A Berenice & Sol nascente

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

A Berenice & Sol nascente

K61c, K70

About this work

This recitative and aria form what is called a licenza, a piece performed after (or sometimes during) an unrelated work, addressed to a member of the audience or to mark a specific occasion. They tend to overflow with extravagant praise, which can easily seem to modern eyes to be almost suspiciously overdone. To what degree, if any, the composers and authors were themselves somewhat tongue-in-cheek is almost impossible to tell, as many made their livings as the proteges of the very people they are extolling, and so any hint of irreverence would be almost literally biting the hand that feeds them!

This particular licenza, like Or che il dover m'astringe, was written in honor of Archbishop Sigismund von Schrattenbach, in this case, on the occasion of his birthday. It was most likely performed at the end of the opera Vologeso, by Sarti, as the text opens with a comment on the happy ending for Berenice and Vologeso. The singer continues with the typical Baroque conceit of asking the Muses for help and inspiration, as the composer finds himself unable even to contemplate such an august subject as the Archbishop, whose birthday is even more cause for rejoicing.

However, even the Muse is unable to find sufficient praise for the Archbishop, only Heaven is capable of such a task, and so counsels the author to admire in silence. The piece concludes with an aria "Sol nascente in questo giorno" (sun rising on this day), continuing to describe the author's inability to properly praise such virtue as the Archbishop's.

The piece is by no means as empty as the rather pompous and strained text would seem to indicate. There are some deft musical touches, such as the gradual crescendo (increase in volume) and rising pitch on the first line of the aria, a vivid depiction of the sun rising. Similarly, the second section of the aria, where the author goes into still more detail on his inability, the music becomes hesitant, as if truly not comprehending how to provide sufficient praise.