Background Information
Performer Bios

Poet/Composer Bios

Additional Information

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

Cantata BWV 208
Was mir behagt, ist nur die muntre Jagd!
Cantata BWV 208a
Was mir behagt, ist nur die muntre Jagd!
Discussions - Part 3

Continue from Part 2

Discussions in the Week of February 13, 2005 [Continue]

Neil Halliday wrote (February 16, 2005):
BWV 208: more BCW examples

Aria Mvt. 9.

[5] The Kirkby/Goodman version is a nice HIP example. It's about the same speed as Rilling 2 [10], and features a theorbo (I think) in the continuo, which brings more intimacy to the music than a harpsichord can, IMO. Kirkby's voice is appealing, as usual.

The soprano in the version from Hungary (C-7) brings more vibrato to some of the long notes, and the continuo harpsichord in not as interesting, IMO.

Aria Mvt. 2.

[7] This C-7 example addresses the problem of tempo in this aria, which in the Rilling [10] and Harnoncourt [6] versions is too fast to allow proper comprehension of the shape of the continuo and horn parts: Antal renders the music at least enjoyable, if still not completely eliminating a foggy aspect in the continuo line. The soprano here is most expressive and appealing.

Eric Bergerud wrote (February 18, 2005):
BWV 208 - Counting Sheep (Long)

I've listened to BMV 208 several times in the last couple of weeks, alternating between my copies by Harnoncourt [6] (with the Schoenberg Choir - boys are on vacation) and Ton Koopman [8]. Members on the list far better qualified than I have analyzed the work recently and more so a couple of years back. Suffice it to say that I like the work. Bach's secular cantatas all have interesting music (what Bach doesn't?) and they're often wonderfully playful. Taken as a whole, I'd take BWV 202 (the Wedding Cantata) to a desert island over BWV 208 but that's taste. To be honest though, I don't think I'd often revisit the "Hunt" often if I was looking for 30 minutes of quality Bach. Except, that is, for the matter of the sheep.

I don't want to use the "musical marketplace" as any indicator of quality, but it might work as some indicator of popularity. A quick check on Archiv (ideal because its site easily separates performances of the complete cantata from fragments) shows that BWV 208 isn't exactly a crowd pleaser. There are four performances available: Rilling [10] (coupled with a concerto), Roy Goodman [5] leads the Parley of Instruments (43 minutes plus - a most leisurely pace); Matyas Antal leads Failoni Chamber Orchestra for Naxos [7]. Peter Schrier's version [4] is available on Amazon, for the moment. And Ton Koopman's Volume 3 remains available. Some of the complete versions found on our web site are available used on Amazon. But, at least for the moment, if you want a new "big name" Hunt Cantata you're out of luck in the USA. Mind you, 4 recordings isn't bad for a Bach cantata - but it pales in front of the 23 available of Ich Habe Genug (BWV 82). And no Gardiner, no Suzuki, no Junghanel.

The aria "Sheep May Safely Graze" does rather better. There are 111 CDs on Archiv that have it; 173 are listed on Amazon. Obviously this is a piece that has taken the public's fancy. Aryeh has compiled several single movements on the site. Allow me to make a few additions to the horde that I was able to listen to on Amazon. The sheep come in a few recognizable flocks. First there is a straight up orchestral version. Karl Munchinger with the Stuttgart CO must be on a dozen CDs for babies, readers looking for muzak or in collections of old music. Eugene Ormandy, Marriner and, natch, Stowkowski also have orchestral versions. A smaller flock has an orchestra and choir. Pablo Casal conducts the CSO with a full choir in English; Ormandy does the same with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir (at least I think it's English.) But the biggest flock consists of a blizzard of transcriptions, including some by famous folk. In some cases the entire work is transcribed. John Ogden and Brenda Lucas do it on two pianos, along with the Sabre Dance among other gems. Angela Hewitt and Gordon Fergus-Thompson each manage the task with one. Virgil Fox pumps it out on an organ. Wendy Carlos turns on her synthesizer. Michael Murray trumpets on two CDs, one with an orchestra the other with an organ. The Canadian Brass replaces the Bach instrumentation and singing with - brass. James Galway gives the piece an interesting twist - he uses a boys choir for the lyrics and basically replaces the orchestra with his flute. A capello fans have two CDs to chose from. And if you like the East African sound, check out the ... unusual Lambarena - Bach to Africa.

There are a very few that essentially do the aria straight with instruments and a soprano. Emma Kirkby, Kathleen Battle, Jane Norman and Elizabeth Schwarzkopf are available. Adrian Bolt and the LSO appear on a couple of CDs with an unnamed singer who does a fine job. But overall the divas don't hold a candle to the orchestras, organs, flutes, guitars and heaven knows what else.

What to make of all this? I noted that several customer reviewers referred to Sheep May Safely Graze as "overrated", "overplayed" "baroque warhorse" and similar such comments. Are they right? The 1812 Overture appears on scores of CDs and I don't think many classical music junkies would place it in the Hall of Fame. Certainly famous places can be solid duds. I know - I live across the Bay Bridge from Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco, an absolutely worthless tourist trap in an overrated but beautiful city (but with good eats).

Judging from the comments in the archive, list members in the past have given the Sheep a much more favorable hearing. If my impression is correct, I certainly concur. In my humble opinion, Sheep May Safely Graze is one of Bach's most beautiful arias and a work of inspired genius. Frankly "beautiful" is not a word I normally use when referring to Bach. To me Bach is above all extremely deep and extremely moving. His music has an impact that's difficult to describe really. But for the most part I don't find Bach beautiful in the same way as I find the last few minutes of Mozart's Figaro or the adagio from the clarinet concerto beautiful. Conversely, Mozart doesn't normally twist my brain in a knot which happens often with Bach. However, I submit, that for whatever reason, Bach composed a piece with lovely melody that is a splendid showcase for the female voice.

I wonder if this was an accident. Herr Franck's libretto for BWV 208 is the kind of thing that gave Baroque opera a bad name in later days. Overall, it's a pretty mindless affair. It's like someone let Hesiod lose with a toy piano. I suppose a mid-level German prince might have enjoyed being compared to Pan, but to a modern ear the libretto is pretty lame. It serves to remind us that bad taste was not invented in the 21st Century. Of course Bach could still make it sound good because he was Bach, but if I watched BWV 208 on DVD I'd turn off the subtitles. Except for part 9.

Whether intentional or not, the simple lyrics for Sheep May Safely Graze push some extremely powerful buttons. Surrounded by Bach simple but lovely melody, Pales sings:

Sheep may ever graze securely
Where a worthy shepherd wakes.

Where the rulers well are ruling,
May one rest and peace discover
And what nations blissful makes.

I doubt that Franck or Bach considered this piece to be another way to say "Happy Birthday." The shepard and flock is one of the most powerful and oldest images in Christianity. More to the point, a religious of peace and good government directed at an 18th Century prince reflected perfectly Martin Luther's view of the state and worship. The work was composed in the duchy of Saxe-Weimar which Wolff estimates had a population of about 50,000 at the time. This was the type of world Luther idealized. While Enlightenment philosophes yearned for philosopher kings of great power, Luther was a man of the Middle Ages and deeply suspicious of secular power. The job of the prince was to keep an orderly society which would allow worship, always the most important part of existence, to take place without fear of violence. If a prince was just and genuinely paternalistic all the better. A ruler who dispensed justice and equity within his realm might even join the blessed in paradise - not a place where Luther believed many princes would enter.

In the 18th Century there were many in Germany who agreed with Luther, and many more Germans did later. This was the period when Germany was the land of "Dichter und Denker": a patchwork of a multitude of states most small or at best modest in size. (Weimar, was after all, Goethe's home too.) Later Engles condemned the image as complete charade, categorizing most petty German princes as greedy ignorant boobs who were at their best squeezing the peasants of whatever wealth was available. No doubt true in some cases, but not all. In point there were some powerful reasons to admire a place like Weimar.

Bach's views of great power politics are not well known. He certainly must have had some. As the Chinese might put it, Bach did live in "interesting times." He grew up in an era when the traumatic memories of the 30 Years War which had devastated much of Germany were most fresh. As a young man he lived through the War of the Spanish Succession. Bavaria was a major combatant in the war, the worst since 1648, and British, Imperial and French armies passed through western German several times. At the same time Brandenburg and Saxony were involved in the Great Northern War which, at one point, saw a Swedish Army hold much of Saxony. As an old man, Bach would have observed Saxony involved in a war against Austria along with half of Europe. (The Saxons never did well in these outings, but neither did they suffer unduly. Fighting badly has it's up-side.) If one was a peasant or good citizen of a small German state such conflicts, if they showed up on your front yard, could well mean utter ruin. The conduct or war had moderated since 1648, but was still extremely dangerous if an army was close by. Weakness had it's advantages really. There was precious little to gain by getting involved with feuds with big nations. Being weak and small meant you had little to offer and also less to take from. It was perfectly acceptable to "duck" or send only symbolic aid when guns began firing. When Franck wrote about sheep grazing "safely" he was writing in a world where the wolves were most real. I am not suggesting that Bach was writing music for the 18th Century version of "Give Peace a Chance" but I think it possible that he knew full well that tranquility could literally be a matter of life and death. Such thoughts might well have prompted good music.

John Pike wrote (February 18, 2005):
[To Eric Bergerud] I listened to Rilling [10] a few weeks ago. I also have Harnoncourt [6] but haven't listened to it for a few months. Both enjoyable enough. I also have Schwarzkopf singing "Schafe koennen sicher weiden", which is very good.

I thoroughly enjoy this cantata. The sheep aria is justifiably very famous; despite being used and abused in many ways, it has survived as the masterpiece it is, but the rest of the cantata is also most enjoyable. As Neil remarked in his introduction, Bach parodied a lot of the best music in other works. It is, therefore, a bit like hearing early versions of some of your favourite Bach.

OT: San Francisco is one of my favourite world cities, even though I live 5500 miles away. I agree that Fisherman's wharf is over-rated but the meal we had in Scoma's fish restaurant was one of the very best fish meals I have ever had. The rest of the city thrives on those wonderful steep hills, straight streets, wonderful vistas, the bay, the bridges, the Street cars, the Mission itself, some great architecture, Chinatown, the Golden Gate bridge itself, Alcatraz, the sailing boats making their way around the bay, a wonderful atmosphere and so much more. I am quite envious of Eric living so near, except for the lack of Bach. Having said that, Bristol, UK, where I live, is another of my very favourite cities, with lots of Bach going on and lots of very fine amateur and professional musicians. We also have concerts from many of the world's top orchestras and conductors.

Peter Bloemendaal wrote (February 19, 2005):
BWV 208 - Was mir behagt ist nur die muntre Jagd

First I would like to share with you Konrad Küster's elucidating article on this week's Hunting Cantata as published in the Oxford Composer Companion. Konrad Küstner is professor of musicology at Freiburg University and an expert on Bach's Thuringian period. In 1996 he published "Der junge Bach".

Was mir behagt ist nur die muntre Jagd (The cheerful hunt is all that pleases me)

Secular cantata, BWV 208, for the birthday of Duke Christian of Saxe-Weißenfels (23 February), probably composed in 1713 when Bach was paid for a series of concerts in Weißenfels. It is his first "modern" cantata, including both da capo arias and recitatives. However, the main sections of the arias have only very brief texts, and Bach often relinquishes simple recitative in favour of a more arioso style. The text is by Salomo Franck.

As usual in secular cantatas, the courtly celebration takes precedence over classical accuracy, but the use of mythological names for the solo voices at least guarantees some slight dramatic action. Four singers are employed: Diana and Pales (both soprano), Endymion (tenor), and Pan (bass). At first, only Diana, the goddess of hunting (a sport for which the duke had an extraordinary passion), appears "on stage". After an opening recitative, which was presumably preceded by an instrumental movement (the Sinfonia BWV 1046a has been suggested, possibly for a later revival of the cantata), Diana praises hunting as the passion of gods and heroes. Then Endymion appears; he feels rejected by his beloved Diana who at the moment is concerned only with hunting. Endymion expresses his feelings in another recitative-aria pair. Then Endymion and Diana join together in a short dialogue aboutr thew reasons for her behaviour, in which Diana explains that today her action is focused on Duke Christian's birthday. At once Endymion accepts this excuse, and they both decide to join in the Duke's celebration.

The recitative-aria pattern is repeated with the appearances of Pan and Pales, who, unlike Diana and Endymion, praise the duke unreservedly. A short recitative for Diana leads to the first "chorus" (strictly speaking, an ensemble; the upper parts are for two sopranos, and there is no alto part). This is followed by a succession of arias without recitatives. First Diana and Endymion fulfil their promise to serenade the duke in a duet; then Pales and Pan each sing another aria, and the work ends with another "chorus".

The shape of the cantata is obviously determined by musical rather than dramatic consideration: each singer has an aria before the first chorus and another aria (or duet) before the second. In the first half each aria is preceded by a recitative which pulses the "action" forward, while the aria itself expresses the character's feelings on a higher musical level. Such characterization as there is, is based on the role the person has in classical mythology, and some of the "players" carry appropriate belongings. Diana is provided with an arrow (mentioned in her opening recitative), and Pan lays down his shepherd's crook in front of the duke. Both "props" suggest that the cantata may have been in a semi-staged manner. Other attributes are suggested by the music. Diana's aria is accompanied by two "hunting" horns, the first aria of Pales (the goddess of cattle and herdsmen) by two recorders.

Any criticism of the duke was, of course, excluded. Thus it is that Pales, in her first aria, the well-known "Schafe können sicher weiden" ("Sheep may safely graze"), expresses admiration of the duke as a solicitous ruler, despite the fact that only a few years later Duke Christian was arraigned before the "Reichsgericht" (the supreme court) because of his squandermania, especially as far as hunting was concerned.

With slight alterations the cantata was repeated some years later for a birthday of Duke Ernst August of Weimar (only the duke's name had to be changed), and again in 1742 for the nameday of the Saxon elector, Friedrich August II. In 1725, Bach incorporated the music of nos. 7 and 13 into Cantata BWV 68, "Also hat Gott die Welt geliebt" and in 1728/9, the final chorus became the opening chorus of Cantata BWV 149, "Man singet mit Freuden vom Sieg". Thus the Hunt Cantata was an example of Bach's early vocal music that he was pleased to draw on throughout his further career. [Konrad Küster]

Although I share with Jane Newble a predilection for the church cantatas, this cantata once more demonstrates that Bach was an accomplished composer already at an early stage in his career. Since the occasion was a worldly event, one may find the work as a whole lacking in depth. As Eric and others already pointed out, the worldly rulers were considered to be God's own viceroys to rule the lands of the earth in his name, by his grace in order to preserve the true faith, which was Lutheranism in Thuringia of course. So, what we consider to be bad taste flattery and toadyism from our present point of view was a generally approved tribute to the reigning monarch at the time. And although composing for the opera and theatre would never be Bach's favourite occupation, we can safely assume that his efforts here were highly appreciated, seeing that he decided to use his composition again for similar and different purposes later on. Still, it is clear that Bach's most glorious and profound vocal music would not be inspired by the dukes and emperors of this world but by his King in heaven.

Unlike Aryeh Oron, who seems to have each and every recording at his disposal, I only have Peter Schreier [4] and Roy Goodman's [5] and the most popular aria by Elisabeth Schwarzkopf. What I admire Aryeh for though, is his continuous willingness to share his precious experiences with all of us, which may be helpful to select and purchase the recordings that seem a good buy. Together with his reviews, he has done so for five years already.

What can I do to show my gratitude?
If I were Bach I'd write you a cantata,
with trumpets, flutes and organ obligato,
but without him it would not do you good.
You've served Apollo and the muses well
in ways beyond their fair imaginations,
creating music bonds across the nations
through words inspired by the master's spell.
No internet award, no on line praise
would quite express what joy you've given us
letting us listen, comment and discuss,
to honour Bach and put him on the dais.
Yet, raising Bach's throne to our hearts' content,
You've built yourself a lasting monument.

Listening to my records, I must come to a rather strange conclusion. Comparing the three sopranos in their separate "Schafe können sicher weiden" arias, I must admit I prefer the oldest. In 1946 Schwarzkopf was at the summit of her career. She has such a warm and expressive voice. Also the accompanying instruments sound great to me. It's the players' tragic that they tend to be forgotten after all these years, whereas the names of the soloist singers live on. I had never heard of Isolde Ahlgrimm, but I like her contribution a lot. I do not know if her performance was "authentic" or if the instrument was different from the ones we hear in modern recordings, but it fits the vocals quite charmingly. Close second comes Arleen Augér's Pales with Emma Kirkby trailing behind. Yet, listening to the overall performance, I much prefer the one with The Parley of Instruments from 1985, including Kirkby, Jennifer Smith, Simon Davies and Michael George because of the interpretation by Roy Goodman and Peter Holman, who have tried to reconstruct the original performance.

I quote Peter Holman's account of the recording from the booklet:

In this recording we have tried to present this cantata in a form which might have been performed at Weißenfels in 1713. This involves a number of departures from Bach's autograph score (prepared for a later performance at Weimar) and from established modern practice.

1. The two choruses are sung as ensembles by the four soloists. This is suggested by the range of the parts and by the practice of the time in large dramatic cantatas and serenatas.

2. The string parts are played one to a part using a small cello and a large bassviolin, respectively for the lines in Bach´s score marked "Violoncello" and "Violone grosso". Recent research suggests that the ensemble available to him at Weißenfels was very small. It seems not to have included a 16' pitch stringed instrument.

3. The cantata is prefaced by the first movemement of Brandenburg No. 1 in its early version (BWV 1046a). Although we do not know for sure that this piece acted as the sinfonia for the work, it is in the right key, it is scored for the right instruments, it comes from the right part of Bach's career, and it is in an appropriate hunting style. Large cantatas like "Was mir behagt" were invariably prefaced by concerted instrumental music, though composers frequently pressed existing music into service. This movement was later used as the sinfonia to Bach's church cantata BWV 52.

4. The Minuet of Brandenburg No. 1 (again in its early version, BWV 1046a) is placed at the end of the cantata to represent the Tafelmusik that we know followed the first performance of "Was mir behagt"at Weißenfels. Following contemporary practice (indicated, for instance, in Händel's "Water Music"), we have varied its scoring on the repeats.

A very interesting recording, including the Wedding Cantata (BWV 202) and BWV 82, "Ich habe genug", to be absolutely recommended.

Eric Bergerud wrote (February 19, 2005):
Thankee to Peter for his interesting post on BWV 208. So Christian got in trouble with the Weimar Fish and Game Department did he? Great anecdote: exactly the kind of thing Engles was talking about when he roasted the image of the kindly 18th Century German petty prince. Gotta give the Christians of Europe their due though - hunting in royal style did cost a bundle but it was also extremely dangerous and required horsemanship of the highest order if one wished to walk the next day.

Peter's explanation of Goodman's [5] attempt to recreate the original occasion also probably explains the great length of his version - 43 minutes, 23 seconds. That's a whopper of a cantata. I have to think over whether I should deplete the bank book on that one though. On one hand I really like Goodman. On the other hand there are three cantatas on two discs, a pretty expensive proposition. I have three nice BWV 202s and, because it seems to get put on every third Cantata selection, I certainly Habe Genug Habe Genugs.

Let me plug the singing of both Angela Blasi with Harnoncourt [6] and Mrs Harnoncourt (Elizabeth von Magnus) who performs with Koopman's band. Both do a wonderful job and are very well accompanied. I do wish Barbara Bonney got into the act somewhere or Ruth Holton for that matter. Anif Cecilia Bartoli can sing Vivaldi, why not Bach? Guess she won't stray from Italian or French. (Actually, judging from the huge number of transcriptions, I'm a little surprised we don't have a version from Metallica.)

Aryeh Oron wrote (February 21, 2005):
BWV 208 - Dürr's Commentary

In my contribution to the previous discussion of Cantata BWV 208 (December 2000), I made a comparison of the liner notes to 8 recordings of the cantata. At the end of the review I wrote: "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"

It is time now to give you the full meal. This will serve two goals:
A. IMO, 40 years after it was written, this commentary is still the best introduction and background for listening to the cantata.
B. An appetiser to the upcoming release of Dürr's book 'Bach' Cantatas' (OUP), which was discussed in the BCML only last month:[Durr].htm

Alfred Dürr's Commentary
(included in the liner notes to Rilling's 1st recording on Cantate, 1965 [2], English translation by Howard Weiner)

One of the German princes of the Baroque era who endeavored to emulate the royal splendor of the court of Louis XIV was Duke Christian of Saxe-Weissenfels. The festivities marking his birthday, which fell on the 23rd of February, often went on for several weeks; and since he was a passionate hunter, a hunt, or even several, was part of the annual celebrations. Among the more distressing aspects of this extravagant courtly life style was the fact that the Duke mismanaged his duchy to such an extent that in later years the Emperor had to appoint a commission to administer his finances. One of the more fortunate aspects, on the other hand, was that Bach - probably in 1713 - helped embellish the festivities "following the baitings held in the yard of the princely hunting lodge" with a Tafelmusik (table music).

This cantata is thus Bach's earliest secular work of this sort that has come down to us. It is not known if yet earlier congratulatory cantatas have been lost. The libretto was supplied by Salomon Franck, senior secretary to the consistorial court at Weimar, who was to provide the texts to numerous sacred cantatas composed by Bach in the Weimar years that followed. The verses describe a simple plot: Diana devotes herself today exclusively to the hunt. Her lover Endymion, disappointed, asks if she no longer feels any love for him. Diana explains that she indeed still loves him, but that today it is of foremost importance to honor Duke Christian on the occasion of his birthday. Now Endymion also wishes to participate, and together with Diana he kindles a "joy-offering" in honor of the duke. Pan enters now and praises the fortune that a prince embodies for his country. And finally Pales, the goddess of the shepherds and of the fields, rushes to the scene to compare Christian's manner of rule to that of the watchfulness of a good shepherd. All four then join in a chorus expressing their good wishes for the Duke. With that the story is finished. In the following part of the cantata, the four gods offer their felicitations again - Diana and Endymion in duet, Pales and Pan each with a solo aria - before the work concludes with a full-voiced chorus, the combined rejoicings of all the well-wishers.

Bach's 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.

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 ca po 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.

Also Endymion's recitative which then follows leads into an Arioso, a canon at the fifth, perhaps inspired by the text "und folgest nur der Jägerei?" ("and have you interest only in the hunt?"). Endymion's aria "Willst du dich nicht mehr ergotzen" ("Do you no more delight") is an ornate movement over an ostinato bass that - transposed into various tonalities and occasionally treated rather freely - recurs again and again.

The next recitative, sung by Diana and Endymion together, develops very quickly into a polyphonic dialogue patterned after the duets by Agosinto Steffani then very much admired. It owes its vivacity to the constant exchange of thematic material between the two singers.

In the following recitative, this time in true secco style, Pan appears. He is accompanied in his aria by three oboes (Oboe I, II, and Oboe da caccia), the characteristic shepherd's instrument. Compositionally, Bach was faced here with the task of setting an aria text almost devoid of all caesurae, and therefore also without longer rests for the singer. The usual da capo is obviously not appropriate here. But just in this aria Bach creates, through frequent modulations into distant tonalities, an extraordinary harmonic fascination.

The appearance of a new congratulator, Pales, is accomplished yet a fourth time employing the musical forms of recitative and aria (movements 8 and 9). Of these, 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 woodwind accompaniment so differently that the impression of a repetition never occurs.

Diana now urges all four congratulators to join together in their felicitations, These are offered in the chorale fugue "Lebe, Sonne dieser Erden" ("Live, Sun of this earth") as a charming alternation between voices and instruments. The middle section of the movement is homophonic and cantabile.

The remaining movements follow without intermediate recitatives. (The story has ended!)

After the horns and wood winds, the solo violin comes to the fore as obbligato instrument. The duet "Entzücke uns beide" ("Delight us both") is homophonic ally fashioned after the French manner (in contrast to Steffani's Italian polyphony). Appropriate to Baroque aesthetics, the cheerful character of the movement becomes melancholy at the words "befreiet vom Leide" ("freed from sorrow"): The concept of sorrow, also in its negation, is interpreted musically by minor harmonies.

Pale's aria "Weil die wollenreichen Herden" ("Because the herds rich in wool") is less wellknown than its sacred adaptation "Mein gläubiges Herz" from the Pentecost cantata BWV 68. That is not at all surprising since the unpretentious melody of the secular model is hardly to be recognized in the animation of the Pentecostal cantata setting. In addition, the aria in the hunting cantata is, with nearly the same instrumental parts, more concise in form: The short text is set in its entirety already in the first section so that a contrasting middle section is wanting. In the Pentecost cantata, an instrumritornel10 follows immediately after the vocal section; and the model for this movement too is to be found at the back of the score of the hunting cantata. We are not at all sure what function this instrumental piece had in the Weißenfels Tafelmusik. In our recording we have placed it after Pales' aria, analogous to its position in the Pentecost cantata, and have thereby possibly fulfilled Bach's intention.

An aria of tuneful melody and classical da capo form sung by Pan with only continuo accompaniment closes the series of solo movements. They are followed by a tutti concluding chorus that is for the most part homophonic but, through the participation of all the instruments, achieves antiphonal effects between the woodwinds, strings, horns, and voices. A signal-like motif sounded initially in the horns, later also in the bassoon and cello, and finally unison in the tutti wood winds or strings, is a last reminder of the occasion of the cantata's performance, the ducal hunt.

Aryeh Oron wrote (February 21, 2005):
Cantata BWV 208 and Weissenfels

Music in Weißenfels

Last week we had a short discussion of the history of music in Mühlhausen in connection with Cantata BWV 71. This week we are invited to examine more closely the history of music in Weißenfels.

The most important musicians who lived in Weißenfels are Schütz and Beer. Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672) was one of the most famous composers of this time. He was the conductor at the court of the Saxon princes. He composed the "Johannes-Passion" and one of the first operas "Daphne". In Weißenfels there is a house with his name because he bought it in 1651 and lived there till 1672. Today it's a museum and sometimes concerts are given there. It's a Renaissance building from the 16th century. Johannes Beer (1655-1700) was an author and composer. Besides his musical talent, which brought him to the court of August, the Duke of Saxony-Weissenfels, he was also well-known for his many literal masterpieces. Other notable musicians associated with Weißenfels are: Georg Friedrich Händel (1685-1759), whose outstanding musical talent of was discovered at the church of Castle Neu-Augustusburg; Johann Philipp Krieger (1649-1725), under his direction as a court master Weißenfels became a significant centre of the early German Baroque opera and the Protestant church cantata. Among the impressive line-up of well-known composers who worked or grew up in Weißenfels are also Georg Philipp Telemann, Reinhard Keiser, Johann David Heinichen, and Johann Friedrich Fasch. There is quite no other town in which so many important musicians of 17th and the first half of the 18th, century have left their footprints.

Bach Connection

In 1656 the death of the Saxon Elector Johann Georg I occasioned the partition of eastern Saxony in such a way as to make his second surviving son, August, Prince of Merseburg and Duke of Weißenfels. Two generations later, in 1712, Johann Georg's grandson Christian (1682-1736) succeeded as Duke of Weißenfels.

J.S. Bach composed his famous Hunt Cantata BWV 208 for the birthday of Duke Christian of Saxe-Weißenfels (February 23), most probably in 1713, when he was paid for a series of concerts in Weißenfels. The banquet was held at Fürstlichen Jäger-Hofe (the ducal hunting lodge), where today stands Hotel Jägerhof. For the occasion of the birthday of Duke in 1725 J.S. Bach contributed and performed another secular cantata. This time it was the Shepherd Cantata BWV 249a, the original manuscripts of which, as well as all the copies, have been lost. Only the text in the first volume of Picander's poems has been preserved. Also preserved is J.S. Bach Easter Oratorio BWV 249, in three different versions, the music of its arias was taken from the Shepherd Cantata. Some time after the death of the Weißenfels Kapellmeister Johann Philipp Krieger - possibly after spending a few days at Weißenfels in February 1729 - J.S. Bach was appointed composer von Haus aus to the duchy, an appointment which in effect made him ineligible, until 1736, for a similar honour at the royal and electoral court in Dresden.

Weißenfels had close ties with Halle, where indeed the court was originally established, and it was during a visit with his father to Weißenfels that the boy Händel's organ playing attracted the attention of Duke Johann Adolph I (reigned 1680-1697). Another important figure with Weißenfels connections was the cantata librettist Erdmann Neumeister, who was pastor there in 1704-1706. During the reigns of Duke Christian (1712-1736) and his successor Johann Adolf II (1736-1746), Weißenfels was famed as a centre for touring and home-produced opera, and also as a centre for trumpet-playing. Two sisters of Anna Magdalena Bach, themselves daughters of a court trumpeter at Zeitz, married court trumpeters at Weißenfels, and both Gottfried Reiche, who served J.S. Bach as senior Stadtpfeifer in Leipzig, and I. E. Altenburg (1734-1801), who published an important history and tutor for the natural trumpet in 1795, came from Weißenfels. In November 1739 J.S. Bach made another trip to Weißenfels again, this time with his wife Anna Magdalena, probably for a family visit.

Even today Weißenfels is dominated by the elevated palace in which the dukes lived, and of which the chapel and its organ survive intact and restored. But the extension which housed the theatre where opera performances were given was built on insecure foundations and had collapsed by the mid-18th century.

My Bach Tour

Weißenfels was our first station on February 12, 2004. We arrived there from Leipzig at about 11:30 and realised that actually this town is not far away from Leipzig. I asked about the Schloss, but the kind woman at the TI told us that it was closed for repairs. I asked about any other Bach connection, and she guided us to Hotel Jägerhof. We found the place easily; I entered the hotel and asked for the manager, because I wanted to know where exactly Bach stayed in his visit. Unfortunately the manager was not there, and what was left for us to do is only taking his business card and some photos. See:
Our next station was Naumburg and then Zeitz. When after 3 more touring days, we returned to Leipzig, I thought of the possibility of staying for one night at Hotel Jägerhof, to feel, you know, closer to Bach. But we were lucky to find a good and not very expansive hotel in the Old Town of Leipzig and missed the opportunity. Now, when I know that Bach did not actually attended Hotel Jägerhof, but Fürstlichen Jäger-Hofe (theducal hunting lodge), I am less disappointed.


Auger's 208

Robert Sherman wrote (May 12, 2006):
I once heard Arleen Auger's recording of the Sheep May Safely Graze aria from 208, and it was stunning. But I've been unable to locate the CD. Does anyone know where this recording is available? The version I heard was an anthology rather than a full recording of 208.

Aryeh Oron wrote (May 12, 2006):
[To Robert Sherman] If you take a look at Arleen Auger bio page:
you will be able to notice that she recorded the famous aria for soprano from Cantata BWV 208 with Greg Funfgeld.
See: [C-5]
She also took part in a complete recording of the same cantata with Peter Schreier.
See: [C-4]

Robert Sherman wrote (May 13, 2006):
[To Aryeh Oron] TX for the ID, but it appears to be unavaliable.

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (May 13, 2006):
Robert Sherman wrote:
< TX for the ID, but it appears to be unavaliable.>
In this age and time there is no reason that anyone should lack the music of a performance that has been issued on CD. Something that is out of print as so many vital things are (we live in a throw away world and CD issues
are out of print often immediately and this includes items dear to each of us) can be copied. I myself often enough on various lists when I have something that another person cannot find, burn it. There is also for vocal works a list called

For non-vocal works there is a list called

I would not be concerned about the name "opera". Arleen Auger would certainly have her fans and collectors there.

Good luck,

Robert Sherman wrote (May 13, 2006):
[To Yoël L. Arbeitman] Agree totally. But while searching OPERA-SELL produced a few Augers, non of them were Sheep May Safely Graze.

So does anyone have one he/she is willing to sell or copy?

BWV 208--That song about the sheep

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (June 16, 2009):
Funny thing and to my loss: a few years ago, maybe more, who knows, I picked up two Rilling "profane" cantata CDs, both with a Pan. I played the one with Pan and Phoebus at that time, was not blown away, and simply forgot about the Sheep cantata. The other day I caught on the radio Harnoncourt's recording [6] of BWV 208 (I don't have Harnoncourt's or is it H-L or whatever profane cantatas). I looked at my catalogue and found that I have three recordings of this. I have been playing them for days as I am shocked how the Rilling [10] is simply on a different plane of existence from the other two and likely from the rest of the recordings.

The other two are the Forster [1], which I got (replaced actually) because it's part of a DFD set and on the Coffee Cantata in that set Josef Traxel sings, oh, he's only the Narrator/Erzähler (the track listings can't decide between English and German).

Anyway the Forster of BWV 208 [1] has tenor Fritz Wunderlich and Anneliese Kupper with Erika Köth as "the sweet soprano" and, as stated DFD.

Brilliant reprinted Edel's (I assume Berlin Classics) conducted by Schreier [4] with Schreier also as tenor and Edith Mathis with Arleen Auger as "the sweet soprano" [term doubly applies here] and Theo Adam (bass).

Rilling's [10] has James Taylor (tenor) and Sibylla Rubens with Eva Kirchner as "the sweet soprano" and Matthias Goerne (bass).

First and foremost, one almost has to say that it's not the singers; rather it ALL and the WHOLE.

The notes say: "and as sources show, an enhanced instrumental group for the basso continuo". We are not told what sources or who wrote the notes or who prepared this edition.

But, all is very lovingly and thoughtfully done. They have created a suitable introductory sinfonia from the first mvt. of BWV 1046, Brandenburg. Most of the mvts. in this work are accompanied by b.c. only.Several arias do have a large ensemble accompanying them with either horns, oboes or recorders and various strings.

However the various appearances of the sweet soprano either includean ensemble including two viole da gamba or her recit has gamba+ cembalo and her second aria is accompanied by a gamba solo+ cembalo, as I hear it.

Rilling [10] also makes a distinction between the first chorus (aria à 4 or tutti à 4) and final chorus (Tutti).

As to the singers: The two Rilling [10] sopranos are fine but I can't say that, after any hearing, I really recall them (even though I have made notes this time). Schreier's Mathis [4] I recall more for style and Auger is Auger. Forster's Kupper [1] like his Wunderlich is simply forceful and heavy to my ears. Schreier as tenor is very nice but Rilling's Taylor is superb to my ears (I am usually allergic to Schreier except as boy soprano). As to the basses, DFD is in his prime and, one is not supposed to use the hackneyed phrase, a force of nature. I have never been a fan of Theo Adam but he certainly is fine.

There is such a loving difference between what Rilling [10] did and what other performances which I have heard bother to do. I have always hated Rilling since I and four friends walked out on a series of his three major Bach choral works (can't recall whether it was the Johannes-Passion or the Messe; we had heard the Matthäus). Everyone tells me that in his later years and later recordings (this is recorded Sept., 1996) he became a different conductor.

Really has become a favorite recording of mine.

And I love booklets where under the track listing the instruments used for that track are meticulously listed, as e.g. sometimes two oboes+ one English horn and at other times three oboes.

Of course text with translations in French, English, and Spanish are a specialty of Hännsler.

Goodness, I wish a set of the Rilling Profanes were out at a reasonable price.

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (June 17, 2009):
Further to my post (hyperlinked below):
In the listing for the Scoring of BWV 208 the Bach Website gives (and I trust that we did not invent this listing):

Soloists: Two Sopranos, Tenor, Bass; The soloists forming the Chorus
Orchestra: 3 hunting horns, 2 oboes, bassoon, 2 recorders, strings, cello in the continuo

(in addition to my main point below, Rilling [10] does not have the soli form the chorus on both occasions).
As I quoted from the notes to the Rilling recording the other day, they say that from sources we know that the b.c. was enhanced.
Specifically here in all the b.c. areas (except those for Pales [the Sweet Soprano]), we are given in Rilling's recording [10] Violoncello, Contrabasso, Cembalo.
In Pales's recitative we are given Viola da Gamba, Cembalo. (I assume that contrabasso = violone or are they slightly different instruments?)

Neither of these corresponds to the scoring listed. On my Forster set [1] of three profane cantatas, BWV 208, BWV 211, BWV 212, we have no special instruments, either as obbligato or as b.c. listed at all but only Berlin Philharmoniker. Obviously those recordings werenowned for and made for the purpose of the world-famed singers involved. On the Brilliant recording cond. by Schreier [4] we have nothing but Kammerorchester Berlin listed.

Some response appreciated,

At all events I rather feel that Rilling [10] or the editor for his performance created this enhanced b.c. and all the more Pales's Gamba in the b.c. and in her 2nd aria.So I am once again asking for confirmation or its opposite.


Continue on Part 4

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


Back to the Top

Last update: Sunday, May 28, 2017 07:29