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Wife of the noble Lorenzo Bembo and friend of Louis XIV, the Sun King, Antonia Bembo would have gone down in history above all as a singer, musician and composer. Her story is emblematic of what women have always been able to express in the musical field.

Antonia was born in Venice probably in 1642. An only child, she enjoyed a high level education. From an early age she proved lively, intelligent and particularly gifted in the musical field. Her parents entrusted her to the best teachers of the time including Francesco Cavalli; Antonia you also had teachers of grammar, poetics, rhetoric, history, Latin and Greek.

Strong-willed and unconventional - but rich in talent - at first the young woman gave a lot of satisfaction to her parents but soon proved too determined and independent and did not accept the marriage that they proposed to her with Francesco Corbetta, a much older musician than her. , sought after and admired in all European courts. Definitely opposed to a marriage of convenience, she just seventeen she married the nobleman Lorenzo Bembo, descendant of one of the oldest Venetian families.

The two young spouses first lived with her parents but later moved to another house. Their economic conditions, however, were not sufficient for their lifestyle and Lorenzo was filled with debts.

Antonia, still childless, actively participated in the social and musical life of Venice, which was particularly rich in the second half of the 1600s. After the birth of her eldest daughter Diana, the family moved to Padua, and Andrea and Giacomo were born there.

The Bembo family finally returned to Venice but the marital relations began to deteriorate and the economic situation remained very difficult. Perhaps these were the reasons that led Lorenzo to participate in the final stages of the war of Candia against the Turks. The long absence of her husband and the difficulties to carry on the family, exasperated Antonia who asked for her divorce. The divorce case was favorable to Lorenzo. Convicted later for embezzlement and continued fraud against the state, Lorenzo died in prison in 1703 after thirteen years of detention.

Unattached, Bembo decided to leave. She therefore left her city and her children and went to Paris perhaps following an ambassador or Francesco Corbetta whom she had rejected as a husband but who had remained a friend of the family. Thanks to some influential support of her la Bembo, she was able to perform as a singer in front of Louis XIV who appreciated her talent and perhaps also her beauty and personality. The French court was frequented by Italians and Venetians.

Antonia resumed her activity as a musician, sacrificed during her married life. At that time the nobles could not publish their works or play or sing except privately. Signing herself Antoinette, Bembo set to music some poetic compositions by Elisabeth-Sophie Chéron, an artist who enjoyed great fame. At court she also met Brigida Aurelia Fedeli, a woman of great charm, actress of the Commedia dell’Arte and poetess who certainly influenced the texts that Bembo wrote for her arias in the form and choice of themes.

Between 1682 and 1685 Antonia went to live at the Petite Union Chrétienne, a female religious community where, thanks to the pension granted to her by the king, she could have a private apartment and a harpsichord. The girls hosted were also educated in music. It is therefore probable that many of her compositions were conceived to be performed by the young guests of the convent.

Living outside the court allowed her more personal freedom and comfort. She antonia always remained in contact with her children even though she never had the opportunity to see them again. Diana after several stays in various convents at thirty married a bourgeois while there is no news on the education of the two sons. It is known that Andrea, the eldest, at eighteen was involved in an episode of violence which, however, did not prevent him from pursuing a certain career in the administration of the Venetian Republic. He married a noblewoman and had two children. Giacomo, the other son, of a more relaxed nature, made a somewhat more prestigious career, married his sister-in-law's sister and had three children.

Meanwhile, Maria Adelaide of Savoy had arrived at court, very young wife of the Duke of Burgundy, eldest son of the dauphin. She had been educated at the prestigious college of Saint Cyr and had immediately won the sympathy of the king. As time passed she opened her own salons to the musicians of her choice, having their compositions performed. Among them was Antonia Bembo who dedicated much of her music to the Duchess. To her and to the birth of her first child he dedicated one of the volumes of her compositions, in which appeared a Te deum of thanks for the birth of the prince and a Little amusement for the same reason as well as several dances in homage to the Terpsichorean ability of the Duchess.

In the early 1700s, France found itself involved in the terrible war that broke out in Europe after the death of Charles II, king of Spain and which ended only in 1713 with the peace of Utrecht. The royal family had been hit by grief and misfortune but Louis XIV, although aged and ill, had been able to react. He still loved music even though he could no longer play guitar due to gout. The decline of the court certainly weighed on Antonia as well; her latest work Les sept Psaumes de David, still dedicated to the king, reflects the sadness of his own life and that of her "sublime monarch". Her last years were rather depressing; the date of her death is not known but it can be assumed that it took place in 1721.

Six handwritten volumes of her compositions are kept at the National Library of France. The I, III and VI, preciously bound, are dedicated to Louis XIV; the II is dedicated to Maria Adelaide of Savoy, Duchess of Burgundy.

(dz)

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