7) Michael Daugherty: Metropolis Symphony | Top 10 – Modern Classical Music

In this series of articles, I offer a top 10 list of my favorite works of modern classical music, focusing on orchestral pieces composed during the last 25 years.


A few years ago, a friend of mine who is a fan of superheroes told me about a symphony by Michael Daugherty that was inspired by the world of Superman. When the Orchestre Métropolitain performed this work a few years later, I invited my friend to attend the concert with me. It was a startling discovery. When I returned home that evening, I immediately bought a recording of the symphony.

Its apparent harmonic simplicity, its lively rhythms, and its underlying theme all work together to make it a perfect work to introduce fans of popular music to the world of modern classical music.

Many people will be surprised to find that they are tapping their foot from the very beginning of the first movement, swept up by the by the frenzied pace of the harmonic section.

The 5th and final movement uses the famous medieval theme Dies Irae that has inspired so many composers in the past. One of the most famous uses of this theme is in the Dream of a Witches’ Sabbath from the Symphonie Fantastique by Berlioz. Daugherty gives this theme quite an original twist, suggesting a musical bullfight.


Title: Metropolis Symphony
Composer: Michael Daugherty
Year of composition: 1988 – 1993
Structure: Work in 5 movements
Playing time: 41 min

The five movements of the work are related to five aspects of the world of Superman.

I. Lex derives its title from one of Superman’s most vexing foes, the supervillain and business tycoon Lex Luthor.

II. Krypton refers to the exploding planet from which the infant Superman escaped.

III. Mxyzptlk is named after a mischievous imp from the fifth dimension who regularly wreaks havoc on Metropolis.

IV. Oh, Lois! invokes Lois Lane, news reporter at the Daily Planet alongside Clark Kent (alias Superman).

V. Red Cape Tango was composed after Superman’s fight to the death with Doomsday.

This piece is also available on Spotify and iTunes.


Here are some excerpts of works by Berlioz and Liszt using the Dies Irae theme taken up by Daugherty in the last movement.

Berlioz: Symphonie fantastique, 5th movement : Songe d’une nuit du sabbat

Liszt: Totentanz

Daugherty: Metropolis Symphony, 5th movement : Red Cape Tango

What do you think?

I would appreciate hearing your thoughts about this work by Michael Daugherty. Did you like it?

The ranking continues next week with the 6th place entry in this top 10.

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