Sheep May Safely Graze (J S Bach)
There are just over
twenty secular cantatas in Bach’s prolific output, which include The Coffee
Cantata (No 211), The Wedding Cantata (No 202), Phoebus and Pan (No 201) and the
Hunt Cantata (No 208) which contains the famous aria Sheep May Safely Graze.
Written in 1713, early in
Bach’s tenure at Weimar, the Hunt Cantata was composed to for a celebration in
Weissenfels of the birthday of Duke Christian of Sachsen-Weißenfels and later
reworked and performed at other similar birthday celebrations and on namedays.
Written for four soloists
(representing Diana, Pales, Endymion and Pan), it is scored for a relatively
large orchestra (including flutes (recorders), oboes and horns) and mixed choir.
The text is in praise of
hunting and (unashamedly) Duke Christian. Sheep May Safely Graze is sung
by Pales, the Goddess of crops and pastures, and accompanied by a pair of
recorders or flutes. Although secular in character, the words describe how well
a faithful shepherd keeps watch over his flock and hence has obvious allusions
to the teachings of the Christian church.