Review of Michael Daugherty's “Metropolis Symphony”

By John Davoll.

Metropolis Symphony Michael Daugherty (b. 1954)
METROPOLIS SYMPHONY

  1. Lex - 9.56
  2. Krypton - 6.54
  3. Mxyzptlk - 6.59
  4. Oh, Lois! - 5.09
  5. Red Cape Tango - 13.01
  6. Bizarro for symphonic winds & percussion - 9.26

From the liner notes, written by Daugherty:
    "I began composing my Metropolis Symphony in 1988, inspired by the celebration, in Cleveland, of the fiftieth anniversary of Superman's first appearance in comics...

    "The Metropolis Symphony evokes an American mythology that I discovered as an avid reader of comic books in the fifties and sixties. Each movement of the symphony - which may be performed separately - is a musical response to the myth of Superman. I have used Superman as a compositional metaphor in order to create an independent musical world that appeals to the imagination. The symphony is a rigorously structured, non-programmatic work, expressing the energies, ambiguities, paradoxes, and wit of American popular culture."

Lex (marked Diabolical in the score) features a solo violin playing incredibly fast triplets, pursued by the orchestra, which includes four referee whistles placed quadraphonically on the performance stage.

Krypton is, simply, a seven-minute musical build toward apocalyptic chaos. Throughout the piece are glissandi (sliding notes) from the trombones, strings, and a siren.

Mxyzptlk evokes the Mercury section of Holst's The Planets, featuring the upper register of the orchestra. It features two dueling flute soloists who are positioned in performance on either side of the conductor.

Oh, Lois! (marked Faster than a speeding bullet in the score) uses speed and multiple rhythms to suggest "a cartoon history of mishaps, screams, dialogues, crashes, and disasters, all in rapid motion."

Red Cape Tango is a musical painting of Superman's battle with Doomsday. The main melody is a version of the Medieval Latin chant Dies irae, associated with death. This melody is than layered with a tango, creating a dance of death.

Bizarro for symphonic winds & percussion "inhabits a musical world without strings, and revels in the brash energies of rock and big band jazz, propelled on his zany course by a fast tempo and rhythmic excitement" spurred on, in part, by a large percussion section that includes three rock drummers.

For people whose exposure to orchestral music is limited to movie soundtracks, this music will be challenging. The music is not telling a story, but rather painting a picture. The movements for Lex, Mxyzptlk, and Lois (as well as the Bizarro piece) are extremely effective in bringing forward the personalities of those characters (at least how they were portrayed at one time or another in their publishing history). Krypton and Red Cape Tango could be seen as bookends for a mythology that, being neverending, doesn't need them.

The only recording (that I know of) features the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, led by David Zinman, and distributed by Argo. It's available on CD from Amazon.com.

John Davoll

Listen to song samples from the "Metropolis Symphony" CD.
  Windows Media RealOne Player
1. Metropolis Symphony: Lex Listen Listen
2. Metropolis Symphony: Krypton Listen Listen
3. Metropolis Symphony: Mxyzptlk Listen Listen
4. Metropolis Symphony: Oh Lois! Listen Listen
5. Metropolis Symphony: Red Cape Tango Listen Listen
6. Metropolis Symphony: Bizarro Listen Listen