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Hernando Franco (1532 – November 28, 1585) was a Spanish composer of the Renaissance, who was mainly active in Guatemala and Mexico. He is one of the most famous Hispanic composers of the colonial era.
Franco was born in Galizuela, a small town near Alcántara in Spain's Extremadura province, a source region for many people who came to the New World in the 16th century. He studied music at Segovia cathedral with Gerónimo de Espinar , who may also have been a teacher of Tomás Luis de Victoria. While a youth he met and befriended Lázaro del Álamo , who was to precede him as maestro de capilla in Mexico City.
Most likely Franco went to Nueva España in the 1550s, though there is no record of his activities until 1573 when he appears in the records as maestro di capilla of the cathedral in Guatemala City, which was built in 1534. He left that position in 1574 after a series of budget cuts made paying the musicians impossible, and took a job as maestro di capilla of the new cathedral in Mexico City in 1575, where his old friend Lázaro del Álamo had been maestro di capilla from 1556 to 1570.
Franco was clearly a well-respected and beloved figure, since he was granted a prebend in 1581 and contemporary documents contain numerous references to his exemplary character and musicianship. He resigned in 1582 during a period of financial difficulties in Mexico City, and died in 1585. He is buried in the cathedral's main chapel.
Work and influence
Franco wrote 20 motets which survive, as well as 16 Magnificat settings and a setting for four voices of the Lamentations of Jeremiah . He seems to have written no masses, an unusual omission for a composer who headed a Spanish chapel choir, but it is possible that much of his music has been lost. Some hymns by a composer of the same name (Hernando don Franco ) in the Nahuatl language are now presumed to be the work of a native composer who took Franco's name, as was the custom, on his conversion to Christianity and baptism (if so, they may be the earliest extant notated music in the European tradition by a Native American composer).
Franco's style is related to that of other Spanish composers of the period, though more conservative, treating dissonance carefully, avoiding chromaticism and virtuosity; indeed tending towards austerity. His settings of the Magnificat were influenced by those by Cristóbal de Morales. The voice range of his works is limited, and may reflect the singing abilities of his choirs, which were not up to the musical standards of those in Europe.
Franco is the earliest known composer in Guatemala; his two pieces in the archives of the Guatemala cathedral, a Lumen ad revelationem and a Benedicamus Domino, are the earliest surviving manuscripts from the area. Other composers preceded him in Mexico, but he was considered by his contemporaries to be the finest of the 16th century there.
References and further reading
- "Franco, Hernando", "Guatemala", in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. Stanley Sadie. 20 vol. London, Macmillan Publishers Ltd., 1980. ISBN 1561591742
- Gustave Reese, Music in the Renaissance. New York, W.W. Norton & Co., 1954. ISBN 0393095304
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