Hernando Franco

Hernando Franco

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Hernando Franco was a Spanish
Spain , officially the Kingdom of Spain languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Spain's official name is as follows:;;;;;;), is a country and member state of the European Union located in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula...

 composer of the Renaissance
Renaissance music
Renaissance music is European music written during the Renaissance. Defining the beginning of the musical era is difficult, given that its defining characteristics were adopted only gradually; musicologists have placed its beginnings from as early as 1300 to as late as the 1470s.Literally meaning...

, who was mainly active in Guatemala
Guatemala is a country in Central America bordered by Mexico to the north and west, the Pacific Ocean to the southwest, Belize to the northeast, the Caribbean to the east, and Honduras and El Salvador to the southeast...

 and Mexico
The United Mexican States , commonly known as Mexico , is a federal constitutional republic in North America. It is bordered on the north by the United States; on the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; on the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and on the east by the Gulf of...



Franco was born in Galizuela (now part of Esparragosa de Lares
Esparragosa de Lares
Esparragosa de Lares is a municipality in the province of Badajoz, Extremadura, Spain. It has a population of 1,066 and an area of 209 km²....

, Badajoz Province) in Extremadura
Extremadura is an autonomous community of western Spain whose capital city is Mérida. Its component provinces are Cáceres and Badajoz. It is bordered by Portugal to the west...

, a source region for many people who came to the New World in the 16th century. He was trained in music as a choir boy, and later apprentice and journeyman, at Segovia
Segovia is a city in Spain, the capital of Segovia Province in the autonomous community of Castile and León. It is situated north of Madrid, 30 minutes by high speed train. The municipality counts some 55,500 inhabitants.-Etymology:...

 cathedral by Gerónimo de Espinar, who may also have been a teacher of Tomás Luis de Victoria
Tomás Luis de Victoria
Tomás Luis de Victoria, sometimes Italianised as da Vittoria , was the most famous composer of the 16th century in Spain, and one of the most important composers of the Counter-Reformation, along with Giovanni da Palestrina and Orlando di Lasso. Victoria was not only a composer, but also an...

. While a youth he met and befriended Lázaro del Álamo, who was to precede him as maestro de capilla in Mexico City
Mexico City
Mexico City is the Federal District , capital of Mexico and seat of the federal powers of the Mexican Union. It is a federal entity within Mexico which is not part of any one of the 31 Mexican states but belongs to the federation as a whole...


Most likely Franco went to Nueva España in the 1550s, though there is no record of his activities until 1571 when he appears in the records as maestro de capilla of the cathedral of Santiago de Guatemala, which had been elevated to cathedral rank in 1534. That magnificent building had been newly constructed in the new site in the valley of Panchoy, present-day Antigua Guatemala
Antigua Guatemala
Antigua Guatemala is a city in the central highlands of Guatemala famous for its well-preserved Spanish Mudéjar-influenced Baroque architecture as well as a number of spectacular ruins of colonial churches...

, after the city had to be moved from the previous site in Almolonga, beginning in 1542.

Franco left that position in 1574 after a series of budget cuts that affected his salary, and undertook the journey to Mexico. Here he was fortunate to find the position of maestro de capilla of the new cathedral
Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral
The Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption of Mary of Mexico City is the largest and oldest cathedral in the Americas and seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Mexico. It is situated atop the former Aztec sacred precinct near the Templo Mayor on the northern side of the Plaza de la...

 vacant. He was appointed the new chapel master in 1575, where his old friend Lázaro del Álamo had been maestro de capilla from 1556 to 1570.

Franco was clearly a well-respected and beloved figure, since he was granted a prebend
A prebendary is a post connected to an Anglican or Catholic cathedral or collegiate church and is a type of canon. Prebendaries have a role in the administration of the cathedral...

 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 motet
In classical music, motet is a word that is applied to a number of highly varied choral musical compositions.-Etymology:The name comes either from the Latin movere, or a Latinized version of Old French mot, "word" or "verbal utterance." The Medieval Latin for "motet" is motectum, and the Italian...

s which survive, as well as 16 Magnificat
The Magnificat — also known as the Song of Mary or the Canticle of Mary — is a canticle frequently sung liturgically in Christian church services. It is one of the eight most ancient Christian hymns and perhaps the earliest Marian hymn...

 settings and a setting for four voices of the Lamentations of Jeremiah
Lamentations (music)
The Lamentations of Jeremiah the Prophet have been set by various composers.-England:Thomas Tallis made two famous sets of the Lamentations. Scored for five voices , they show a sophisticated use of imitation, and are noted for their expressiveness. The settings are of the first two lessons for...

. He seems to have written no masses
Mass (music)
The Mass, a form of sacred musical composition, is a choral composition that sets the invariable portions of the Eucharistic liturgy to music...

, 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 hymn
A hymn is a type of song, usually religious, specifically written for the purpose of praise, adoration or prayer, and typically addressed to a deity or deities, or to a prominent figure or personification...

s in the Nahuatl language by a composer of the same name (Hernando don Franco) 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
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

 and baptism (if so, they may be the earliest extant notated music in the European tradition by a Native American
Indigenous peoples of the Americas
The indigenous peoples of the Americas are the pre-Columbian inhabitants of North and South America, their descendants and other ethnic groups who are identified with those peoples. Indigenous peoples are known in Canada as Aboriginal peoples, and in the United States as Native Americans...


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
Cristóbal de Morales
Cristóbal de Morales was a Spanish composer of the Renaissance. He is generally considered to be the most influential Spanish composer before Victoria.- Life :...

. 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.

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