Instrumentation - 4.4(in C, straight metal mute, harmon mute).2 (straight metal mute, harmon mute).btrbn.1 - timp(4, 23" 26" 29" 32") - perc(4, instruments not shared): I=xyl/glsp II=vib III=mar(4½ 8ves IV=sleigh bells - strings


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Programme Notes

Radio City (2011) for orchestra was commissioned by MITO Settembre Musica International Festival of Music, in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Unification of Italy. My composition is a musical fantasy on Arturo Toscanini, who conducted the NBC Symphony Orchestra in radio broadcasts at Rockefeller Center in New York City from 1937 to 1954.

Born in Parma, Italy, Toscanini (1867-1954) was internationally recognized as the most gifted conductor of his time, famous for his definitive interpretation of operatic and symphonic repertoire.  At the height of his career, Toscanini was forced into exile for his refusal to become part of Mussolini’s Fascist regime.  Like the aging magician Prospero, exiled from Milan to an island in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, the seventy-year-old Toscanini sailed across the Atlantic Ocean to the island of Manhattan, and cast a magic spell upon all who heard him conduct.  Under his baton the NBC Symphony was heard by millions of listeners, and through his radio broadcasts and recordings, Maestro Toscanini became a household name in America. 

Radio City has three movements:

I. O Brave New World

The first movement of Radio City begins with four French horns playing a grandiose musical theme, announcing Toscanini’s entry into the “Brave New World” of America. From the NBC studios in Rockefeller Center, otherwise known as “Radio City,” Toscanini conducted Vivaldi to open his first NBC Symphony Orchestra broadcast on Christmas Day in 1937. I create a baroque tapestry of Vivaldi violins and kaleidoscopic orchestral fragments of Verdi’s La forza del destino, accompanied by sleighbells.  The music is periodically interrupted by dissonant brass chords, reminiscent of a modern Manhattan. After a slow, bluesy section with clarinets playing in octaves, the first movement builds to a grand, magical ending à la Toscanini.

II. Ode to the Old World

I imagine Toscanini, exiled in America during World War II, standing alone at the top of the Rockefeller Center skyscraper. As he gazes across the spectacular view from the Manhattan skyline to the Atlantic Ocean, he remembers his past life in Italy and wonders when, if ever, he will be able to return to Milan to conduct at La Scala. The music of this movement is melancholy, mysterious, and turbulent. In addition to cloud-like cluster chords echoing in the glockenspiel, vibraphone, marimba, and chimes, we also hear nostalgic string melodies performed con passione, contrasted with rousing orchestral tutti sections marked agitato

III. On the Air

In 1939, Life magazine reported that “the world knows Toscanini as a great conductor with a fearful temper, an unfailing memory, and the power to lash orchestras into frenzies of fine playing.” And in 1944, Toscanini conducted Tchaikovksy’s The Tempest: Symphonic Fantasy for a live radio performance with the NBC Symphony Orchestra. Just as Shakespeare’s Prospero calls upon the spirit of Ariel to fly through the air at his command, so also Toscanini commanded the radio waves for his broadcasts “on the air” around the world. In the final movement of Radio City, I have composed music that captures Toscanini’s tempestuous temperament, his musical intensity, and the frenzied tempos of his performances.


                                    --Michael Daugherty