Can anyone recommend moving recordings of this piece on organ or other instruments? >
This aria is taken from Cantata BWV 208 - Was mir behagt, ist nur die muntre Jagd! This cantata is planned to be discussed in the Bach Cantatas Mailing List later this year - on the week of December 10, 2000.

In the meantime I found one orchestral rendering of this aria for you. It appears on the CD - A Bach Celebration, performed by Christopher Parkening on guitar [P-1]. This CD includes music from Bach cantatas adopted for solo guitar and chamber orchestra. The orchestra is Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra under the leadership of Paul Shure. The adaptation was done by William Walton and it was adopted for guitar and orchestra by Patrick Russ. Details of the CD - EMI Angel CDC-7-47195-2, recorded probably 1985.


Discussions in the Week of December 10, 2000

Aryeh Oron wrote (December 10, 2000):

This is the week of cantata BWV 208 according to Ryan Michero's suggestion. This is the first Secular cantata in our weekly discussions, and what a tasteful feast had Ryan laid before us. I am glad that he chose this one and not the very popular and over played Coffee (BWV 211) and/or Peasant (BWV 212) Cantatas. BWV 208 includes the famous aria for soprano 'Schafe können sicher weiden' ('Sheep may safely graze), which is often used as an introductory piece to the poetical world of Bach, and justly so. I shall not describe here the background to the composition of this earliest of the secular cantatas, nor shall I tell the plot of this mini-opera. Instead I shall quote from the liner notes to the first Rilling's recording, written by Alfred Dürr, which spotlight some of the musical characteristics of this beautiful and enjoyable cantata.

"Bach composition is permeated by the youthful freshness of a first work. The individual movements are still relatively succinct, and not so expansive as in later works. It is just this factor that lends the work its uninterrupted momentum and impact. The recitatives are far removed from the formalism with which Bach's contemporaries, even including the famous Telemann, tended to handle them."

Complete Recordings - Some characteristics

See: Cantata BWV 208 – Recordings.

(1) Karl Forster (1961)
I still like very much Karl Forster recording of SJP (BWV 245), which was the first one I have ever heard. But his hand with this cantata is too heavy to make it a justice.

(2) Helmuth Rilling (1965; 1st recording)
I remember reading somewhere that Rilling has improved along the years in his recordings of the Bach Cantatas. In the mid 1960's he recorded for Cantate label many of the larger scale secular cantatas (BWV 201, BWV 205, BWV 206, BWV 208, BWV 213, BWV 215, BWV 249a) and few sacred ones. I like all of his recordings from this period. I disagree with the above-mentioned determining. I do not really see what can or should be improved with recordings such as that of BWV 208. The level of the solo singing? The spirited instrumental playing? The warm singing of the choir? The overall charm? OK, it is not HIP, but anyway I feel that the HIP approach is less suited to the secular cantatas than to the sacred ones, and for me it has never been a factor by which I judge the level of a certain recording, the sincerity of its message, or the satisfaction it can give. The thread about the SMP recording by Karl Richter, which took place lately in the Bach Recordings List, proves that I am not alone in the field.

(3) Jürgen Jürgens (probably late 1960's)
I do not have this recording. Based on previous discussions in the Bach Cantatas Mailing List about cantatas which were made by this group of performers, such as BWV 198, BWV 161, and BWV 89, this recording also deserves reissue in CD form. Unfortunately, in Vol.5 of their much-praised Bach-2000 project, Teldec chose to issue a recording of this cantata by Harnoncourt (see below), instead of the more desired recording by Jürgens. Anyway, I found a short review of this recording in the first 'Penguin Stereo Record Guide (1975): "'Was mir behagt, ist nur die muntre Jagd' is a fine secular cantata and well worth acquiring. Its musical invention maintains a high standard and includes the famous 'Sheep may safely graze'. The solo singing is on the whole quite admirable and the performances under Jürgens have both vitality and imagination to commend them". And these praises make the unavailabilty of this recording even more regrettable.

(4) Peter Schreier (1976)
This is a pleasant, delightful and chamber-like rendering, with first rate singers, who are doing their best in their roles.

(5) Roy Goodman (1985)
I do not have this recording.

(6) Nikolaus Harnoncourt (1990)
It is quite astonishing to find Harnoncourt with female soprano singers. Actually, I cannot imagine the soprano roles in this cantata sung by boy sopranos. The playing is more melodic, flowing, ebullient and colourful than was the case with Harnoncourt's recordings of the sacred cantatas.

(7) Mátyás Antál (1992)
This is a nice recording, if somewhat routine in comparison with some of its rivals.

(8) Ton Koopman (1995)
All the good qualities of Koopman's cycle come forth in his rendering of this cantata - charm, elegance, lightness, transparency, and pleasance. All these, combined with first rate singers, contribute to an over-all accomplished and successful performance.

(9) Ludwig Güttler (1996)
I was not familiar with either of the singers in Güttler's recording of the Hunting Cantata. This is very alert rendering, which is too vociferous to my taste. None of the singers impressed me. This rendering 'succeeds' in the almost impossible task of eliminating most of the charm from this cantata.

[11] Gustav Leonhardt (1996)
The main characteristic of this recording is its wonderful and clear playing. The singers are also good enough to please. But some dry and ponderous conducting, which has also marred some of Leonhardt's sacred cantatas recordings, prevent this rendering from lifting.

[10] Helmuth Rilling (1996; 2nd recording)
I do not have this recording.

Comparison between the recordings of the solo movements for Soprano

Due to limitations of time and space, I decided to concentrate this time in the two couples of recitative and aria for soprano. The first is sung by Diana and the second by Pales. I chose to compare only movements from complete recordings of this cantata. The introduction that precedes each couple is taken from Dürr's liner notes to the first Rilling's reco.

Mvts. 1+2. Recitative and aria for Soprano I (Diana)
"Right in the opening movement, the free recitative rhythm changes already after four measures into an Arioso that depicts, with changing tempi and various figures, the flight of Diana's arrow, her delight over the catch (Adagio), and then again the swiftness with which the goddess of the hunt hastens after her prey (Presto). The arias only occasionally make use of the typical da capo form; already Diana's aria following the opening recitative employs a free, abridged da capo. The atmosphere of the hunt is emphasized by the two horns. Diana's part, with its trills and leaps, contains some rather virtuoso writing: It was no doubt first interpreted by a singer from the Weißenfels opera."

Anneliese Kupper (with Forster) (1) is very serious and too severe. Also her timbre of voice is old-fashioned and has too much vibrato. Usually the use of this tool does not disturb me so much, as it does to others, but here it is definitely improper. Instead of representing youth, she sounds old. Helen Donath (with Rilling) (2) is tempting and charming you in her recitative and in the aria she easily conquers. Who can refuse her invitation to join the hunting? The horn player adds ebullient and glamorous playing, which matches the singing. Edith Mathis' voice and technique (with Schreier) (4) are impressive, but her singing lacks the sensuality needed to convince you in her message. Yvonne Kenny (with Harnoncourt) (6) singing is light and virtuosic. However it seems to me that she is more busy with the musical challenges of her role than with its textual content. I am impressed but not convinced. Ingrid Kertesi (with Antál) (7) voice is not exceptional, however in her singing she is doing some interesting changes in the vocal lines, extending a certain note here, and adding an ornament there. At first sounded to me somewhat odd, but at later hearings I thought that it was to be a refreshing change. Koopman (8) does also give his singers the freedom to ornament, but here it is done with much more taste. Schlick singing is light, cheerful and tasteful. This aria suits her approach much more than some of the more dramatic cantatas, where she has some difficulties with bringing out their emotional contents. Mona Spägele (with Güttler) (9) takes a lot of freedom in her interpretation, but this approach, combined with the timbre of her voice, is not very attractive or convincing. The loud accompaniment, which is rushing too fast, also contributes to the disappointment from this rendering. This performance would have benefited from more humbleness and softness. Last but not least we have Leonhardt in one of his few post-Teldec-cycle cantata recordings [11]. Monika Frimmer's singing is interesting, inviting and full of joy. The accompaniment is precise if not very special. I would place this rendering somewhere in the middle between the best and the worst recordings of the recitative and aria of Diana.

Conclusion - Donath (with Rilling) (2).

Mvts. 8+9 Recitative and aria for soprano II (Pales)
"The appearance of a new congratulator, is accomplished yet a fourth time employing the musical forms of recitative and aria. Of course, the aria 'Schafe können sicher weiden' ('Sheep can safely graze'), in which Pales praises Christian's supposedly so beneficial manner of governing, has become widely known for its recorder accompaniment. It shows the high level of playing technique at that time, and, simultaneously, Bach's ability to fashion two successive arias with woodwinds accompaniment so differently that the impression of a repetition never occurs."

Erika Köth voice is much lighter than that of Kupper, who sings the part of Diana in Forster recording (1). Although it has the needed lightness, it suffers from the same flaws as that of Kupper. It lacks charm and hardly enjoyable. The flutes' playing is also clumsy. Elisabeth Speiser (with Rilling) (2) is magical as her colleague Donath, and she sounds so innocent and pure, so that through her singing we feel the calmness, happiness and peace. The flutes contribute to the pastoral atmosphere. Arleen Augér (with Schreier) (4) has shown us many times that she knows how to express strong and deep human feelings. Here she is challenged by no less difficult task. And she does it gloriously. Instead of sounding mature, as she often does, she sounds naive and ready to believe in idealistic world, in which all the people have good intentions and want peace and quiet. Angela Maria Blasi (with Harnoncourt) (6) is splendid. She conveys the naivety with confidence, and you are captured. The playing of the flutes is much more polished than what we have used to hear in previous cantata recordings from Harnoncourt. Julia Parszthy (with Antál) (7) voice and singing are ordinary and lacking charm. Like Kertesi she is also making small changes, but this aria is so beautiful in its original form, that it might be spoilt by any minor modification. Elisabeth von Magnus (with Koopman) (8) is also given some space to ornament, and she takes the opportunity with both her hands, and doing it with a lot of charm and tenderness. She does not sound as innocent as some of the other sopranos do, but she conveys optimism and spontaneity and resembles a daughter of the nature, helped by the impeccable and delicate playing of the recorders. The playing of the flutes, which opens the aria in Güttler's recording (9), does not sound clean or pleasant to me. The voice of Claudia Kunz is gentler than that of Spägele (Diana), but I do not find her singing sensitive, innocent or charming at all. I like very much the timbre of Lynne Dawson's voice (with Leonhardt) [11], and her singing is peaceful, happy and convincing. The accompaniment is somewhat disappointing. The recorders' playing is immaculate but not charming and, I do not feel the pastoral atmosphere. Has Leonhardt's at this stage of his long career lost the fresh touch, which is so needed in this earliest of the secular cantatas from the pen of a young composer?

Conclusion - Speiser (with Rilling) (2).

Recordings of individual Movements

The aria for soprano 'Schafe können sicher weiden' (No.9) from BWV 208 has become one of the trademarks of Bach. This movement was performed numerous times individually, either in its original form, or in one of its many adaptations to various combinations of instruments. Below is a list of the recordings of this movement I am aware of. I am sure that there also are many many others. See: Cantata BWV 208 – Recording of Individual Movements.

Personal Viewpoint - The importance of liner notes

Before and during listening to the cantata under discussion, I usually read every written possible source. An important source for many listeners is the liner notes included in the booklet attached to the CD. In older days they were located on the back cover of the LP, and were much easier to read. Nowadays the task is more complicated. We have to take the booklet out of its case, strain our eyes to read those small letters, sometimes in inconvenient font and disturbing background. Who will bother? And in many cases the liner notes are useless. Talking about cantatas, many liner notes fall in the trap of listing the performers, dates, order of the movements and short description of their forms, instrumentation, circumstances and background of the composition, stations in Bach's life, sources of the text, summof the text. In summary, lot of information, most of it is useless for the purpose of enriching our listening. When I read liner notes, I want that the author will turn my attention to the mood of the piece, important textual and musical details, what is the right way to interpret it, etc. This time I decided to take a closer look in the liner notes of each one of the recordings of Cantata BWV 208 in my possession and to compare them. In the list below the name of the liner notes' author appears within brackets next to the name of the conductor.

1. Forster (Peter Avis) (1) - Brief and concentrates on telling the story of the plot.
2. Rilling (Alfred Dürr) (2) - Exemplary liner notes - erudite and enlightening. A first rate source for deeper listening.
4. Schreier (Martin Möller) (4) - Similar to that of Forster.
6. Harnoncourt (Wolfgang Marx) (6) - Relatively short. Includes description of the plot. Each movement is covered in one sentence, which lists the instrumentation and nothing more.
7. Antál (author not mentioned) (7) - Similar to that of Harnoncourt.
8. Koopman (Christoph Wolff) (8) - A lot of informative details, but nothing that contributes to out listening.
9. Güttler (Hans-Günther Ottenberg) (9) - Short, but supplies some musical hints for listening.
10. Leonhardt (Malcolm Boyd) [11] - Short and similar to that of Harnoncourt. Boyd mention that it has been suggested that an early version of the 1st Brandenburg Concerto possibly served as an introduction to the cantata… certainly the parts for the two hunting-horns in Diana's aria find an echo in the concerto. I do not recall reading this in any of the other liner notes.

My conclusion is that most of the liner notes to the recordings of BWV 208 are short and not very useful. However, we have Dürr. If I had the space, I would quote the whole article. But due to limitations of space (this review is already too long) I used only parts from it as a general introduction to the cantata and before the comparison between the recordings of the soprano movements.

The liner notes are important for deeper listening. No one is being forced to read them. I know many people who are enjoying hearing the cantatas without reading any liner notes, and even without reading the libretto. But if you want to enrich the way you listen to the cantatas, understanding the text and good written guide are important. You will discover many meanings, layers and details, which you were not aware to their existence. You will find how endlessly rich Bach Cantatas world is, and you will enjoy it more, much more. Indeed, it demands some effort, but is worth it. As we have learnt from many Bach Cantatas, to way to happiness demands some sacrifice and agony.

The best way to compensate oneself for dull liner notes is to read a good book about the cantatas, which analyse each one of them. The best of their kind are Alec Robertson and W. Murray Young. This is why I quote so often from them in my weekly cantata reviews. But, alas, both books are out of print. Much wider available is Simon Crouch's site. I have read the best in the field is the book of Alfred Dürr, but it is available only in German and AFAIK it has not been translated yet into English.


Recording - My vote goes for the first Rilling's recording (2). Second place is shared by Schreier (4), Harnoncourt (6) and Koopman (8).
Liner notes - Alfred Dürr, for the same recording (2)

And as always, I would like to hear other opinions, regarding the above mentioned performances, or other recordings.

Jane Newble wrote (December 15, 2000):
When my son hears some Bach he does not like, he says that he probably got paid by the note for this one. I'm sure Bach would have loved that!

It is, however, a bit how I feel, listening to this cantata. I'm not sure what the problem is, but it just does not inspire me.

Perhaps it is the triviality and meaninglessness (to me) of the words. Perhaps it is that I don't feel in the mood for anything to do with hunting. Perhaps it is because I have only the Peter Schreier version (4) and cannot compare.

There are some nice moments, like the second aria with the horn and the safely grazing sheep, and the chorale, but as a whole, I'm afraid it does not do much to me.

Nevertheless, I would like to thank Aryeh for his excellent analysis and comparison (as usual), and for taking the trouble to read all the notes in the CD booklets!

I felt I should say something, even if it is not very much, and not very positive! Sorry about that!!

Andrew Oliver wrote (December 16, 2000):
I, too, thought that this was the week for BWV 64. I now realize that the list I printed out was revised, so that BWV 64 and BWV 208 changed places.

I do not have BWV 208.


Impromptus: Bach's themes (BWV 208)

Henri N. Levinspuhl wrote (January 10, 2004):

Chasing merrily after a wholesome delight when the days are well ruled, and not therefore as a lazy and careless disorder of life, but as a joy settled in good consciousness, and not therefore as a heap of anxieties rising from the ruins of a cauterized consciousness, but as a gracious day shining on him who uses well his own scepter of time, and not therefore imbued with the insidious art of greed, the hidden art of plundering, or enticed into passions utterly askew (despite of those learned inclined to set them free), but as an innocent fresh air, a lovely walk in the meadows and woods, with an arrow traveling towards its prey: Bach's music.


Continue on Part 2

Cantatas BWV 208 & BWV 208a: Details & Complete Recordings of BWV 208 | Recordings of Individual Movements from BWV 208 | Details & Recordings of BWV 208a | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Recordings & Discussions of Cantatas: Main Page | Cantatas BWV 1-50 | Cantatas BWV 51-100 | Cantatas BWV 101-150 | Cantatas BWV 151-200 | Cantatas BWV 201-224 | Cantatas BWV Anh | Order of Discussion
Discussions of General Topics: Cantatas & Other Vocal Works | Performance Practice | Radio, Concerts, Festivals, Recordings


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