JOE GREENWOOD: 20,000 Leagues Into The Sky — Schafe Können Sicher Weiden, Sheep May Safely Graze

I was first introduced to “Schafe können sicher weiden” through a performance by Georgian pianist Kathia Buniatishvili, in a splendid outdoor setting among what appeared to me the trees of some magical forest out of a mystical dream, that I happened across via YouTube. And like many things that are happeneing on the Internet, and as in dreams and in life, I don’t even recall how I got there.

Kathia is a brilliant and beautiful musician who I recommend all to listen when you have several indulgent hours to spare. You’ll need them, as you’ll neither be able to turn away eyes nor ears, while her wild fingers play out the dazzling emotions from within a heart and soul. Again, YouTube has a beginners’ trove of material of sound; or for anyone fortunate enough to visit a performance in person, by all means, put yourself there. That we all could express ourselves so positively, skillfully and forcefully as Khatia Buniatishvili. Khatia, brilliant, thank you.

The “Das Waldkonzert” program (see link above) rolls credits beneath “Schafe können sicher weiden”, which now had struck my ear to consciousness and led me to seek out more information on the tune. Wikipedia informs me “Sheep may safely graze” is the translation, and it is a piece of the larger “Was mir behagt, ist nur die muntre Jagd (The lively hunt is all my heart’s desire), BWV 208”, also known as the “Hunting Cantata,” composed in 1713 by Johann Sebastian Bach for the 31st birthday of Duke Christian of Saxe-Weissenfels. Indeed, that we all could express ourselves so positively, skillfully, and forcefully as Bach.

I read, somewhere else, that although the piece is commonly considered archetypically pastoral, a deeper understanding of the fuller text illuminates the political sentiment and moral insight that I am grateful to take away: “Sheep can safely graze where good shepherds watch. Where rulers govern well, quiet and peace flourish, and all that makes a people happy.”

This evident royal flattery by the Duke’s court sticks with me, and guides me somehow as a moral compass, explaining and instilling wisdom in my mind, as I listen to perhaps my favorite playing of the piece, by the American, Leon Fleisher. Again, listen on YouTube:

For the past several days, Leon has played when I arrive at my desk for work.  I keep yesterday’s unfinished browser tabs open, so that the next day when I restart the computer, they return.  The YouTube page with this video reloads, and the music plays.  It sets a wave of calm across my thoughts, and sorts the air neatly around me.  The soothing cadence of the music provides me an ordered mind.

This guidance I speak of has to do with my family, and my job as a father for my children. Many times I am scourged by a fearful, worrying feeling, a vague thought that I have not prepared them well, have not provided a safe and plentiful home, or have otherwise been insufficient in some manner in setting up their lives. But why should I? Sheep may safely graze where good shepherds watch. I am reminded to do well for my family, to use my time wisely and to do all that I can for others whose lives can be improved by my well tending. [Indeed, when in 2007 Fleisher received Kennedy Center Honors, Chairman Stephen A. Schwarzman described him as “a consummate musician whose career is a moving testament to the life-affirming power of art.” -Wikipedia Life-affirming, indeed.]

As I listen to the song, especially as played through the calm, thoughtful and caring hands and hearts of Leon and Kathia, I am relaxed, instructed and reassured that simplicity, and a steady pace, creates harmony and beauty.

To this insight, and to this direct improvement of my life, of course, I owe thanks and gratitude to Johann Sebastian Bach. The composer’s brilliance is renowned throughout the ages, and now I have this specific personal instance of learned wisdom gained, thanks especially to these performances by such masters of their musical craft, to vouch for my agreement to this truth. Thank you, Buniatishvili, thank you, Fleisher, thank you, Bach.

Enlightenment attained, I wondered if I could share this wonderful music myself, with my friends, on my guitar. It is probably, despite my impression of its sounding ‘simple’, a somewhat difficult arrangement to actually play, especially on the relatively cumbersome tonal layout of the guitar fretboard. I searched YouTube and found Russian guitarist Andrei Krylov’s masterful rendition:

Krylov is also a writer and poet. He has transcribed the Book of Psalms to Russian, and published several books: “Lake Monastery,” “Autumn,” and the crown of sonnets, “Mirrors, Game of Life.” I learned that from Wikipedia.

I hope to search out these books and read some of Andrei Krylov’s poems. His performance on the guitar of “Schafe können sicher weiden” in the video above will help me to learn to play it myself, and thus further enjoy, and share it. And so, thank you, too, Andrei Krylov. Bravo!

2 thoughts on “JOE GREENWOOD: 20,000 Leagues Into The Sky — Schafe Können Sicher Weiden, Sheep May Safely Graze”

  • Naomi Dunavan February 6, 2015 at 1:11 pm

    Joe — Beautifully interesting listening and reading. Thanks. Naomi

    1. Joe Greenwood February 6, 2015 at 11:06 pm

      Thanks Naomi!


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