About this Recording
8.559635 - DAUGHERTY, M.: Metropolis Symphony / Deus ex Machina (T. Wilson, Nashville Symphony, Guerrero)

Michael Daugherty (b. 1954)
Metropolis Symphony • Deus ex Machina


I began composing Metropolis Symphony in 1988, inspired by the celebration in Cleveland of the fiftieth anniversary of Superman’s first appearance in the comics. When I completed the score in 1993, I dedicated it to the conductor David Zinman, who had encouraged me to compose the work, and to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, who gave its world première at Carnegie Hall in January 1994. Metropolis Symphony evokes an American mythology that I discovered as an avid reader of comic books in the 1950s and 1960s. 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.

I. Lex derives its title from one of Superman’s most vexing foes, the super-villain Lex Luthor. Marked “Diabolical” in the score, this movement features a virtuoso violin soloist (Lex) who plays a fiendishly difficult fast triplet motive in perpetual motion, pursued by the orchestra and a percussion section that includes four referee whistles placed quadraphonically on stage.

II. Krypton refers to the exploding planet from which the infant Superman escaped. A dark, microtonal sound world is created by glissandi in the strings, trombone, and siren. Two percussionists play antiphonal fire bells throughout the movement, as it evolves from a recurring solo motive in the cellos into ominous calls from the brass section. Gradually the movement builds toward an apocalyptic conclusion.

III. MXYZPTLK is named after a mischievous imp from the fifth dimension who regularly wreaks havoc in Superman’s Metropolis. This brightly orchestrated movement is the scherzo of the symphony, emphasizing the upper register of the orchestra. It features two dueling flute soloists who are positioned stereophonically on either side of the conductor. Rapidly descending and ascending flute runs are echoed throughout the orchestra, while open-stringed pizzicato patterns, moving strobe-like throughout the orchestra, are precisely choreographed to create a spatial effect.

IV. Oh, Lois! invokes Lois Lane, news reporter at the Daily Planet alongside Clark Kent (alias Superman). Marked with the tempo “faster than a speeding bullet”, this five-minute concerto for orchestra uses flexatone and whip to provide a lively polyrhythmic counterpoint that suggests a cartoon history of mishaps, screams, dialogue, crashes, and disasters, all in rapid motion.

V. Red Cape Tango was composed after Superman’s fight to the death with Doomsday, and is my final musical work based on the Superman mythology. The principal melody, first heard in the bassoon, is derived from the Medieval Latin death chant Dies irae. This dance of death is conceived as a tango, presented at times like a concertino comprising string quintet, bassoon, chimes, and castanets. The tango rhythm, introduced by the castanets and heard later in the finger cymbals, undergoes a gradual timbral transformation, concluding dramatically with crash cymbals, brake drum, and timpani. The orchestra alternates between legato and staccato sections to suggest a musical bullfight. Deus ex Machina (2007) for Piano and Orchestra was commissioned by a consortium of the Charlotte, Nashville, New Jersey, and Syracuse Symphony Orchestras and Rochester Philharmonic. The title Deus ex Machina refers to the Latin phrase, “god from the machine”. Each of the three movements of the piano concerto is a musical response to the world of trains.

I. Fast Forward (Di andata veloce)

The first movement departs from the Manifesto of Futurism (1909), in which the Italian futurist F.T. Marinetti declared that machine technologies would propel the world toward a universal culture. The image of a speeding locomotive became an icon in modernist art of European painters in the early twentieth century. Two important paintings I had in mind were “States of Mind” (1911), the Cubist trilogy of a noisy and dissonant train arriving and departing at a modern railroad station, painted by the Italian Futurist Umberto Boccioni, and “Time Transfixed” (1936), the strange image of a steam locomotive emerging from a dining room fireplace, painted by the Belgian Surrealist René Magritte. I synthesize these various avant-garde perspectives on trains in motion and commotion, creating my own musical manifesto. Abstract musical lines, mechanical velocities, contrary vectors, polyrhythmic vibrations, and fragmented reverberations all move “fast forward” to arrive at a modernist utopian future.

II. Train of Tears

From April to May of 1865, a “lonesome train on a lonesome track” with “seven coaches painted black” carried the body of the assassinated American Civil War President Abraham Lincoln from Washington, D.C. to his home in Springfield, Illinois for burial. During the 1,650-mile journey through seven states, this slow-moving funeral train passed through American cities and towns where memorials were held for millions of mourners who lined the railroad tracks to give their final farewell to “Abe” Lincoln. The second movement, Train of Tears, is music for a slow-moving funeral train. First we hear a “ghost” melody that I have composed, performed con passione by the strings and accompanied by a lonely bass drum. Metal wind chimes and bowed suspended cymbal echo the piano soloist, who plays a funeral dirge in a minor key. Over the dirge, a distant trumpet and English horn play “Taps”. I incorporate “Taps” (also known as “Gone to Sleep”) because this simple but emotionally charged melody has been used since the Civil War in America as a military bugle call, sounded at soldiers’ funerals. During the journey of the second movement, I intertwine the “ghost” melody and “Taps” in various guises, counterpoints, transpositions, and orchestrations.

III. Night Steam

By the 1950s, trains in America were powered by electricity or diesel fuel. The only remaining coal-burning steam locomotives were those of the Norfolk and Western railroad line, operating in the states of Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, and Maryland, where coal was still plentiful. Aware of the impending loss of these gigantic and beautiful steam locomotives, the photographer O. Winston Link documented the last days of the Norfolk and Western trains from 1955 to 1960 and the people who lived alongside them. Using complex banks of flashbulbs and timers that he invented, Link frequently photographed the trains in action during the night, in black and white. Like O. Winston Link’s photographs, I have composed music that sonically captures the final journeys of trains from a bygone era. In Night Steam, we hear majestic fire-eating steam locomotives rumble and whistle their way through the small towns and lonely back roads of the Shenandoah Valley into extinction.

Michael Daugherty

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