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Musical Ode To Cyrus The Great In Paris




Shahbanou Farah Pahlavi Guest of Honor For Symphonic Performance of Gioachino Rossini's "Ciro In Babilonia" at The Theater Des Champs-Elysées (*)



 © & photocomposition ©DK - Ancient Persian History has been an inspiration to some of the Greatest Classic Composers in the Western World. George Frideric Handel was to create an Opera on Persian King Xerxes which was performed for the first time in 1738 at the King's Theatre, Haymarket, London. One of Giacomo Puccini's most celebrated Opera's is named Turandot. The story of Turandot was taken from the Persian collection of stories called "The Book of One Thousand and One Days". Turandot ( pronounced Tourandokht) is a Persian word and name meaning "the daughter of Turan", Turan being a region of Central Asia which used to be part of the Persian Empire. And probably one of the most recognizable pieces of German composer Richard Strauss  is Also sprach Zarathustra a musical tribute to the Zoroastrian prophet Zartosht known in the West thanks to Friedrich Nietzsche's philosophical work and popularized thanks to the 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey. However one of the less known yet important classical compostions is that of Italian composer Gioachino Antonio Rossini which is an important tribute to the founder of the Persian Empire: Cyrus the Great who is best known in History for Liberating the Jews from captivity in Babylon and allowing them to rebuild their temple in Jerusalem.




Mezzo-Soprano Nora Gubisch performs the lead in Ciro In Babilonia
©Théâtre des Champs Elysées


Gioachino Antonio Rossini (Pesaro, February 29, 1792 - Passy, November 13, 1868) was a popular Italian composer who wrote 39 operas as well as sacred music and chamber music. His best known works include Il barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville), La Cenerentola and Guillaume Tell (William Tell). Rossini occupied an unrivalled position in the Italian musical world of his time, winning considerable success relatively early in his career. The son of a horn-player and a mother who made a career for herself in opera, as a boy he had direct experience of operatic performance, both in the orchestra pit and on stage. His operas from his first relative success in 1810 until 1823 were first performed in Italy. There followed a period of success in Paris, leading to his final opera, Guillaume Tell, staged in Paris in 1829. The revolution of 1830 prevented the fulfillment of French royal commissions for the theatre, but in his later life he continued to enjoy considerable esteem, both in Paris, where he spent much of his last years, and in his native Italy. There he spent the years from 1837 until 1855, before returning finally to France, where he died in 1868. Cyrus in Babylon is the first Lyrical composition by Rossini. He was barely 20 when he composed it during the State visit of French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte to Florence in 1812. It was commissioned by the Grand Duchess of Florence who greatly admired the Emperor as an iconic figure of the French Revolution and of its ideals of Justice and Human Rights. An Irony given that Napoleon, the Emperor was also regarded by most European monarchies of the time as a threat to their establishment and particularly for the British foe "A bloodthirsty tyrant" wanting to conquer the World. Yet Napoleon was to captivate the imagination of many contemporary artists of his time, from Russian author Leon Tolstoi to French novelists like Chateaubriand or Victor Hugo to German Musician Ludwig Von Beethoven all equally admired or despised Napoleon at different stages of their lives and work because Napoleon was the embodiment of the Romantic hero whose rise and eventual downfall was the product of his own will and quest for immortality (political or historical). Thus the Napoleonic Era was certainly  responsible to a great degree for the genesis of what become known as Romanticism or the Romantic intellectual movement that appeared in the mid 18th century. Fascination for Ancient heroes be them Greek, Roman or directly derived from the holy texts of Bible also served as political statements or historical metaphors for the European Intelligentsia. This explains certainly why the Grand Duchess of Florence was to compare Napoleon to the Messianic Liberator described in the Holy Texts of the Bible who was no other than ... Cyrus the Great.


A comparison the roots of which go back to The Concordat and the Religious Peace.  "Politics," Napoleon was fond of saying, "is just common sense applied to important matters." As soon as power was conferred on him in November 1799, he put this maxim to work.


Napoleon's Romantic persona was compared to that of Cyrus the Great particularly for the European Jewish community who saw in him the New Messaiah. Most Persian Kings including the last Iranian Dynasty of the Pahlavi's held the Jewish community as equal citizens and celebrated their brotherhood status. © & pictory


After ten years of revolution, the country was in ruins, yet Napoleon was perfectly confident that the French needed no urging to get back to work with the greatest enthusiasm. All French men and women were ready to work to the limit of their abilities to improve living conditions for their families. In order to achieve this, all that was needed was to re-establish public security and allow everyone to reap the rewards of their labors. One of the greatest and astonishing achievements of Napoleon which has endured to this day in France's secular system ( of separation of the State and Church)  was to allow the freedom of cult known as La Libérté de Cult. In his view for the population to be happy, restoring freedom of worship was a priority. Since 95% of the population was Catholic, he first of all applied his energies to the re-establishment of this religion.


The royalists saw their most powerful weapon for winning over the French people slipping from their grasp. The Comte d'Artois, the brother of Louis XVIII, went as far as to label Pope Pius VII a criminal for agreeing to deal with Napoleon. This was because he needed the Pope to sign an agreement that would make him the sovereign pontiff of the Roman Catholic church in France. Napoleon was later to say of this agreement, the Concordat, that it was one of the most difficult accomplishments of his entire career.


A document rescinded the antireligious edicts of the Revolution. The Papacy recognized the French Republic. All religions were authorized. Church and state would work in perfect agreement. Priests were to receive compensation from the government.


Nor did he limit himself to liberating Christian religions. He made Judaism the third official religion of France. On May 30, 1806, he convened a meeting in Paris of some of the most distinguished Jews and rabbis from every region of France in order to study and to establish the correct procedures for conferring upon Jews the political and civil status of French citizens, in other words, to make them first-class citizens.

Ancient Persian History, Religion and Mythology has been a recurrent
inspiration in Western Classical Music.
©photocomposition DK



On Saturday July 26, 1806, one hundred and eleven representatives of the Jewish communities of France and Northern Italy assembled in the chapel of St. Jean, a building annexed to City Hall in Paris. They had received a declaration from the Emperor: "I want all men who live in France to be equal and to benefit from all our laws." At the very first meeting, Bordeaux banker Abraham Fortado was elected president. In his inaugural address, he eulogized Napoleon in glowing terms: "It is he who has put an end to bloody anarchy and secular persecution."


Napoleon then decided to reunite the Great Sanhedrin the following year. Essentially religious in origin, the Great Sanhedrin is the supreme Council of the Jewish nation. This assembly had governed Israel from 170 B.C. to 70 A.D. A little after the victory at Iena, the Emperor drafted an eight-page memorandum from Posen, on November 29 1806, in which he indicated the broad outlines of the status that was to be granted to the Jews.


On Feb. 9, 1807, the Great Sanhedrin came together in great solemnity for a one-month session. The ceremony was based on that practiced in the Jewish state 2000 years ago. The St. Jean chapel was this time supplied with a vast semicircular table around which 71 men took their places, as in the temple in Jerusalem. Commenting on the measures agreed upon in the course of the work, Rabbi Sinzheim declared in his closing speech: "Thou, Napoleon, thou, the beloved, thou, the idol of France and Italy, the consolation of the human race, the support of the afflicted, the father of all people, the Lord's elected, it is for thee that Israel shall erect a temple in its heart. We dedicate to thee the lives and feelings of those whom thou hast just placed among the ranks of thy children by having them enjoy all the prerogatives of thy most faithful subjects." At the end of the last meeting, Napoleon was proclaimed the modern-day "Cyrus" (the king of Persia, Cyrus the Great, was the first ruler to restore the state of Israel). He was warmly and unanimously glorified by all the assembled representatives.

The decree of 1806 had freed the Jews from their isolation. The Great Sanhedrin of 1807, by making Judaism the third official religion, forged links that bound them closely to their new country. The resolutions of the Sanhedrin of 1807 thus formed a sort of Concordat which even today remains the organic basis of French Judaism. The measures taken by the Emperor in favor of the Jews sewed a measure of disquiet in the old courts of Europe, particularly those of London, Moscow and Vienna. Metternich, the Austrian ambassador to Paris, wrote to his Emperor: "All the Jews see Napoleon as their Messiah."


It is in this context of popularity amongst the Jewish community that the Italian composer was commissioned to  compose "Ciro in Babilonia":




The setting takes place one night in Babylon in 539 B.C during a great Banquet of mighty King Balthazzar in company of all the kingdom's dignitaries when suddenly an invisible hand writes mysterious inscriptions on the palace wall. Disturbed the King commands his officers to bring in Daniel the Prophet of Israel from the prison cells so that he can explain the meaning. Daniel claims that Balthazzar's days are counted and that he will die upon the liberation of Babylon by Cyrus the Persian and that all captives will be set Free throughout the Kingdom.


As with all opera's the story is pretext to exploring the major themes of mankind: Love, Bravery, Treason and Cowardice are illustrated by the sublime music of Rossini all of which will be used one again in his later works for which he was to achieve fame particularly that of Il barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville).


Former Shahbanou of Iran At Paris Premier of Rossini's "Ciro In Babilonia" at
The Théâtre Des Champs-Elysées
©photocomposition DK



Cyrus the Great (Persian: Kurosh-e Kabir (c. 590 BC or 576 - August 530 BC), also known as Cyrus II of Persia and Cyrus the Elder, was the founder of the Persian Empire under the Achaemenid dynasty. The empire expanded under his rule, eventually conquering most of Southwest Asia and much of Central Asia, from Egypt and the Hellespont in the west to the Indus River in the east, to create the largest state the world had yet seen. The word "State" in English, "Etat" in French or "Ostan" ( combination of  "Satrap's " or city states of the Empire) in Persian has hence entered international geographical vocabulary.


During his twenty-nine year reign, Cyrus fought against some of the greatest states of his time, including the Median Empire, the Lydian Empire, and the Neo-Babylonian Empire. Cyrus did not venture into Egypt, as he himself died in battle, fighting the Massagetae along the Syr Darya in August 530 BC. He was succeeded by his son, Cambyses II, who managed to conquer Egypt during his short rule. Darius Ist and his son Xerxes were to expand and consolidate the Empire that lasted for more than 500 years.


However Cyrus is most probably most admired for what became known as the First Historical record on Human Rights: The Cyrus Cylinder. His religious tolerance combined with a unique vision of universal values best expressed by the Persian Zoroastrian faith: "Good Thoughts, Good Words, Good Deeds" 


The Bible records that a remnant of the Jewish population returned to the Promised Land from Babylon, following an edict from Cyrus to rebuild the temple. This edict is fully reproduced in the Book of Ezra. As a result of Cyrus' policies, the Jews honored him as a dignified and righteous king. He is the only Gentile to be designated as a messiah, a divinely-appointed king, in the Tanakh (Isaiah 45:1-6). By pursuing a policy of generosity instead of repression, and by favoring local religions, Cyrus was able to make his newly conquered subjects into enthusiastic supporters. Due in part to the political infrastructure he created, the Achaemenid empire endured long after his demise.


A Night to Remember: Shahbanou Farah Guest of Honor at
Performance of Rossini's "Ciro In Babilonia"



Cyrus left a lasting legacy on Jewish religion (through his Edict of Restoration), politics, and military strategy, as well as on both Eastern and Western civilization. As for Persian philosophy, literature and religion all played dominant roles in world events for the next millennia.







Author's Notes:

(*) Official Website of the Théatre des Champs Elysées


Rossini's "Ciro in Babilonia" is available on


Recommended Readings:


He is Awake: Close Up on Cyrus KAR by Darius KADIVAR


Xerxes, the opera by Cyrus KADIVAR (


Xerxes the Screenplay by Ren A. Hakim ( interview) by Darius KADIVAR

Satrapi Get's Theatrical by Darius KADIVAR


Persian Diaspora Music & Dance:

French-Iranian director Robert Hossein revives Epic Tale of Ben Hur with Father Aminollah's Music Score by Darius KADIVAR

A Persian Phantom Unmasked  by Darius KADIVAR

Sultan of My Heart: Monika Jalili and Noorsaaz's remembrance of things past ... by Darius KADIVAR

An Axis of Joy: Noorsaaz Band Triumphs In Paris by Darius KADIVAR

Persian Fiddler Lights Up Paris by Darius KADIVAR

Shahrokh Moskin Ghalam's Adaptation of Classic Kafaneh Siah Play Takes Wing with North American Tour by Darius KADIVAR

When Giants Meet:Googoosh Greets Shahbanou Farah in NY Concert by Darius KADIVAR

Persepolis Music Score Released in France by Darius KADIVAR

Teheran Mon Amour: Music Score of French-Russian film by Darius KADIVAR

Ramin's Hollywood Music Scores by Darius KADIVAR




About the Author: Darius KADIVAR is a Freelance Journalist, Film Historian, and Media Consultant. He is also contributes to OCPC Magazine in LA/US and to the London Based IC Publications The Middle East Magazine and Persian Heritage Magazine.


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