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Sheep may safely graze

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Wikipedia article

"'Sheep may safely graze'" is a soprano aria by Johann Sebastian Bach to words by Salomon Franck. The piece was written in 1713 and is part of the cantata , BWV 208 ('Only the lively hunt pleases me'), also known as the 'Hunting Cantata'.

Like the Bach's "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring", "Sheep may safely graze" is frequently played at weddings. However, the cantata BWV 208 was originally written for a birthday celebration of Christian, Duke of Saxe-Weissenfels. Bach was based at the nearby court of Weimar, and musicians from both courts appear to have joined in the first performance in Weienfels. Bach is known to have used the music again for other celebrations, but it remained unpublished until after his death.


For this number (movement 9 of the complete work), the singer is not accompanied by the full Baroque instrumental ensemble used elsewhere in the cantata, but by two recorders and continuo. The use of flute-like instruments is typical of pastoral music.

Since the revival of Bach's music in the 19th century, "Sheep may safely graze" has been arranged for other instruments.


The piece's title evokes a pastoral scene and has been referenced in discussions of how European culture depicts domestic animals and sheep in particular.

In the cantata, the recitative and aria are sung by the role of the ancient Roman god of shepherds, flocks, and livestock, Pales. Pales compares the peaceful life of sheep under a watchful shepherd to the inhabitants of a state with a wise ruler. If not performed within the cantata, the recitative is omitted.

Schafe knnen sicher weiden

Wo ein guter Hirte wacht.

Wo Regenten wohl regieren

Kann man Ruh' und Friede spren

Und was Lnder glcklich macht.

Sheep may safely graze and pasture

In a watchful shepherd's sight.

Those who rule with wisdom guiding

Bring to hearts a peace abiding

Bless a land with joy made bright.


The work has been often recorded. It can be found in:

* recordings of the complete cantata, for example:

** Bach: Secular Cantatas Vol. 2 ('Hunting Cantata' plus 'Die Zeit, die Tag und Jahre macht'). Bach Collegium Japan, Joanne Lunn (soprano), Masaaki Suzuki (conductor).

* compilation albums, for example albums featuring the following soloists:

** Emma Kirkby (soprano), ('Emma Kirkby Collection')

** Magdalena Koen (mezzo-soprano), ('J. S. Bach: Arias' with Musica Florea)

** Nuria Rial (soprano), ('Bach Arias' with the Kammerorchester Basel directed by Julia Schrder).



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"Sheep may safely graze" was arranged for piano by the American composer Mary Howe.'Schafe knnen sicher weiden = Sheep may safely graze', transcribed for two pianos by Mary Howe, Oxford University Press (1935) Another notable piano transcription was made by Dutch pianist Egon Petri, published in 1944.

Sometimes the piece is played as a duet (piano-four-hands); there are versions by Duo Petrof, and Lang Lang and (released as a bonus track with Lang Lang's recording of the 'Goldberg Variations').

Moog synthesiser

American composer and electronic musician Wendy Carlos arranged and recorded "Sheep may safely graze" on a Moog synthesizer for her 1973 album 'Switched-On Bach II'.

Band and orchestra

Australian-born composer Percy Grainger wrote "Blithe Bells" for elastic scoring in 1931 on Bach's "Sheep may safely graze". In March 1931, he scored a wind band version.

The piece was arranged for string orchestra by British composer Granville Bantock. There is also an orchestral arrangement by British composer Sir William Walton, part of the ballet score 'The Wise Virgins'.


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