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.