The Aria, The Virgin Queen’s Dream Monologue, is the only existing portion of Johan Franco’s planned opera about Sir Francis Bacon. The subject was of special interest to Franco, a convinced Baconian, who has found time when not composing to publish various pamphlets pertaining to the Bacon-Shakespeare controversy. The Aria was composed in 1947, and orchestrated in 1952. It had its first performance the following year at the University of Alabama’s Composers Forum. The text is taken from “The Tragical Historie of our Late Brother, Earl of Essex,” and construed by the late Dr. Orville Owen from Shakespearean texts by means of his “wheel-cipher,” an apparatus constructed for the purpose of discovering hidden plays within the Shakespearean plays. The Aria depicts a nightmare of Queen Elizabeth I who, according to the Baconian conception revealed by this cipher, was secretly married to the Earl of Leicester, and the mother of Sir Francis Bacon and the Earl of Essex.
The Fantasy for Cello and Orchestra was composed in 1951. Of it the Franco had this to say: “The Fantasy is in free rondo form, built in the true spirit of the so-called “germ-cell” theory of which Willem Pijper was a confirmed champion and to which D’Indy had already drawn attention. A short motif serves as the germ for a complete composition and all the innate energy in such a motif is developed by the composer according to the vital laws of music. In the Fantasy, the “germ-cell” motif is heard first in the violins (pizzicato) and in the second measure in the English horn, in the third measure in the solo-cello.
It appears in all possible contrapuntal combinations, also in reverse. This “germ-cell” is also the foundation of the contrasting scherzando sections and the coda. Franco’s Fantasy is admirably condensed in form, and proceeds always logically toward an effective climax.
Of Castellana Mary Howe has this to say: “The work is built on four Spanish folk-tunes which I have never seen in any collection but which as a child I heard sung by some delightful Spanish cousins of my father. Although in character the piece is a free tone- poem, it is composed in four definite sections, which give it somewhat the air of a self-containing symphony. A free introduction leads into the first folk-tone, whose gay village character is indicated by the words: ‘From the market-place to the green cross there she goes—and she doesn’t care at all.’ (Chorus) ‘Come see me tomorrow, early rose; come and see me tomorrow.’ There follows the slow movement, based on the love-song: ‘Love grows as a shadow—distance only makes it greater.’ A linking passage deriving from a typical Spanish guitar figure leads through a cadenza for both pianos into the scherzo, based on the song of the guava-jelly woman peddling her wares: ‘Please inform me if you like them! See, here comes the guayabera.’ The final section is based on a catchy tune of which the words were naughty enough to be kept from me, although my father sang them with glee. The coda combines bits of all four tunes, and winds up with a flourish.”
The two miniature tone-poems, Stars and Sand, while usually played together, were composed some eight years apart. Sand, chronologically the first, was written in 1926, and first performed by The Barrère Little Symphony in Town Hall, 1927. Stars was composed in 1934 as a piano piece, and later orchestrated. In each case the scoring is surprisingly light for the resulting resonance—one of each woodwind, one percussion, and strings which can be multiplied or reduced as needed. In Stars, two horns, trumpet and harp are added. Let the composer again speak for these two orchestral impressions: “Stars was inspired by the gradually overwhelming effect of the dome of a starry night—its beauty, peace and space . . . Sand is an imaginative piece on the substance itself, its granular consistency and grittiness and its potential scattering quality; more or less what it appears to be when sifting through your fingers on the shore.”