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Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

Volume 14 (2008) No. 1

Desperate Measures: The Life and Music of Antonia Padoani Bembo. By Claire Anne Fontijn. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. [xx, 372 p. ISBN-10 0-19-513538-5; ISBN-13 978-0-19-513538-1. $45.]

Reviewed by Michele Cabrini*

1. Overview

2. Organization and Biography

3. The Music

4. Conclusions


1. Overview

1.1 Antonia Bembo is one of a series of important seventeenth-century women composers to finally receive the attention she deserves. Thanks to painstaking scholarship over the course of the last thirty years, Bembo’s major female contemporaries—Francesca Caccini, Barbara Strozzi, and Élisabeth Jacquet de La Guerre—all have claimed their place within the musicological Olympus. Conversely, because of a lack of crucial information, Antonia Bembo remained one of the “enigmas of music history,” as one of her early scholars remarked.1 This unfortunate state of affairs has come to an end thanks to Claire Fontijn’s book. Through groundbreaking archival findings and impeccable research, Claire Fontijn has created the composer’s first full-length biography and comprehensive analytical study of her works.

2. Organization and Biography

2.1 Fontijn’s book is organized into two parts. The biography appears in the first two chapters, while chapters three through seven examine Bembo’s music. Fontijn’s primary sources (in addition to the five surviving musical manuscripts) consist of a wide variety of documents—birth records, letters, legal documents, and dedicatory poems—found in the archives of Mantua, Venice, Paris, and Pazin (Croatia); a look through this wide array of material, some handily reproduced in the original language in an appendix, provides a glimpse into the extraordinary challenges posed by this project. Fontijn assembles the various parts of the puzzle with impeccable academic rigor yet with a vivid prose worthy of a mystery novel.

2.2 Bembo’s dedication to Louis XIV in one of the musical manuscripts is a sort of autobiographical précis covering the main events in the composer’s life: her escape from Venice, her admiration of Louis XIV since childhood, the recognition of her talent by Louis XIV and subsequent reward with a pension that allowed her to focus on composition and live at the Petite Union Chrétienne. It provides the point of departure for the questions Fontijn addresses in her book. These include the reasons for her escape, the motives behind the King’s admiration and rewards, and circumstances regarding her musical training and her new life at the Petite Union Chrétienne. Inspired by this dedication and by previous scholarship by Rokseth and Laini, Fontijn undertakes her own more exhaustive study of Bembo’s life and music.2 Fontijn’s remarkable ability to navigate the wealth of documents allows her to create both a solid picture and a web of enticing connections and hypotheses that add spice and strength to Bembo’s biography, particularly since many of the details about the composer’s life will likely never be recovered. Fontijn always elucidates her intentions and expectations clearly even in the most complex of speculations, and this kind of authorial integrity helps the reader to maintain focus and separate easily suppositions from facts.

2.3 The first two chapters, which deal with reconstructing the composer’s life and whereabouts, constitute Fontijn’s groundbreaking contribution to the scholarship on Antonia Bembo. Fontijn’s achievement consists not only in setting the record straight, but also in bringing the various characters’ multifaceted personalities to the surface. In chapter 1 Fontijn carefully reconstructs Bembo’s complex familial web, in particular the two important male figures that shaped her life: her father and her husband. We learn about her concerned father, Giacomo Padoani, a doctor working in Padua and Venice, who recognized his daughter’s musical talent and used it to boast his own marketability during tricky negotiations with Duke Carlo II Gonzaga over a post at the Mantuan court. For reasons not entirely clear—possibly the gossip of which he was a target, or a general anxiety about money—the appointment never took place. In several letters to the Duke, Giacomo mentions his daughter’s singing ability (her nickname in the letters is “la figlia che canta”) bragging about her desirable virtues—a thorough education and a musical training with none other than Francesco Cavalli—reinforced by his careful use of genteel and desirable labels, “la figliuola” (the demure, good-natured daughter) and “la damigella” (the damsel).

2.4 The most undesirable figure in Bembo’s life was clearly her husband, Lorenzo, a scoundrel and a crook. Several key episodes chart Lorenzo’s problematic personality: an early legal dispute with Antonia’s father, resulting in the couple’s eviction from her father’s house; his five-year absence to fight in the War of Candia, resulting in further marital embitterment; Antonia’s attempt to file divorce proceedings based on his infidelity and family desertion (the legal battle employs colorfully colloquial language [p. 37]); and, the crowning achievement, a desperate resort to embezzle public funds in order to fix his financial troubles, which ultimately cost him dearly. He was sentenced to prison for the last thirteen years of his life. Not surprisingly, these adversities took a toll on Antonia. Although headstrong in her youth—her father even threatened to disinherit her because of her tendency to disobedience (p. 16)—Bembo was crushed first by her father then by her husband. This situation yielded ultimately to a fundamental anxiety to please authority, no doubt exacerbated by her status as a woman and, later, as a foreigner in a country then often hostile to Italians. This apparent concern can be seen in the numerous dedicatory pages and the choice of texts to her music for Louis XIV and his court, frequently tinged by excessive adulation. Later, Bembo led a more secluded life in her new Parisian home, the Petite Union Chrétienne, a monastic institution whose austere and regimented lifestyle suited Bembo’s desire to keep a low profile with regard to her husband.

2.5 Fontijn also corrects errors about Bembo’s life and amends the work of nineteenth-century historiographer Emmanuele Cicogna, who mistakenly marked Bembo’s death as occurring between 1683 and 1685, presuming that it was her death that prompted the inventory of her precious belongings. Fontijn shows that it was her absence from Venice rather than her death that “made it necessary for the official treatment and dispensation of her belongings” (p. 51). The author also brings to the fore a crucial power of attorney dated 1703, which represents the only preserved French legal paper that mentions Bembo, shows her full signature, and confirms her place of residence.

2.6 Another important aspect of the book is Fontijn’s persuasive use of circumstantial evidence to shed light on the dating of Bembo’s five manuscripts. Given the wide spectrum of stylistic variety in Bembo’s first opus, Le produzioni armoniche, Fontijn surmises a long period of gestation—“in all likelihood … over a lifetime in Venice and in Paris” (p. 85). Indeed, while some pieces suggest a connection to the earlier cantata style of the 1650s, the majority of the music, Fontijn argues, “attests to some twenty years of musical writing at the Petite Union Chrétienne” (p. 85). As for the date of the composition, Fontijn surmises the period of 1697–1701 (p. 213), given the explicit textual references in the wedding cantata to the political marriage between Marie-Adélaïde and Louis, Duke of Burgundy, which took place in 1697. Fontijn speculates the period of 1704–1705 for the second manuscript, which includes the Te Deum and the Divertimento dedicated to the birth of the Duke of Brittany in the summer of 1704 (p. 133). This dating matches that in Rokseth’s older research, but the wealth of Venetian correspondence newly discovered allows Fontijn to correct Rokseth’s hypothesis that all of Bembo’s scores are autograph: indeed, the comparison between the scribal hand of the second manuscript and Bembo’s own letters shows two different handwritings (pp. 178–80). Regarding L’Ercole amante, Fontijn points out that 1707, the date from the title page, is problematic because it contradicts Bembo’s own claim that her Latin motets, likely written in 1708 as a tribute to the king’s victory of the Battle of Tortosa, truly constitute her third opus (“il terzo laboro,” p. 213). For the last manuscript, a setting of Les Sept Psaulmes de David, Fontijn infers a date of 1710, given Bembo’s own statement in the dedication that she had spent by then “more than half of her life in Paris” (p. 214).

2.7 The book also presents a number of tempting suppositions, the most enticing of which is the hypothesis suggesting that Francesco Corbetta, a renowned guitarist and composer who boasted an international career, may have helped Bembo escape to Paris. The hypothesis is quite plausible: Corbetta is mentioned in letters by a Mantuan envoy working in Venice, Antonio Bosso, which imply an arranged matrimony between “the girl who sings” and Corbetta himself. Furthermore, it is known that Corbetta had several career ties to Paris, and Fontijn links a Venetian luthier, Domenico Selles, who held Bembo’s “last-minute items” (including a spinet) before her escape, to Corbetta. Fontijn speculates that Bembo’s contention that she was abandoned by the individual who helped her escape from Venice (p. 3) is likely a reference to Corbetta’s death.

2.8 Another enticing theory concerns the intersection among the careers of Corbetta, Bembo, and two members of the Comédie Italienne working in Paris—the actress and poet Brigida Fedeli and her son Marc’Antonio Romagnesi. There is indeed a web of connections between them: the poetry of both Fedeli and Romagnesi matches the style of the verses in Bembo’s Produzioni armoniche, whose table of contents even includes the words “Parole d’Aurelia Fedeli” just above the entry for one of the pieces; Fedeli lived in the same Parisian neighborhood as Bembo, and in her final years she retired in a building adjacent to the Petite Union Chrétienne. There are also putative ties between Romagnesi and Corbetta, who were both associated with Paris and Mantua during the same years. Although “no documents confirm the hypothesis that Corbetta and the actors of the Italian community in Paris provided shelter for Bembo” (p. 66), Fontijn’s persuasive piecing of circumstantial evidence and intelligent reasoning lends credence to this and other suppositions.

3. The Music

3.1 A substantial portion of Fontijn’s book is dedicated to Bembo’s music, which is fairly eclectic and “navigates smoothly between two cultures and between her worldly and religious environment” (p. 8). Fontijn analyzes each of Bembo’s manuscripts in detail, and her meticulousness, though justified given the lack of previous analytical commentary of Bembo’s music, sometimes gets in the way of fluidity, particularly after the vividness of the biographical section of the book. Though Fontijn’s analyses have a tendency toward lengthy and overly descriptive digressions, they are persuasive and include a number of felicitously evocative moments. Most importantly, however, they provide a much-needed overview of Bembo’s musical styles, from the secular to the religious realm. My only general criticism here concerns the puzzling paucity of musical examples, given the considerable amount of music treated. Throughout the book there are long stretches of analysis that only direct the reader to modern editions (inevitably difficult to obtain), and the book includes only a few brief examples in the text and eleven longer examples in an appendix. I also find the combination of examples in modern notation and in facsimile rather distracting, in that it forces the reader to go back and forth between clef systems. Fortunately, the included CD does help the reader gain a sense of the sound of Bembo’s music.

3.2 The most impressive manuscript in terms of its scope is Le produzioni armoniche, whose remarkable stylistic breadth (see its table of contents, p. 86) recalls that of Monteverdi’s Vespers. Indeed, I think the encyclopedic extent of Le produzioni may suggest a parallel with the Vespers: much as Monteverdi presumably used the publication to boast his compositional skill in order to gain employment at Saint Mark’s, Bembo may have employed Le produzioni as a calling card for seeking a position and refuge in Paris.3 Fontijn calls attention to the possible autobiographical clues in this collection. Though potentially problematic, this type of approach seems justified here given the myths and the texts Bembo employs. The myths highlight the composer’s guarded position vis-à-vis her new patron and environment: while the Ovidian tale of the nymph Clytie, in love with the sun (present in both nos. 15 and 16), reflects the story of “the Venetian girasole, Bembo,” sustained by “the metaphorical Sun King” (p. 88), the tale of Icarus (no. 8) warns about the dangers of getting too close. The texts, too, provide a tempting basis for possible autobiographical clues: no. 15, for example, begins:

Far from her homeland, Despised by the stars and scorned by fortune, Clizia, who since birth Harbored in her heart a burning affection, Fixing her eager glances on her beautiful sun Sweetened the air around her With the sad sound of these bitter accents.

The poem later continues:

Magnificent King of the Sunbeams, Pure light of the stars, Only to you do my handmaidenly wishes Render eternal homage.

These verses echo Bembo’s dedicatory letter to the king.

3.3 Le produzioni represents a distillation of Bembo’s musical styles and genres, from both the sacred and the worldly realms: motets, arias, and different types of cantatas, (encomiastic, sacred, amorous, and even one composed for a royal wedding). Organized in a clear, logical fashion, the collection first establishes “her identity as an artisan of glory” (p. 131), continues to demonstrate her Italian heritage, and concludes by showing her ability to handle the novel trend of les goûts réunis, thus exhibiting several of the composer’s later traits. On the one hand her music shows several seventeenth-century Italian traits: a marked tendency towards evocative madrigalism, basso ostinato, motto techniques, da capo arias, and a colorful use of obbligato instruments for dramatic effect. On the other, one finds French mannerisms: use of petites reprises; ornamentation; descriptive rubrics; graceful, conjunct melodic motion; and use of pervasive counterpoint à la Charpentier in the motets. Notably, French traits such as the use of descriptive rubrics find their way into the Italian pieces as well, as shown by the pervasive use of distinctive adjectives (aria spiritosa, aria violente [sic], recitativo affettuoso, and others) in both Le produzioni and in her later opera L’Ercole amante. I believe Bembo’s use of rubrics anticipates the later eighteenth-century French fascination with expressive labels typical of François Couperin and his contemporaries, showing that Bembo was ahead of her time.

3.4 One aspect I find less convincing is the author’s recurrent attempts to relate a few of Bembo’s pieces to several by Barbara Strozzi. The strongest basis for Fontijn’s claim is that the two composers shared the same teacher; however, this does not account for individual stylistic traits, which in the case of Strozzi are quite distinctive, nor does it account for the generational gap between the two composers, about twenty years. Other bases for this claim seem more tenuous as they rest on general features of the era as opposed to more specific evidence. On p. 104, for example, Fontijn claims that “Bembo may have modeled them [her sacred cantatas] on several pieces by Strozzi that employ a narrative/first-person voice/narrative format, in which the narrator provides a framework for the subjective story told in the first-person voice by the character or characters concerned.” Though several pieces by Strozzi operate this way, this poetic format is certainly not unique to her works. Rather, the format is typical of mid-seventeenth century Italian music and can be found in the solo song repertory by Antonio Cesti, Luigi Rossi, and others, as Margaret Murata has shown.4 On p. 105, Fontijn argues that Bembo’s “Lamento della Vergine” may have been modeled on Strozzi’s “Il Lamento” originally published in op. 2 (1651). It is difficult to ascertain the basis for the author’s claim here, as these two pieces are quite different. Strozzi’s is a male lament, unusual enough for Senici and Daolmi to contend that crafting the piece as such “would have appealed to Giulio Strozzi’s academy, employing a replacement for the more customary female lament because of the putative homosexual relations between the French king Louis XIII and the squire Henry” (p. 105). 5 In a curiously circular argument, Fontijn goes on to say that Bembo’s lament “draws on the tradition of the female lament rather than the twist that might have been taken for the purposes of the Academy of the Incogniti” (p. 105). What then is the connection between the two pieces? That Bembo “would have known all three of Strozzi’s publications” in which “Il lamento” was first published and later reprinted (p. 105) seems not enough proof, and the implied connection based on the ostinato bass pattern, the multiple sections, the triple meter, and the position of the lament as the centerpiece constitutes a truism about many a seventeenth-century Italian lament. Stylistically, Bembo’s soprano line in the centerpiece lament (reproduced on p. 107) recalls the dance-like, short-breathed melodiousness (yet without the enthralling repetitiveness) of Stefano Landi’s “O morte gradita” from Il Sant’Alessio rather than the unpredictable chromaticism and the jagged twists and turns of Strozzi’s music. Also, though Bembo’s text painting (and music in general) is downright exquisite, her madrigalisms do not—as they sometimes do in Strozzi—raise the status of the melisma to an additional voice that seems to compete with, or even transcend, the text itself.6 Much more convincing is Fontijn’s connection between Bembo’s “Mi basta così,” (no. 23) and Strozzi’s “Basta così,” from op. 7 based on more substantial evidence: same poetic schemes, same tonalities, similar titles, similar tronco scansion and refrain structure, and identical musical form (pp. 113–4).

3.5 Fontijn identifies a recurring feature of Bembo’s works, silence employed both as a poetic theme as a symbol of humility and quiet devotion (Le produzioni armoniche no. 9 and no. 10 discussed on pp. 100–11 and Bembo’s own dedication to her Te Deum, p. 181) and as a musico-dramatic device (Le produzioni armoniche no. 4, pp. 98–9, and L’Ercole amante, pp. 252–3). Given the evidence, I agree with the author that in Bembo’s works silence and humility “represent such recurrent tropes that they seem to have more to do with working out a personal issue than with customary expression of obligation” (p. 274). However, Fontijn overstretches the argument when she tries to connect the theme of poetic silence of nos. 9 and 10 to the “‘silent’ interjection in m. 24 of no. 4” (p. 101), where musical silence has more to do with emphasizing the text rhetorically than anything else (see the example on p. 99). Fontijn herself admits that “silence itself appears as an important recourse for the singer delivering these poems” (p. 98). A noteworthy instance of musical silence occurs in L’Ercole amante, in which the ritornello to Juno’s aria “Ma in amor ciò ch’altri fura” (But in love, that which swindles others) comes to a “grinding halt” to match the text on the ending of the second verse on “più d’Amor gioia non è” (is no longer Love’s joy) (p. 252). Fontijn compares this moment to two instances of silence in Jacquet de La Guerre’s Céphale et Procris contending that “it is noteworthy that the two most prolific women composers of Louis XIV’s reign both grappled with the notion of silence from within their sounding creation, but, not surprising, given that both were raised in cultures dictating that girls should exhibit proper modesty and, in general, keep quiet” (pp. 252–3). I find this statement problematic because of the following reasons: 1) Jacquet de La Guerre and Bembo lived under profoundly different circumstances—the former benefiting from both royal and public support and achieving enough success to merit an entry in Titon du Tillet’s Le Parnasse françois, the latter practically living under monastic conditions, and they were thus unlikely to share the same constraints of feminine propriety; 2) since the musico-dramatic use of silence in the Baroque was not limited to women composers, Fontijn’s argument seems arbitrary.7 The statement seems particularly questionable given Fontijn’s efforts at the beginning of the book (p. 7) to make a compelling case for Bembo’s situation being quite different from that of Jacquet de La Guerre. Fontijn herself admits as much when she says that Bembo’s text shows her own ambivalence toward “her status as a foreign woman who stood, unlike her French colleague Jacquet de La Guerre, outside the royal patronage system” (p. 94).

3.6 Another important contribution of Desperate Measures concerns Bembo as an early harbinger of les goûts réunis, an issue that Fontijn examines in chapter 5, discussing Bembo’s motets against the French tradition of Lully and Charpentier. Here, too, Bembo’s music navigates two cultures successfully as she “found a balanced synthesis of the reigning tastes of her times” (p. 186) through the use of a diplomatic lingua franca, Latin. On the one hand one finds several French traits: the timbre of the haute-contre voice, the five-part orchestra and chorus, flutes and bassoons for soft echo effects, hautes-contres de violon as fillers, and French violin clefs. On the other hand, one finds Italian features such as split scoring, “prominent, high-register thirds at cadences” (p. 186), madrigalisms, descending bass tetrachords, and ritornellos in the concluding sections.

3.7 Regarding Bembo’s use of keys, Fontijn provides several useful tables that give glimpses into the composer’s harmonic practices. What transpires is a marked tendency to use modal contrast for the sake of dramatic effect and variety, which appears to be an Italian procedure of juxtaposing different roots as well as major/minor modes rather than the more typical French practice of employing modal contrast on the same tonic. One also finds old-fashioned techniques, such as a textually motivated durus moment—a sudden chromatic turn on “mortis aculeo” (the sharpness of death) worthy of Monteverdi (p. 146)—and even at one point a stream of descant six-three chords that “lend an archaic quality … reminiscent of the stile antico” (p. 208). Fontijn’s seemingly sporadic attribution of specific characters to certain keys—A minor is “melancholic” (p. 87), A major “bright” (pp. 154 and 206), C minor “somber” (p. 206), B minor “sober” (p. 199), and F minor “unusual” (p. 230)—without any mention of Charpentier, Rameau, or other French theorists is odd, given that they had so much to say about the matter, and that much of Bembo’s music was produced in France.8

3.8 The last chapter is devoted to Bembo’s crowning achievement—a new musical setting of Buti’s L’Ercole amante (1707), with which Bembo sought to “emphasize her identity as one of the Venetian disciples of Francesco Cavalli” (p. 241), who had set the opera in France under Mazarin fifty years previously and was received with much criticism. Given the particularly troubled history of this opera in France, Bembo’s attempt was a double-edged sword: the pressure and expectation that Bembo was subjected to by the sheer choice of libretto, and the opportunity that it provided, particularly regarding the treatment of the opera’s central figure, Hercules, as a way to glorify Louis XIV. Fontijn aptly points out that, unlike Cavalli, Bembo was more fortunate in her timing since her arrival “coincided with a notable renewal of interest in Italian music and musicians” (p. 247). Fontijn contends that L’Ercole amante demonstrates Bembo’s exposure to “the last decade of Lully’s work,” to the French operatic models of Jacquet de La Guerre, Campra, and Marais, and to the “stylistic mixture” of the operas by Paolo Lorenzani and Theobaldo di Gatti (p. 247). The opera represents a hybrid of tragédie en musique and late seventeenth-century Italian features. A French overture and entrées performed by a five-part orchestra peacefully coexist with Italian-style ritornellos in trio texture and even an Italian-style four-movement sinfonia with flutes in Act 5, whose trio sonata texture and “tempo and dance-named rubrics” make it look “like a cross between a Corellian sonata da camera and a sonata da chiesa” (p. 264). In the French-style sleep scene from Act II, where Pasithea borrows Sleep personified to lull Hercules to delay his actions, Bembo models the music on Lully’s Atys in terms of conjunct motion, opportunities for notes inégales, and use of tierces coulées, but structures the sleep scene as a giant da capo aria with a contrasting and shorter middle section, whose faster tempo, “spontaneous character,” and frequent meter changes denote Italian style (p. 258).

3.9 Although a cursory look at the music of Bembo’s sleep scene might prompt one to believe Fontijn’s assertion that it “was clearly modeled on prototypes in the Lullian repertory, notably that of Atys” (p. 255), a careful examination of the score accompanied by a meticulous listening would likely prompt one to disagree with the author. While recalling Lully’s stepwise, flowing melodies, Bembo’s sleep scene does not exhibit a fundamental feature of Lully’s scene: continuity achieved by discernible thematic unity throughout all the sections. Bembo’s sleep scene is characterized instead by thematic disjunction: the decidedly distinct middle (“B”) section of the sleep aria and the almost entirely homophonic chorus that follows it are both based on different musical material from what constitutes the sleep music proper (the outer sections of the aria).9 This undermines the type of integration on which the effectiveness of Lully’s scene-complex relies, thereby calling into question Fontijn’s claim that “the effectiveness of the [Bembo’s] music matches that of the Sleep Scene from Lully’s Atys, ‘Dormons, dormons tous’ (II, 4), where the smoothest melodic lines soothe the listener with help from the personifications of Sleep, Morpheus, Phobétor, and Dreams” (p. 257). Futhermore, several other parameters—the imitative counterpoint between the voice and the instruments, the dramatic use of silences, the predominantly active bass line, the use of chromatic harmony, particularly the Neapolitan sixth (mm. 50 and 140), and the practice of moving the continuo line occasionally into the treble clef range—sound more like contemporary Italian Baroque music, particularly that of Alessandro Scarlatti, than they do Lully’s.

3.10 Bembo achieves her most clever union of the French and Italian styles in the centerpiece from Act III, scene 1, in which Hercules reflects on his previous labors. Here she provides a rather unusual lament for the protagonist, in that it includes the typical chromatic bass pattern, but employs virtually no text or musical repetition (even the chromatic tetrachord is repeated only once) as if to contextualize the Italian origin of its technique within a French aesthetic of reason and control. This is all the more appropriate since Hercules not only stands for Louis XIV, but in 1707 his soliloquy represented “an apt analog for the monarch’s assessment of his reign and his own introspection” (p. 260). Surprisingly, Fontijn does not mention that Bembo’s choice of ground bass here reflects a typically French use of the technique in tragédies en musique to denote a character facing internal conflicts or making important deliberations.10 This shows the type of profound musical acculturation that Bembo was able to accomplish.

4. Conclusion

4.1 Fontijn’s book provides a penetrating and satisfying discussion of Antonia Bembo’s life and music, successfully placing her music within the dual cultural milieu in which it was produced. Bembo’s shrewd diplomatic skills allowed her to make “the most of her unusual circumstances … bringing into vital confrontation the Italian and French musical cultures with which she was intimately familiar” (p. 273). Thanks to Fontijn’s scrupulous detective work we can no longer ignore this significant musical figure of the Baroque. Fontijn’s biography represents a major contribution to the scholarship on Antonia Bembo, one that will likely remain the definitive study on the composer. Though meticulous and persuasive overall, Fontijn’s analyses of Bembo’s music constitute only the point of departure for further studies that might adopt different or more specific strategies. The author’s tendency to descriptive digressions can at times disengage the reader, and her attempts to relate Bembo’s music to other women composers like Strozzi and Jacquet de La Guerre are not always persuasive. I suspect that arguing in favor of Bembo’s music as being uniquely distinct from, rather than similar to, the music of those composers might yield more fruitful conclusions. On the whole, however, Desperate Measures is an excellent book; it will appeal to the scholar and the performer alike, arouse curiosity about Bembo, and encourage more performances and recordings of her music.


* Michele Cabrini (mcabrini@hunter.cuny.edu) is on the faculty of Hunter College. He is a specialist in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century vocal music.

1 Yvonne Rokseth, “Antonia Bembo, Composer to Louis XIV,” Musical Quarterly 23 (1937): 169.

2 Rokseth, “Antonia Bembo,” and Marinella Laini, “Antonia e le altre: Percorsi musicali femminili nella Venezia del Sei-Settecento,” in Ecco mormorar l’onde: La musica nel Barocco, ed. Carlo De Incontrera and Alba Zanini (Trieste: Stella Arti Grafiche, 1995), 138–69; and Marinella Laini, “La musica di Antonia Bembo: Un significativo apporto femminile alle relazioni musicali tra Venezia e Parigi,” Studi Musicali 25 (1996): 255–81.

3 On Monteverdi's Vespers, see John Whenham, Monteverdi: Vespers (1610) (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 1–5.

4 Margaret Murata, “Image and Eloquence: Secular Song,” in The Cambridge History of Seventeenth-Century Music, ed. Tim Carter and John Butt (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), particularly pp. 411–22.

5Davide Daolmi and Emanuele Senici, “‘L’omosessualità è un modo di cantare’: Il contributo queer all’indagine sull’opera in musica,” Il saggiatore musicale 7 (2000): 137–78.

6 Several scholars have remarked on the disjunction between the text and the music of her overly indulgent melismas as one of Strozzi’s most characteristic trademarks. See, for example, Ellen Rosand, “Barbara Strozzi, ‘virtuosissima cantatrice’: The Composer's Voice,” Journal of the American Musicological Society, 31 (1978): 273–4. More recently, Mauro Calcagno perceives the dissociation of word and music and the correspondent emphasis of the signifier over the signified in Strozzi’s melismas as the sign of her adoption of the Incogniti aesthetic of “nulla” (nothing), a nihilistic philosophy emphasizing, among other things, a fundamental mistrust of language. See Mauro Calcagno, “Signifying Nothing: On the Aesthetics of Pure Voice in Early Venetian Opera,” Journal of Musicology 20 (2003): 486–88. Most recently, Wendy Heller has challenged Calcagno’s view by proposing Strozzi’s expressive melismas as a powerful tool for asserting her compositional control alongside and against the male-dominated authorship of the poetic texts produced at the Incogniti academy, rather than a passive reflection of the academy’s abstract philosophies. See Wendy Heller, “‘I laberinti vivaci’: Barbara Strozzi and the Expression of Desire,” in Passaggio in Italia: Music on the Grand Tour in the Seventeenth Century, ed. Dinko Fabris and Margaret Murata (in preparation). I am indebted to Professor Heller for allowing me to read her article prior to its publication.

7 On silence in Baroque music, see Anna Danielewicz-Betz, Silence and Pauses in Discourse and Music (Saarbrücken: Universität des Saarlandes, 1998); Raphaëlle Legrand, “Pauses fonctionnelles et silences expressifs: Esquisse d’une typologie des silences dans la musique du baroque tardif,” Les Cahiers du CIREM 32–4 (1994): 28–36; Catherine Cessac, “Le silence dans l’œuvre de Marc-Antoine Charpentier,” Les Cahiers du CIREM 32–4 (1994): 37–46; and Eric Gaudibert, “Les Silences: Essai sur les différentes catégories du silence musical,” Les Cahiers du CIREM 32-34 (1994): 113–20. See also Ellen T. Harris, “Silence as Sound: Handel’s Sublime Pauses,” The Journal of Musicology 22 (2005): 521–58.

8 See Rita Steblin, “The Transition from Modality to Tonality: Early French Key Characteristics,” in A History of Key Characteristics in the Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries, 2nd ed. (Rochester: University of Rochester, 2002), 29–39.

9 Bembo’s slumber aria is reproduced fully in Appendix 2 of the book, on pp. 33–8. For the beginning of the chorus see Rokseth, “Antonia Bembo,” 163–5.

10 See Geoffrey Vernon Burgess, “Ritual in the Tragédie en musique from Lully’s Cadmus et Hermione (1673) to Rameau’s Zoroastre (1749)” (Ph.D. diss., Cornell University, 1998), 224–34.

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