(b Garrovillas, nr Alcántara in Extremadura, 1532; dMexico City, 28 Nov 1585). Spanish composer, active in Guatemala and Mexico. At the age of ten he became a choirboy in Segovia Cathedral, and by the age of 14 was receiving a salary in recognition of his superior musicianship. Among his teachers was maestro de capilla Gerónimo de Espinar, who later taught Victoria as a choirboy in Avila. During his seven years at Segovia (1542–9), Franco spent his vacations in Espinar with the family of Hierónimo and Lázaro del Alamo, fellow choristers. There he also met Matheo de Arévalo Sedeña, a wealthy nobleman and later provisor of Mexico City Cathedral, who was responsible for taking Lázaro del Alamo to Mexico City in 1556 as the cathedral's maestro de capilla.
There are indications that Franco accompanied Arévalo Sedeño to Nueva España in 1554, but his name does not appear there until 1573 – in the records of Guatemala Cathedral where he is listed as maestro de capilla; his friend Hierónimo del Alamo and his cousin Padre Alonso de Trujillo are recorded as singers in the choir. The extensive salary cuts documented in the Guatemala archives may have motivated Franco and his two companions to seek employment elsewhere: by the end of 1574 Arévalo Sedeño had taken the three musicians to Mexico City. On 20 May 1575 Franco was appointed maestro de capilla of the cathedral in succession to Juan de Victoria (himself the successor to Lázaro del Alamo in 1570). He received a stipend of 600 gold pesos; his cousin, as precentor, received 200 gold pesos.
During Franco's tenure in Mexico City the musical establishment reached a level of accomplishment unparalleled anywhere in the colonies. It received generous financial support, even though extensive funds were needed for the construction of the new cathedral, begun in 1573. Salaries were raised and new singers and instrumentalists hired, and care was given to the music in the archive. Franco himself was accorded unusual respect and esteem, despite the fact that the cathedral cabildo had felt obliged in 1579 to defray part of the huge debt accumulated by him, possibly through gambling. His service was of such quality that Archbishop Moya y Contreras requested a prebend for him, granted on 1 September 1581; in his recommendation to the king, the archbishop stated that Franco was a priest living a good and exemplary life, that his musicianship and skills in composition assured a musical tradition equal to anything in Spain, and that he had brought order to the chapel choir.
Circumstances changed, however, and in 1582 the chapter reduced salaries so drastically that Franco resigned, and the cathedral singers and instrumentalists refused to perform. Pressures from musicians and public finally forced a reconsideration; the choir returned, but financial negotiations continued for some time. In April 1584, perhaps because of poor health, Franco was relieved of the obligation of teaching counterpoint to the choirboys. The third Mexican Provincial Council in 1585 strengthened the former regulations, giving to the maestro de capilla absolute musical control over singers, instrumentalists and clergy. Franco died in that year, however, and was buried in the main chapel of the cathedral behind the seat of the viceroy.
His successor, a leading singer in his choir from 1568, was Juan Hernández (17 January 1586–1618). In 1611 Hernández proved his admiration for his predecessor by presenting to the cathedral chapter a handsome choirbook copy of Franco’s 16 Magnificat settings (two in each of the eight tones); it was considered so important an addition that the Archbishop Fray García Guerra willingly reimbursed the cost. Now known as the ‘Franco Codex’, it is the largest collection of the composer's works, and is preserved in the Mexico City Cathedral archive.
Franco did not leave a large number of compositions, but their existence in many sources testifies to their wide popularity during his lifetime. His music shares with other 16th-century works designed for Spanish churches such characteristics as a fluent but rather austere polyphony, a conservative treatment of dissonance and chromaticism and an implied doubling of voice parts by such instruments as flutes, shawms and bassoons or sackbuts, although no instruments are specified in surviving parts. The enclosed centrally placed Spanish choirs also exerted an important influence; members of the polyphonic choir led by the maestro de capilla, and of the plainchant choir led by the precentor, together with numerous other clergymen and dignitaries, sat on opposite sides of the enclosure. This arrangement inevitably heightened the effect of the antiphonal performance normally given to Magnificat and Salve regina settings, psalms and Lamentations by the alternation of polyphony and plainchant (or organ) on successive verses. This style is typical of early neo-Hispanic polyphony.
Franco’s Magnificat settings, one of odd-numbered and one of even-numbered verses in all but one of the eight tones (the third-tone settings are lost), demonstrate his familiarity with those of Morales. Each plainchant tone is freely paraphrased to generate a cantus firmus in a single voice, subjects for successive imitations, or motifs used throughout the texture. Occasionally the composer marked the two natural segments of the verse structure, but more frequently he joined them in a continuous flow of overlapping entries and imitations. In these polyphonic settings he rarely used contrasting passages in homophonic style, which he favoured for his rather simple but expressive psalms.
His sober style is characterized by close part-writing for four voices in rather limited ranges; the soprano usually lies below and very rarely rises above d'', and the sonority is therefore not a brilliant one. Trio settings of individual verses vary the texture, and the climactic 12th verse of the Magnificat settings is often in six parts with a canon between the two extra parts. He showed a high degree of technical competence, using the various contrapuntal devices with skill, balancing the rhythmic motion between voices and avoiding the monotony inherent in successive cadences on the same chord with a variety of approaches. He usually closed his final cadences with a somewhat archaic incomplete triad, but he also employed such sonorities as Phrygian and plagal cadences and long-held 7th chords.
For several years two hymns in the Valdés Codex, with texts in the Náhuatl language, have been regarded as Franco’s work. It has been suggested, however, that the ‘Hernando don Franco’ on the music refers to an Amerindian composer who may have taken his sponsor’s name at baptism as was the custom.
magnificat settings and lamentations
14 Magnificat (on 6 of the 8 tones; 2 settings on 3rd tone lost), 3, 4, 6vv, Tepotzótlan, Viceregal Museum; ed. in Barwick (1965)