The Lyre of Ishtar theme was composed by Joseph Dillon Ford during the spring of 1983 in Tangier, Morocco. Originally conceived as the first four measures of a piano piece titled "Chanson de la nuit" that was never completed, the theme has now become the basis of the Ishtar Projectan international effort undertaken by composers and performers in remembrance of the deplorable loss of Iraq's cultural patrimony as a consequence of the Iraqi-American War of 2003.
This theme will constitute the first section of a monumental theme and variations set for keyboard anticipated to be the largest example of its genre ever composed. Composers throughout the world are invited to contribute one or more additional variations (see details below). Each variation will commemorate one of the priceless artifacts stolen from or destroyed at the Iraq Museum in Baghdad, the total number of which may reach nearly 200,000. The Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago has begun to assemble images of these antiquities at the following URL:
The artifacts and art objects in question were looted from the Iraq Museum beginning on Friday, 11 April 2003. Although the Bush administration took great pains to protect Iraq's oil fields as it quickly toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein, the world was soon shocked to realize that the overthrow of the Iraqi dictator was at best a Pyrrhic victory. The American Commander-in-Chief and those in the highest positions of military authority tragically failed to appreciate the enormous historical and aesthetic significance of Iraq's cultural artifacts and thus neglected to allocate the small number of troops necessary to protect these priceless objects from catastrophic depredation.
Among the untold thousands of art treasures damaged, lost, stolen, or missing was an exquisite lyre from the Royal Cemetery at Ur embellished with gold, lapis lazuli, and masterful inlaid work. As a Sumerian poet once recorded, "They play the stringed instrument that brings joy to all people. They play songs for Inanna to rejoice the heart."
The Mesopotamian goddess Ishtar, identified with the Sumerian "Queen of Heaven" Inanna, was perhaps the most important of all early Middle Eastern female deities. Although she is chiefly represented as a goddess of fertility and war, as Inanna she was associated both with tears and rejoicing, and in Egypt she was worshipped as a great healer. Daughter of the moon god Sin (Nanna), her special symbol is a rosette-like star.
In view of these facts, The Lyre of Ishtar seemed like a particularly fitting title for this extraordinary new composition.
Those composers wishing to contribute one or more additional variations to the project are asked to observe the following guidelines:
Keyboard players interested in performing any desired combination of variations should e-mail Dillon Ford and the composer(s) in question directly (see below) with their request for scores. The latter should be provided for the costs of duplication, handling, and postage alone. It is expected that all performers will respect the serious intent of this work by presenting it in appropriate listening venues. Each performer is free to play any variation in any order, once the main theme has been presented.
Listeners are invited to structure their own version of The Lyre of Ishtar by selecting any of the MIDI links below in any desired order.
It is earnestly hoped that this project will stimulate interest in the research, recovery, and restoration efforts necessary to reconstitute the Iraq Museum and to make its priceless treasures available once more for the benefit of humanity. Listeners and keyboard performers may also want to visit:
"The Tears of Ishtar" (an independent keyboard solo by Dillon Ford)