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ChristiancropWhile employed in Weimar, Bach received a  commission from the neighboring Saxe-Weissenfels court to compose a congratulatory cantata on the occasion of the thirty-first birthday of Duke Christian. The result was the first known performance, on 23 February 1713, of a secular cantata by Bach, commonly known as the Hunting Cantata.

Was mir behagt, ist nur die muntre Jagd! (BWV 208) was presented during a banquet at the Neuenburg hunting lodge after the completion of a mounted chase. A large string ensemble, joined by pairs of hunting horns, oboes (including an oboe da caccia) and recorders, accompanied four vocal soloists representing the mythological figures of Diana, Pales, Endymion and Pan.

While Diana sang “Hunting is the joy of gods, hunting is the hero’s (Duke Christian’s) sport,” the two brazen horns signaled each other in a manner similar to the opening of Brandenburg Concerto no. 1 in F Major (BWV 1046). Later, two recorders gently caressed Pales’s words, “Sheep may safely graze where a good shepherd (Duke Christian) watches,” in an aria that survives today in countless instrumental arrangements. Finally, the four soloists gathered to form a chorus to sing “In him (Duke Christian) resides all that gladdens the heart and banishes pain.”

Three days after his guest performance, Bach received a substantial raise in salary from his own employers, the Dukes of Saxe-Weimar, apparently as a reward for the political favors they were to enjoy as a result of his impressive appearance.

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