Superman Symphony's Surprise Grammy Nominations Michael Daugherty's Metropolis Symphony, based on the story of Superman, received an impressive five Grammy nominations this year.

Superman Symphony's Surprise Grammy Nominations

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

GUY RAZ, host:

And I'm Guy Raz.

(Soundbite of music)

This piece of music tells the story of the destruction of the fictional planet Krypton, the birthplace of Superman. It's the second of five movements from Metropolis Symphony. The composer, Michael Daugherty, finished the piece back in 1993. Since then, it's been performed around the world, but the album that includes this new recording by the Nashville Symphony is up for five Grammy Awards.

(Soundbite of music)

RAZ: I asked Michael Daugherty why he thinks it took almost 20 years for the Grammys to recognize this composition.

Mr. MICHAEL DAUGHERTY (Composer): Sometimes when you compose a piece, it can be a little bit ahead of its time, and that could be the case. Most composers at the time were writing abstract music, and I thought it'd be, you know, an opportunity for me to go back to my days of when I used to read the comics.

RAZ: So does "Metropolis Symphony" tell the story of Superman? I mean, is it a clear narrative?

Mr. DAUGHERTY: It's really not a narrative about Superman. It's about the people around him or the environment around him, and it's looking from the villains or the - it's a - or like Lois Lane, for example. Only at the end, the "Red Cape Tango," where, you know, where it's, you know, the death of the Man of Steel, where, you know, we kind of look directly at him.

(Soundbite of music)

RAZ: The fourth movement, it's called "O, Lois!" and this is, of course, a reference to Lois Lane. This strikes me as sort of the most overtly cartoonish of all the movements in the composition.

Mr. DAUGHERTY: Yeah, well, you know, I was always a huge fan of the batman television show and also of pop art, you know, Andy Warhol, and also the television show "Laugh-In" in the '60s. And what they would do, you know, what - there'd be like a crash, bang, boom, and there'll be, you know, like a cartoon, you know, sort of a spelling of the word. And so I do that with the percussion.

(Soundbite of music, "O, Lois!")

Mr. DAUGHERTY: You know, it's the fastest of all the movements. In fact, the tempo marking at the beginning is faster than a speeding bullet.

(Soundbite of music, "O, Lois!")

RAZ: The second half of this record features a more recent composition. This is one that you finished in 2007. It's called "Deus Ex Machina," god out of the machine.

Mr. DAUGHERTY: Mm-hmm.

RAZ: Can you tell me about this composition?

Mr. DAUGHERTY: Well, I've always been fascinated by trains. Where I lived in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in 5th Avenue, on the second floor of my bedroom, the window would be open at nighttime, and I'd always hear the trains coming through at night and the train whistle. Same thing here in Ann Arbor, there's always trains rumbling through about 2:00 in the morning. And I thought this was a great opportunity to write a piece about that.

RAZ: The second movement is about a specific train and its journey home. And this is about the seven-car train that transported Abraham Lincoln's body. But what was the story behind that? Why did you want to write something about that?

Mr. DAUGHERTY: Abraham Lincoln is a character I've always been intrigued by. And - but this was really the first funeral of a president that traveled. The train actually traveled from Washington to various cities around the United States to its resting point in Illinois and stopped along the way and hundreds of thousands of people viewed the body of Lincoln.

Lincoln was the person who allocated federal funds to build the train system in America. So it's really his vision as president to provide the funding for a national train system.

RAZ: The first minute, the movement begins very soft with that piano and slowly you sort of hear the horns and the chimes, and then it sort of begins to build up.

Mr. DAUGHERTY: At the beginning of the piece, right, the piano's playing very slowly. And then all of a sudden, you know, it's like a - because the train is moving slowly. And then finally we hear taps come in. And taps was really - you know, that's dee-da-da, dee-da-da.

(Soundbite of music, "Train of Tears")

RAZ: And did you watch, you know, sort of Civil War documentaries to try and get a sense of what it must have felt like to witness that train passing through?

Mr. DAUGHERTY: For every work that I compose, I do extensive research. In this particular case, I actually went to Gettysburg. And I walked around Gettysburg for a day. And by being in that environment, I came up with the idea for this movement. And, of course, for Superman, I - walking around New York City will always inspire anyone to write something.

RAZ: Do you - so, I mean, at night, after you walk around New York City, you're around Gettysburg, do you go back to your hotel room or wherever you're staying and start to sort of put notes down?

Mr. DAUGHERTY: Well, I wish I could compose in my travels. But the only way that I can really compose is back at my studio here in Ann Arbor. I know there's that romantic image of Beethoven walking through the floors writing down, you know, music on his notepad. But I suppose if the composer were to do it today, they'd be writing music on their iPad as they're walking through the floors.

RAZ: Right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of music, "Train of Tears")

RAZ: That's composer Michael Daugherty. His compositions, "Metropolis Symphony" and "Deus Ex Machina," performed by the National Symphony, have just been nominated for five Grammy Awards. Michael Daugherty, thank you so much.

Mr. DAUGHERTY: Thanks so much for having me today.

RAZ: And you can hear more music from composer Michael Daugherty at

(Soundbite of song, "Train of Tears")

RAZ: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.