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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 4

Continue from Part 3

Discussions in the Week of September 1, 2013

William Hoffman wrote (September 1, 2013):
Hunt Cantata 208: Intro., Etc

Cantata 208

After the completion of a half-dozen early cantatas in the older style, Bach annunciated his goal of creating “well-ordered church music to the glory of God” as he moved from Mülhlhausen as a church organist to a similar post in the duchy of Saxe-Weimar in 1708. While he continued to have considerable opportunity to compose, Bach’s musical voice fell silent. No vocal work has been found dating to the next four years. He did begin to plan a substantial collection of Lutheran chorale organ preludes organized around the church year.

These chosen hymns, as well as the musical setting of the Latin liturgy (Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus) were major components of his calling, with Bach’s Catholic colleagues in Saxony initially satisfying the latter. Meanwhile the “new” German cantata form as a musical sermon was still taking shape, with a new poetic text referring to the appointed Gospel and Epistle readings for the Sunday and feast day services. Erdmann Neumeister (1671-1756), a graduate of the University of Leipzig and an ordained pastor, had published sacred poetry to be set as recitatives and arias in 1705. While at Sorau in 1711, he published his first annual cycle of church-year cantatas, adding Biblical texts and closing chorales, in collaboration with court composer Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767). [See Neumeister BCW Biography,].

Soon after, at Saxe-Weißenfels, which had an extensive musical culture, a court poet, Georg Christian Lehms (1684-1717), and court composer Johann Philipp Krieger (1649-1725) began to pursue another annual cycle, also published in 1711. In 1712 Christian became Duke of Weißenfels and for his first regal birthday celebration Bach’s employer, Weimar Duke Wilhelm Ernst, directed Bach to compose Wilhelm Ernst’s surprise birthday cantata present to Duke Christian. Weimar Court poet Salomo Franck 1659-1725) provided the libretto (See Wikipedia, ) and Bach create his first known new-style cantata. It also was the first in a long series of birthday homage tributes, some surviving only in texts. Two years later, Franck began publishing three annual cycles, for most of Bach’s some 24 Weimar church-year cantatas.

Hunting Cantata 208

Bach’s first documented secular work is his self-described “Cantate,” BWV 208, the so-called “Hunting” Cantata, labeled as “Tafelmusik” (table-music) for the birthday of the Duke Christian, February 23, probably in 1713. “Was mir behagt, ist nur die muntre Jagd!” (!” (What pleases me is above all the lively hunt!) is a substantial work containing 15 movements and lasting about 40 minutes. These involve six recitatives (Bach’s first), seven arias (mostly da-capo, Bach’s first) and two choruses (tutti ensemble). The soloists are mythical deities, Diana and Pales (sopranos), Endymion (tenor), and Pan (bass).

On-line information, see:
Details, Discussion and Discography found at BCW, ;
BCW Text and Francis Browne English translation, ;
Julian Mincham Background & Music Commentary, ;
Definition of Tafelmusik, see Wikipedia, .

The Hunting Cantata BWV 208 is a significant work in many respects. It was Bach’s first “modern” cantata in the Italian form of recitatives and arias, with the Germanic elements of choruses using a full orchestra. It may have began with an opening tutti orchestra sinfonia and it uses da-capo arias (ABA form) and French pastorale-gigue dance styles. The four solo singers also function as the chorus. Other practices at that time included the pastoral images of shepherds supported by the “outdoor wind instruments”: hunting horns, hunting oboe, oboes and recorders and the elements of the outdoor festive serenata. The serenata is “a species of mini-opera with modest dramatic action,” with possible scenic representation, says Alfred Dürr in <Cantatas of JSB> (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2005: 21). It consists almost entirely of dialogue for allegorical characters, “gods or shepherds, who praise the excellence of the prince and unite at the end in general good wishes.” Musically, they “assume the lightly draped, cheerful character of their poetic texts. Dance-like melodies are often heard.”

History, Repeats, Highlights

The Hunting Cantata 208 launched a series of secular cantatas, observes Dürr in Part 3, “Secular Cantatas”; Chapter 1, “Festive Music For Weimar, Weißenfels, and Cöthen,” (Ibid.: 797f). It was repeated several times in different versions and in 1742 concluded Bach’s other series of birthday tributes composed in Leipzig. Cantata 208 probably was repeated for the same Weißenfels birthday occasions in 1720 and 1729 during further Bach visits. It also was presented at Weimar for the birthday of Duke Ernest August, April 19, 1713 or probably 1716, with only a name change of the honoree. As BWV 208a with a revised text possibly by Johann Elias Bach, it was presented for the name day of Dresden monarch August III, August 3, 1742, with a new title, “Verlockender Götterstreit.” The three versions are:

First version: February 21-22, 1713 - Weißenfels, for the birthday of Duke Christian of Sachsen-Weißenfels
Second version: April 19, 1713 or 1716 - Weimar (?), for the birthday of Duke Ernst August of Weimar
Third version: August 3 1742 - Leipzig, for the nameday of the Saxon elector, Friedrich August II

Soon after the premiere of Cantata 208, Duke Christian on May 12, 1712, married Luise Christine of Stolberg-Ortenberg. Franck added a second stanza for the couple in the closing chorus that was sung in succeeding performances in Weißenfels but is usually omitted today. It is found in Z. Philip Ambrose’ English translation on-line with notes, .

Reinforcing the decidedly pastoral mood, the congratulatory work probably was preceded by an elaborate orchestral Sinfonia in F Major, BWV 1046a-1071, the earliest version of the Brandenburg Concerto No. 1.

The three movements are Allegro, Adagio and Menuetto and the instrumentalists were the same as the ensuing cantata: pairs of hunting horns, recorders and oboes, as well as a hunting oboe, bassoon, strings, and Basso continuo. [Recording (Christopher Hogwood): AMG

Bach’s best-known aria (da capo) is BWV 208/9, “Schafe können sicher weiden, / Wo ein guter Hirte wacht” (Sheep can safely graze / where a good shepherd watches over them; Soprano II: Pales [Flauto traverso I/II, Continuo]. It is now used as a popular wedding piece arranged for piano or organ or a concert hall work for orchestra.

Insight into Bach’s Cantata 208 and the courts at Weimar and Weißenfels is found in Marva J. Watson, “The Historical Figures of the Birthday Cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach” (Master’s Thesis, 2010), BCW Articles, : see Chapter 2, ”Duke Christian of Saxe-Weißenfels” and “The Birthday Cantata for Duke Christian,” p. 13ff.

Cantata BWV 208 provided the model and impetus for a series of Bach birthday serenadesin Köthen and serenades and the more formal “drammi per musica” in Leipzig [See BCW Article, “Bach’s Dramatic Music: Serenades, Drammi per Musica, Oratorios,” (see ).

Three Cantata 208 Articles

Cantata 208, BCW Discussions 3, cites three major articles:

A. <<Peter Bloemendaal wrote (February 19, 2005): Konrad Küster's elucidating article on this week's Hunting Cantata is published in the Oxford Composers Companion.>>

In 1725, Bach incorporated the Cantata 208 music of arias Nos. 7 (gigue-style) and 13 (pastorale-style) into the 1725 Easter Monday Cantata BWV 68, “Also hat Gott die Welt geliebt” (God so loved the world), text by Mariane von Ziegler. In 1728/9, the final da-capo chorus (No. 15) became the opening chorus of Cantata BWV 149, "Man singet mit Freuden vom Sieg" (One sings wit the joy of victory), with trumpets replacing horns and set to a Picander text. Bach also used the chorus to close the Town Council Cantata BWV Anh. 194, “Herrscher des Himmels, König der Ehren” (Lord of the heavens, king of glory) in 1740 (printed text only). Two movements of Cantata BWV Anh. 193 survive as parody: aria (No. 5), "Dancke Gott, daß er in Segen" (Thank thy God that he in blessing ) and the closing chorus (No. 7), "Es falle ietzt auf uns dein himmliches Feuer" (Let fall now upon us thy heavenly fire). They are, respectively, the closing pastorale aria (No. 13) and gigue chorus (No. 15) from Bach's first "modern cantata" of 1713, BWV 208, "Was mir behagt,/ Ist nur die muntre Jagd!" (What pleases me/ is above all the lively hunt!). This Cantata BWV Anh. 193a last, secondary parody (author unknown) came two years prior to Bach recycling the entire Cantata 208(a) (see BCW Details & Discography, , with one recording, , C-2, J.S. Bach: Festmusiken zu Leipziger Universitätsfeiern).

“What separates [Cantata BWV 149] Man singet mit Freuden vom Sieg from the other cantatas for St Michael’s day is its tone of voice. For example, its opening [gigue-style] chorus is festive rather than combative, while using the same apparatus of trumpets, drums, oboes and strings as all the others. This is as we might expect in a movement cleverly recycled by Bach from the closing chorus of his ‘Hunt’ cantata (BWV 208) composed in 1713” (© John Eliot Gardiner 2006, ).

B. <<Aryeh Oron wrote (February 21, 2005):

BWV 208 - Dürr's Commentary>> from Rilling Cantate recording 1965), with only minor changes in the 2005 Bach Cantata edition (Ibid.)

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

<<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, “Entflieht, verschwindet, entweichet, ihr Sorgen” (Fly, vanish, flee, O worries), the original manuscripts 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. [Dürr discusses BWV 249a in Bach Cantatas, Ibid.: 805-809.]

<<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.>>

Other Weimar Secular Music

Besides wedding Cantata 202, Bach may have composed another birthday and another wedding cantata in Weimar – all to Salamo Franck texts (BCW Article, Ibid.)

Bach’s most popular solo soprano wedding Cantata BWV 202, “Weichet nur, betrübte Schatten” (Vanish Now, Ye Mournful Shadows), probably was composed at Weimar, says Dürr (Bach Cantatas p. 893f). Surviving in a score from 1730 with antiquated notation, its secular libretto appears to be by Franck and its musical style has Weimar features in its recitatives and arias. No specific wedding occasions in Weimar, Köthen, or Leipzig, have been found. Cantata 202 will be the BCW Discussion Week of November 17, with other early secular wedding cantatas, mostly lost or parodies.

Bach also may have set Franck’s texts to two Weimar Court cantatas, for the wedding of Ernst August, January 24, 1716, titled “Diana, Amor, Apollo, Ilmene,” and a birthday cantata for his new Duchess Eleonore from Köthen, on May 18, 1716, titled “Amor, die Treue und die Beständigkeit,” (cited by Wolff and Smend). No music survives.

Royal Court at Köthen: Serenades

In late 1717, Bach accepted the post of capellmeister in Köthen and turned his energies primarily to instrumental music. Among his major responsibilities was the production of two annual celebratory, congratulatory cantatas, called serenatas, for the birthday of Prince Leopold on December 12, and for New Years Day for his realm, with texts initially provided by court poet Hunold-Menates [BCW Article, Ibid.].

Between 1717 and 1720, Hunold-Menantes, who taught poetry and rhetoric at nearby Halle University, published many cantata texts in “Auserlesene und theils noch nie gedruckte Gedichte unterschiedener Berühmten und geschickten Männer” (Selected and in Some Case Not Yet Printed Poems by Distinguished, Famous and Skilled Men). They are the source of Bach’s initial congratulatory birthday (December 10) and New Year’s cantatas at the Köthen court. This collection of homage texts includes a lengthy ode of 80 alexandrines “that Bach presented to his sovereign on behalf of the court orchestra on the occasion of his birthday on December 10, 1719,” says Smend in <Bach in Köthen> (Appendix A, Eng. Ed. 1985).

Birthday works are documented as Hunold-Menantes texts to Bach Köthen Cantatas BWV 66a (12/10/18) (called “Serenatas”), and (no music surviving) to BWV Anh. 7, a “Pastoral dialogue” (?12/10/2).

Christoph Wolff points out (<JSB: The Learned Musician>, p. 198) the solos and elaborate duets in the form of allegorical dialogues between Fame and Fortune in BWV 66a, and Divine Providence and Time in BWV 134a. The lost pastoral dialogue, Cantata BWV Anh. 7 has three allegorical figures in Hunold’s text: the shepherdess Sylvia, the huntsman Phillis, and the shepherd Thyrsis. This 10-movement work (no music survives) alternating recitatives and arias, including a terzett and a closing tutti, was probably performed on December 10, 1720, and was Hunold’s last collaboration with Bach.

More Shepherd Cantatas

For Pentecost Tuesday in Leipzig, Bach recycled dance-style music from two Köthen serenades to create two sacred Shepherd Cantatas: BWV 184, “Erwünschtes Freudenlicht“ (Desired Light of Joy) and 175, “Er rufet seinen Schafen mit Namen” (He Calls His Sheep by Name), are based on the Gospel of John, 10:1-11, Jesus as the true Shepherd. Cantata BWV 184 preserves the three Köthen dance-forms: minuet, polonaise, and gavotte. Cantata BWV 175 of 1725 has two pastorales, a newly-written aria, and a parodied aria from Köthen Cantata BWV 173a/7.

Besides BWV 184a there are four other Köthen serenatas, parodied as church cantatas in the first cantata cycle, 1723-24. They are: BWV 66a, “Der Himmel dacht auf Anhalts Ruhm und Glück” (The Heavens Resound in Anhalt’s Glory and Fortune), for Easter Monday; BWV 134a, “Die Zeit, die Tag und Jahre macht” (The Time, the Day, the Year Make”), for Easter Tuesday; BWV 173, “Durchlauchster Leopold” (Most Serene Leopold), for Pentecost Monday; and BWV 194, “Höchsterwüschtes Freudenfest” (Most Highly Desired Festival of Joy), for Trinity Sunday.

Cantatas BWV 173a for December 10, ?1719 or BWV 184a (text and date unknown) may involve Hunold/Menantes texts. The scores of BWV BWV 134a and 173a survive and have been recorded. For Cantata BWV 134a, see BCW Details & Discography, and Masaaki Sazuki 2012 Liner Notes by Klaus Hofmann (includes BWV 208),[BIS-SACD1971].pdf . For Cantata BWV 173a, see BCW Details and Discography, [For a detailed account of the Köthen court and Cantata BWV 173a, see chapter 3 of Marva Watson’s Thesis (Ibid., also found on-line at BCW Articles,, scroll down to “The Historical Figures of the Birthday Cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach”.] [Dürr discusses BWV 134a and 173a in Bach Cantatas, Ibid.: 809-818.]

Other celebratory music Bach may have presented or participated in other elsewhere during his Köthen period (1717-1723) are: a homage cantata for Friedrich II of Saxe-Gotha, August 2, 1721; a church performance at the Schleiz Court of Heinrich XI Count von Reuss, around August 10, 1721; and a birthday cantata, O vergnügte Stunden, BWV Anh. 194, for Prince Johann August of Anhalt-Zerbst, July 29, 1722, or August 8, 1722.


Next week’s BCW Discussion will be the first of the Leipzig Birthday “Festive Music for the Electoral House of Saxony; Sept. 8, Cantata (dramma per musica) BWV 213, “Laßt uns sorgen, laßt uns wachen.”

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (September 1, 2013):
William Hoffman wrote:
< Hunting Cantata 208 Bach's first documented secular work is his self-described "Cantate," BWV 208, the so-called "Hunting" Cantata, labeled as "Tafelmusik" (table-music) for the birthday of the Duke Christian, February 23, probably in 1713. >
That's interesting because G. H. Stoelzel's works along these lines were also called "Tafelmusik" as well. He apparently wrote about 100 such pieces (and wrote the poetry too I believe), nearly all of them were destroyed. This is a surviving autograph for "Apollo and Irene" written for the birthday celebrations of the Duke of Sonderhausen.

Douglas Cowling wrote (September 1, 2013):
[To Kim Patrick Clow] Can we reconstruct Bach's Secular Calendars in Weimar and Leipzig? Excluding occasional tributes such as a royal visit or wedding, what were the days on which there were mandatory cantatas: birthday, accession, Year's Mind, opning of council/estates? Who in the royal family merited a cantata: consort, dowager, heir?

William Hoffman wrote (September 1, 2013):
[To Kim Patrick Clow] My BCW Article, Bach’s Dramatic Music, talks about the explosion of the German serenade/tafelmusik that Telemann and others used to celebrate birthdays, coronations, and other regal events involving the Holy Roman Empire, the Dresden court, and Hamburg c. 1716-19, ). I also am working on Sebastian and Emmanuel Bach’s involvement in the strophic aria and the emergence of the German lieder.


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

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