Fantasy Variations on a Theme by Pancrace Royer (1705-1755)

Fantasy Variations on a Theme by Pancrace Royer (1705-1755)


  • String Orchestra (1999)


Technical Information

Duration – 18:50 

Fantasy Variations on a Theme by Pancrace Royer (1705-1755) (1999)

  1. Theme – 1:10
  2. Variation I: Air – 2:15
  3. Variation II: Ostinato Variations – 2:30
  4. Variation III: Tambourin – 1:15
  5. Variation IV: Lament – 2:20
  6. Variation V: Spanish Dance – 1:40
  7. Variation VI: “Impromptu” Prelude – 3:30
  8. Finale: Toccata – 4:10

Program Notes

What would happen if I could travel back in time to Paris 1749 and live with Pancrace Royer for three months, absorbing his music and the culture of the times? How would this experience affect my music? My Fantasy Variations is an attempt to answer this hypothetical scenario.

I first became acquainted with the music of Joseph-Nicholas-Pancrace Royer through a recording of his Pieces de Clavecin and immediately became a fan of his music. Pancrace Royer was born in Turin in 1705, studying music and beginning his career there. In 1725, he moved to Paris and rapidly built a productive and illustrious career as a composer, teacher, harpsichordist, and musical administrator. Milestones in his career was his appointment as music teacher to the children of Louis XV (1734), co-director of the Concert Spiritual (1748), and finally as composer of music for the king’s chamber and inspector general of the Opera (1753).

In 1996, I decided to compose a set of variations for string orchestra based on a theme from the Pieces de Clavecin. I settled upon La Zaide, Rondeau which originally came from Pancrace Royer’s opera-ballet Zaide, reine de Granade, which premiered September 3, 1739 in Paris. Zaide was his most celebrated work and enjoyed revivals over a period of thirty-one years (and fifteen years past his death).

In the summer of 1998, while on vacation in Paris, my wife and I went to the Bibliotheque Nationale de France and were able to view several original printed scores and hand-written parts by Pancrace Royer, including the opera-ballets Almasis and the two printed versions of Zaide. This intriguing experience of “stepping back in time” to view these unpublished wonderful compositions provided me with the idea of a “dialogue with the past” scenario.

I decided my composition would be in an eclectic neo-classical style, blending various 20th century styles and techniques with familiar baroque styles and techniques.

The structure of the Fantasy Variations is based upon the baroque suite, common during the time of Rameau and Pancrace Royer, and not on the traditional baroque form of variations. The Theme section serves as the Prelude to my composition, while each of the variations is a short dance piece built on motives from the theme and accompaniment.

The titles of the seven variations are:

  1. Air
  2. Ostinato Variations
  3. Tambourin
  4. Lament
  5. Spanish Dance
  6. “Impromptu” Prelude
  7. Toccata

Finally, I wanted my composition to contain the characteristics and esthetics of Pancrace Royer’s baroque music:  to be lyrical and tender, to be virtuosic and dramatic, to be humorous, to delight and to entertain.

Update: 2020

In the 1990’s, only Pancrace Royer’s Pieces de Clavecin were readily available on recordings and printed music. Getting access to original copies of Pancrace Royer’s music was a special experience and felt like going back in time. I was able to get copies of this music from the Bibliotheque Nationale de France. I did a modern edition of a suite of dances from Royer’s opera-ballet Almasis. I was inspired to compose Fantasy Variations on a Theme by Pancrace Royer (1999), and five years later, Dances with Time for Solo Flute (with Piccolo and Alto Flute), Solo Cello, Clarinet, Bassoon, Percussion and String Orchestra (2004). Over the last 20 years, more of Royer’s music has been performed, recorded, and published, with the musicologist and harpsichordist Lisa Goode Crawford contributing a lot of great work. Two of Royer’s opera-ballets, Zaide and Pyrrhus, are now available online:,_Joseph-Nicolas-Pancrace

I am glad that more of Pancrace Royer’s music is being performed and recorded.

Royer composing his opera Zaïde by Jean-Marc Nattier, Private Collection