The aria was written in late 1766 in Salzburg when Mozart was ten years old. The author of the lyrics is unknown. It was the first composition by Mozart since his family's return to Salzburg, and was first performed on 21 December 1766 as part of an entertainment marking the anniversary of the consecration of Archbishop Sigismund von Schrattenbach.[dead link]
Or che il dover m'astringe,
In scelte e corte rime
Grato mostrarmi a qual onor sublime,
Di cui ci ricolmaste, o prence eccelso,
Ne' miei pensieri immerso
Ricerco un buon concetto.
Rumino colla mente,
Penso, ripenso, e poi non trovo niente.
Febo e le Muse in mio soccorso imploro;
Compariscono tutte a me dinanzi,
Confuse in volto e colle cetre infrante.
D'un simile scompiglio
Le chiedo la ragion, tacer le miro,
E dopo mille al più sospir cocenti
Una così ripose:
Riverendo pastor, t'accheta, e in simil
Giorno non obbligarci a dire il nostro
Scorno; sulle rive della Salza ogni
Nostro potere, ogni saper fu crine
Da quella luce onde il suo prence è cinto.
Tali e contanti sono
Di Sigismondo i merti,
Che i nostri ingegni incerti,
Non sanno qual riverendo cor.
Se la pietà si canta;
La giustizia non cede,
Ch'ogni virtù, riverendo,
Siede in trono suo cor.
Now that duty compels me,
in select and brief verses,
to show my gratitude for that eminent honour
with which you have overwhelmed us, august prince,
I delve deep into my thoughts
for an inspiration.
I rack my brains,
consider, reflect, but find nothing
I involve Phoebus and the muses to my aid;
they all appear before me
shamefaced and with broken lyres.
I ask the reason
for such confusion, and see them mute;
and after a thousand or so bruning sighs
one thus replies:
Revered shepard, be appeased, and on such a day
do not force us to confess our shame.
On the banks of the Salzach,
all our power, all our wisdom was as nothing
to that light with which your prince is surrounded.
So great and so many
are Sigismund's merits
that our paltry minds
cannot know that illustrious heart.
If this compassion is hymned,
it is not at the expense of his justice,
for every virtue, Excellency,
is enthroned in your heart.