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Episode 19: Sheep May Safely Graze

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Today's free download features Bach’s Sheep May Safely Graze performed by Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra.

Cantata BWV 208: Sheep May Safely Graze
Johann Sebastian Bach
Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra
Karl Munchinger, conductor
Available at

Here’s a little Bach aria that’s become popular as an instrumental work. And it has a title that’s easily remembered: Sheep May Safely Graze. Just those four words evoke images of gentle, puffy, wooly animals quietly munching their way across a verdant pasture, with maybe a lamb or two scampering about. The music is just as gentle, and the two flutes Bach wrote in the score are certainly an imitation of shepherd’s pipes. And since this is from a cantata, it would make perfect sense to presume this sweet little air is about God as the faithful shepherd of his flock of believers. But this music comes from a secular cantata Bach wrote at his first job in Weimar, as a 31st birthday gift from his boss, the Duke of Weimar, to a neighboring ruler, Prince Christian of Weissenfels. The singer in the original work was the character Pales, the Roman god of shepherds, who praises a watchful shepherd – Prince Christian, in this case – for keeping his flock safe. This cantata helped Bach keep his own family flock safe; he got a raise three days after the premiere performance. In this performance, Karl Munchinger conducts his own arrangement, played by the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra.

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