Adam of St. Victor

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Born: 1080   Died: 1146; Paris, France  
Adam of St. Victor was a twelfth century poet and composer who was the greatest master of the Victorine Sequence. The "Victorines" were a group of twelfth century theologians based out of the Abbey of St. Victor in Paris, including Hugo of St. Victor (1096-1141) and Richard of St. Victor (ca. 1120-1173). Adam of St. Victor, or "Adam Precentor" as he was known during his lifetime, was the poet among their company, although Richard of St. Victor Read more was not particularly well-disposed toward Adam, referring to him as an "egregious versifier." Adam of St. Victor's work did not begin to appear in print until the nineteenth century, and then only in sources that reproduced his texts without their melodies. Notwithstanding Richard of St. Victor's low opinion of his work, in the current day Adam is regarded as without peer among French poets of the twelfth century.

For many years scholars labored under the misconception that Adam of St. Victor was a man whose name is recorded in the annals of the Abbey of St. Victor as "Adam Brito" (i.e., "of Brittany" or "of the Britons") who is shown to have died in 1079 or 1099. But recent scholarship has proven that this view was mistaken, and that the very name "Adam of St. Victor" is a retrospective designation. Adam, starting in 1107, worked as a soloist and singing leader at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris and was nonetheless strongly attracted to the vibrant theological environment that thrived at the Abbey of St. Victor from its foundation in 1113. In the early 1130s Adam began to turn his salary over to help support the Abbey of St. Victor, precipitating a scandal leading to a nasty situation whereby agents of Notre Dame Cathedral murdered one of the Victorine priors. Adam managed to separate himself from Notre Dame Cathedral and spent the last of his days at the Abbey of St. Victor, dying in 1146.

About 79 sequences either attributed to Adam or belonging to his "school" exist in five or six folios dating from no earlier than the late twelfth century, and two of the sources are text-only. Folios adjudged to be of the latest vintage show that Adam's melodies have been redacted to some degree by an editor, in keeping with practices already observed in Notre Dame-based chant sources. The Abbey of St. Victor itself was burned and left a ruin during the French Revolution, and in 1820 it was torn down, but the monastery library had already been emptied out before the angry mobs could put Adam's priceless manuscript volumes to the torch. Read less

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