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

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Was mir behagt, ist nur die muntre Jagd (The lively hunt is all my heart's desire), [[BWV|Template:Abbr]] 208.1, BWV 208, also known as the Hunting Cantata, is a secular cantata composed by Johann Sebastian Bach for the 31st birthday of Duke Christian of Saxe-Weissenfels on 23 February 1713. A performance lasts about forty minutes. The aria "Schafe können sicher weiden" ("Sheep May Safely Graze") is the most familiar part of this cantata.

History and text

It is Bach's earliest surviving secular cantata, composed while he was employed as court organist in Weimar. The work may have been intended as a gift from Bach's employer, William Ernest, Duke of Saxe-Weimar, for his neighbouring ruler, Duke Christian, who was a keen hunter.

Bach is known to have stayed in Weißenfels in 1713 for the birthday celebrations. He went on to earn more commissions from Saxe-Weissenfels, and in 1729, Bach was appointed Royal Kapellmeister, but this position as court composer did not require residence at court.

Text

The text is by Salomon Franck, the Weimar court poet, who published it in Geist- und Weltlicher Poesien Zweyter Theil (Jena, 1716). The music was published in 1881 in the first complete edition of the composer's works, the Bach-Gesellschaft Ausgabe.

As was common at the time, Franck's flattering text draws on classical mythology and features such characters as Diana, the goddess of the hunt. Franck also followed convention in associating good government with the hunt. As well as displaying the hunter's daring, hunting was supposed to develop patience and collaboration. The text praises Duke Christian as a wise ruler as well as a keen hunter. In reality, the Duke was to prove a spendthrift whose habits resulted in the financial collapse of his duchy.




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