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Composed in 1713, this secular choral work is known as Sheep May Safely Graze, the Hunting Cantata, AND the Birthday Cantata? Why all the names? Allow us to explain...
It's rare to have a piece of music known by so many names, and Cantata No. 208 isn't exactly all that memorable as a title. So it's no wonder Bach's BWV 208 is known by a few nicknames.
Although best known for 'Sheep May Safely Graze', this particular work is described as Bach’s Hunting Cantata – a reference to its secular opening lyrics: "The lively hunt is all my heart's desire."
Its beacon aria is the ninth movement, Schafe können sicher weiden. To explain that line, sheep may graze safely where there’s a good shepherd who stays awake and where there’s a good nobleman watching over a blissful nation. Why did Bach set such a line? Well, because he was writing this music for the birthday of Duke Christian in 1713 and he knew which side his bread was buttered. The commission also gives rise to its third name, the Birthday Cantata.