Reiko Füting: Mechthild


Composer Reiko Füting releases his third album on New Focus, the chamber opera Mechthild in collaboration with librettist and theologian Christian Lehnert. Mechthild of Magdeburg (the German location of the work's premiere) was a 13th century female Christian mystic whose  influential texts were rediscovered in the 19th century and have since been studied for their impact on subsequent Northern European religious writings. Füting and Lehnert's setting tackles topics of faith and asceticism in a context that explores the musicality inherent in language, and uses quotation to connect different eras of artistic expression through time and memory.


# Audio Title/Composer(s) Time
Total Time 73:14

Act I: Verwunden, vereint/Wound, United

01Scene 1: Ankunft/Arrival
Scene 1: Ankunft/Arrival
02Scene 2: Die Kranke/The Invalid (Part 1)
Scene 2: Die Kranke/The Invalid (Part 1)
03Scene 2: Die Kranke/The Invalid (Part 2)
Scene 2: Die Kranke/The Invalid (Part 2)
04Scene 2: Die Kranke/The Invalid (Part 3)
Scene 2: Die Kranke/The Invalid (Part 3)
05Scene 2: Die Kranke/The Invalid (Part 4)
Scene 2: Die Kranke/The Invalid (Part 4)
06Scene 3: Im Gemach der Gottheit/In the Room of Divinity (Part 1)
Scene 3: Im Gemach der Gottheit/In the Room of Divinity (Part 1)
07Scene 3: Im Gemach der Gottheit/In the Room of Divinity (Part 2)
Scene 3: Im Gemach der Gottheit/In the Room of Divinity (Part 2)
08Scene 3: Im Gemach der Gottheit/In the Room of Divinity (Part 3)
Scene 3: Im Gemach der Gottheit/In the Room of Divinity (Part 3)
09Scene 3: Im Gemach der Gottheit/In the Room of Divinity (Part 4)
Scene 3: Im Gemach der Gottheit/In the Room of Divinity (Part 4)
10Scene 3: Im Gemach der Gottheit/In the Room of Divinity (Part 5)
Scene 3: Im Gemach der Gottheit/In the Room of Divinity (Part 5)
11Scene 3: Im Gemach der Gottheit/In the Room of Divinity (Part 6)
Scene 3: Im Gemach der Gottheit/In the Room of Divinity (Part 6)
12Scene 3: Im Gemach der Gottheit/In the Room of Divinity (Part 7)
Scene 3: Im Gemach der Gottheit/In the Room of Divinity (Part 7)
13Scene 3: Im Gemach der Gottheit/In the Room of Divinity (Part 8)
Scene 3: Im Gemach der Gottheit/In the Room of Divinity (Part 8)
14Scene 3: Im Gemach der Gottheit/In the Room of Divinity (Part 9)
Scene 3: Im Gemach der Gottheit/In the Room of Divinity (Part 9)
15Scene 3: Im Gemach der Gottheit/In the Room of Divinity (Part 10)
Scene 3: Im Gemach der Gottheit/In the Room of Divinity (Part 10)

Act II: Die Gottesfremde/The Alienated

16Scene 4: Abgekippt/Dumped (Part 1)
Scene 4: Abgekippt/Dumped (Part 1)
17Scene 4: Abgekippt/Dumped (Part 2)
Scene 4: Abgekippt/Dumped (Part 2)
18Scene 5: Wo bist du dann?/Where Will You Then Be?
Scene 5: Wo bist du dann?/Where Will You Then Be?
19Scene 6: Höllenfahrt/Descent into Hell
Scene 6: Höllenfahrt/Descent into Hell
20Scene 7: Nichts/Naught
Scene 7: Nichts/Naught

Act III: Nach Gott/After God

21Scene 8: Im Krankensaal/In the Ward (Part 1)
Scene 8: Im Krankensaal/In the Ward (Part 1)
22Scene 8: Im Krankensaal/In the Ward (Part 2)
Scene 8: Im Krankensaal/In the Ward (Part 2)
23Scene 9: Feuer/Fire
Scene 9: Feuer/Fire

“How often do we sacrifice freedom and truthfulness for security? Where is the space for humans who are responsible to themselves? Can that space be found in the middle of society?”

Librettist Christian Lehnert poses these questions in his introductory notes for Reiko Füting’s chamber opera Mechthild, based on the life of a medieval female Christian mystic from Magdeburg, Germany. Füting delves into the musicality inherent in Mechthild’s Middle and High German texts, using quotation as a quasi-temporal portal to evoke multiple eras. The opera asks the listener to step outside our cultivated security in the “middle of society” and consider the life of a 13th century ascetic who eschewed the safety of the monastery to find spirituality and connection in the act of living. What might that kind of act of courage look like today?

Füting’s approach to text setting frames the soundworld of the piece. Words are mined for their micro-components; syllables and fricatives are expanded and elongated to spawn new textures. In the opening scene, we hear harmonic pillars and melodic fragments in the chorus that frame subsequent explorations of hybrid vocalizations and dry percussive sounds. The progression of the meta-piece is constantly paused in order to examine the variety of non-pitched vocal sounds further. In this way, the movement is an introductory prelude that introduces the vocabulary of the piece.

In Scene 2, vocal parts are more intricately integrated with ensemble parts, singing and speaking in rhythmic unison with instrumental gestures that give them shape and color. The rest of the ensemble provides textural context in undulating waves.

Repetition with subtle variation is also an important component of Füting’s work; phrase fragments are pored over from all angles and minutely adjusted with each iteration. The development of these ideas mirrors thought patterns; we often think elliptically, circling back to similar ideas as we move progressively forward. Harmonic structures are often anchored by a central pitch around which Füting creates shades of expression. The piece unfolds as a kind of fantastic meditation, repeating text shards as mantras while expansive textures swirl around and create an otherworldly atmosphere. Sometimes the texture strips down to only voices, as in the brief duo in Scene 3.6, a momentary pas de deux that highlights the registral contrast between a male and female voice.

Scene 4 opens dramatically, with an intertwined musical mechanism featuring a prominent glissando in the bass voice, intoned text on a repeated tone in the tenor, rattling on the snare drum, and punctuations in the ensemble. It is typical of Füting’s hybrid ensemble writing, creating an organism that takes on a life beyond the sum of its component parts. Act 2, Scene 5 contains some of the opera’s most elegiac, lyrical music, with two sopranos floating downward in a repeating harmonic progression. Scene 6 “Descent into Hell” is more activated and charged with consequential energy, with pulsing movement in the strings and percussion driving underneath choral swells and undulations and a measured spoken line. In Act 2, Scene 7, “Naught”, phrases and words are divided up by syllable between singers, accompanied delicately by winds and percussion. Scene 9 features a disembodied drone that occasionally expands, accordion-like, into dissonant sonorities before contracting again into consonance. It is striking for how distinct it is from the harmonic treatment in the piece up to this moment, and points to a transformation that has occurred over the course of the opera. The piece closes on a long sustain in the medium high register of the organ — not a settled resolution but instead perhaps a clarion call for the engaged space an ascetic must seek, vigilant yet connected.

While it concerns itself with questions of faith and the divine, Mechthild remains relatively sober throughout. Füting’s writing in the piece is patiently measured, marking each step along the journey whether it be filled with drama or illuminated by calm. The opera captures the spiritual and ascetic path beautifully, as a sustained activity of a steadfast will, not a revelatory catharsis.

- Dan Lippel

Recording Date: September 19, 2022
Recorded At: Gesellschaftshaus, Magdeburg
Recording Engineer: Benjamin Dreßler,
Producer/Publisher: Reiko Füting,

Design: Marc Wolf,|
Cover Image: “Die heilige Mechthild von Magdeburg”
Sculpture by Susan Turcot
Photo by Sean Curran,

Church Interior Image: Live-Painting by Helge Leiberg
Photo by Sean Curran
Kloster Unser Lieben Frauen Magdeburg

Portrait: Hojoon Kim,
Rehearsal Image: Oliver Look,
Performance Image: Nilz Böhme,

Text Editor: Bradley Colten,
Post-Production Advisor: Daniel Lippel,

Reiko Füting

Reiko Füting was born in 1970 in Königs Wusterhausen in the German Democratic Republic. Füting has collaborated with a wide range of musicians, ensembles, and orchestras, with a special interest in vocal ensembles and ensembles performing on period instruments. His compositions are primarily released on the New Focus Recordings label in New York City and exclusively published by Verlag Neue Musik Berlin.

Since 2000, Füting has taught composition and theory at Manhattan School of Music, where he currently serves as Dean of Academic Core and Head of Composition. He has also taught vocal accompanying at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater Rostock and has served as a guest faculty and lecturer at universities and music conservatories throughout Europe, the Americas, and Asia.

Füting studied composition and piano at the Hochschule für Musik Dresden, Rice University in Houston, Manhattan School of Music in New York City, and Seoul National University. Some of his most influential teachers have been composers Jörg Herchet and Nils Vigeland, and pianist Winfried Apel.

“With my music, I aim to explore the psychological nature of memory, as it is projected onto the compositional device of musical quotation. By realizing this device in the entire musical spectrum of assimilation and dissimilation, integration, disintegration, and segregation, while moving freely between clear borders and gradual transitions, quotation and memory may function as a means to reflect upon contemporary artistic, cultural, social, and political phenomena.”

Christian Lehnert

Poet and theologist Christian Lehnert was born in 1969 in Dresden. He refused mandatory military service in the German Democratic Republic and studied theology, religious studies, and Middle Eastern studies in Leipzig, Berlin, and Jerusalem. Lehnert worked as a pastor in Saxony before being appointed Head of Theological and Cultural Studies at the Protestant-Lutheran Academy in Witterberg and director of the Literary Institute of the United Protestant-Lutheran Church of Germany at the University of Leipzig. Throughout his career, Lehnert has collaborated with several composers. In 2012, Lehnert was awarded the Hölty Prize for his poetic work. In 2018, he was awarded the Eichendorff Literature Prize and the German Prize for Nature Writing. Lehnert is a member of Saxony’s Academy of Fine Arts and the Academy for Sciences and Literature in Mainz. His essays are based on an existential search for a contemporary relevant religiosity. Lehnert’s recent poetry is characterized by strictness of form and closeness to musical expression. Eight of his poetry and three of his prose collections have been published by Suhrkamp.

Hanna Herfurtner

Hanna Herfurtner was born in Munich. She studied voice with Julie Kaufmann at the Universität der Künste in Berlin, followed by additional studies with John Norris and Maria Janina Hake. Herfurtner has been awarded numerous prizes from competitions and concert venues such as the Cesti Competition in Innsbruck and the Konzerthaus Wien. She is an experienced interpreter of both early and new music and has premiered numerous compositions by contemporary composers. Herfurtner has frequently participated in oratorio performances and opera productions. Recordings with ensembles such as Kölner Akademie and Wiener Bach Consort further demonstrate her remarkable versatility; her first Solo CD, released at the bastille musique label, combines arias by Johann Sebastian Bach with Alvin Lucier’s “Sitting in a Room”.

Olivia Stahn

Olivia Stahn studied voice with Marie-Louise Ages in Lübeck and Julie Kaufmann in Berlin and continued her studies at Irwin Gage’s Lied class. After her debut at the Konzerthaus Berlin, Stahn was invited to perform at opera houses, concert venues, and festivals. She is a regular guest at the Staatsoper Berlin, where she participated in productions of several contemporary operas. As a concert singer, Stahn has frequently performed at the Lucerne Festival under Pierre Boulez and collaborated with ensembles such as Resonanz, Collegium Novum Zürich, Ensemble Avantgarde, Solistenensemble Kaleidoskop, Ensemble Adapter, Ensemble Unitedberlin, Meitar Ensemble, Trio Image, and Ensemble Courage.

Susi Wirth

Susi Wirth was born in 1970 in Chur, Switzerland and grew up in Liechtenstein. She was trained as an actress in Switzerland and has performed at theaters in numerous countries. Recently, she was an ensemble member at the Theater Magdeburg.

AuditivVokal Dresden

Founded in 2007 by its director Olaf Katzer, AuditivVokal Dresden is a contemporary vocal ensemble which seeks to establish new performance practices through "everything-except-ordinary" concerts. Programming is based on the ensemble's interest in extended vocal techniques as well as in links to science, politics, and the arts. Besides contemporary compositions, AuditivVokal Dresden also interprets early music. The ensemble's socio-cultural and educational mission has led to initiatives such as the Neue Dresdner Vokalschule, which - in cooperation with the State of Saxony and the Dresden University Library (SLUB) - establishes close collaborations with contemporary creative artists. Their artistic activities cover an enormous range of events, ranging from a cappella concerts to concerts with ensembles and orchestras, such as Dresdner Sinfoniker, Ensemble Art d'Echo, Internationale Bachakademie Stuttgart, and the Parco della Musica Contemporanea Ensemble Rome.

Ensemble Adapter

Ensemble Adapter is a German-Icelandic ensemble located in Berlin. While its core instrumentation is flute, clarinet, harp, and percussion, it can expand to include up to ten instrumentalists. The ensemble has premiered numerous compositions on their own as well as in cooperation with other artists. Adapter’s aim is to investigate border-crossing methods of collaboration in various genres of contemporary music.

Olaf Katzer

Born in 1980 in the Rhineland (Germany), Olaf Katzer studied music and psychology in Munich, Weimar, and Dresden. In transdisciplinary exchanges with singers, instrumentalists, dancers, composers, paint-ers, directors, and scientists, Katzer develops ensemble art for the 21st century through unconventional program designs. Numerous premiere performances, radio recordings, and guest appearances at festivals in almost all European countries, as well as in Taiwan, China, the USA, and South America document Katzer's commitment to contemporary vocal music. In addition, Katzer has conducted ensembles such as the RIAS Kammerchor, the SWR Vokalensemble Stuttgart, the MDR Rundfunkchor, and the Dresdner Kammerchor. He has served as a lecturer in choral conducting at the Hochschule fur Musik Dresden since 2011, and as an interim a professor of choral conducting since 2015. More info at




(Spanish original below; English translation via Google Translate)

What excites us most about the composer Reiko Füting are his interests: the sound architecture of the piece, the division of the whole into parts, its proportions, its interrelationships and its meanings.

Füting, born in 1970 in Königs Wusterhausen (German Democratic Republic), usually publishes his works mainly on the label New Focus Recordings in New York City, published exclusively by Verlag Neue Musik in Berlin.

On May 5, the New Focus label launches his chamber opera in two acts, Mechthild, with a libretto by the poet and theologian Christian Lehnert, which is inspired by the mystical work of the medieval Christian saint from Magdeburg (Germany). Mechthild's criticism of Church dignitaries and her claims to theological understanding earned her fierce opposition, to the point that some called for her writings to be burned. One of his most relevant phrases was: "How many times do we sacrifice freedom and truthfulness in exchange for security?"

Füting composes music for a minimally informed general audience who can be drawn to the story of a nun who has become one of the most impressive examples of German female mysticism. The composer, based in New York, discreetly hints at a certain density in the sound textures. In this sense, the sequential passages and his exploration of the psychological nature of memory through the use of musical quotations—from Pérotin, Guillaume de Machaut and Neidhart von Reuental—to connect different eras of artistic expression, as well as the his musical connections—which appear as fleeting memories of musical themes—whether based on pre-existing musical structures or referring to non-musical ones, are, to be precise, the axis of his writing.

The distinguished vocal ensemble AuditivVokal Dresden, rigorous, disciplined and perfectionist in its interpretations with extended vocal techniques, puts its experience at the service of this work with soloists of a high international level, such as the enchanting voice of soprano Hanna Herfurtner, the expressive Olivia Stahn and the excellent narrator Susi Wirth, all under the direction of Olaf Katzer.

The instrumental part is performed by Ensemble Adapter, a prodigious experimental music group based in Berlin and Reykjavík. Choir director Olaf Katzer's contributions rest on wide-ranging readings, resolved with admirable mastery.

Füting, who has dedicated Mechthild to his father, Dieter Füting, is the architect of a meticulous work that reflects on current music and contemporary art.

(Spanish original)

El que més ens apassiona del compositor Reiko Füting són els seus interessos: l’arquitectura sonora de la peça, la divisió del tot en parts, les seves proporcions, les seves interrelacions i els seus significats.

Füting, nascut el 1970 a Königs Wusterhausen (República Democràtica Alemanya), sol publicar les seves obres principalment al segell New Focus Recordings a la ciutat de Nova York, editades en exclusiva per la Verlag Neue Musik de Berlín.

El 5 de maig el segell New Focus llança al mercat la seva òpera de cambra en dos actes, Mechthild, amb llibret del poeta i teòleg Christian Lehnert, que s’inspira en l’obra mística de la beata cristiana medieval de Magdeburg (Alemanya). Les crítiques de Mechthild als dignataris de l’Església i les seves afirmacions a la comprensió teològica li van valdre una ferotge oposició, fins al punt que alguns van demanar la crema dels seus escrits. Una de les seves frases més rellevants fou: «Quantes vegades sacrifiquem llibertat i veracitat a canvi de seguretat?».

Füting compon música per a un públic general mínimament informat que pugui sentir-se atret per la història d’una monja que ha esdevingut un dels exemples més impressionants del misticisme femení alemany. El compositor, establert a Nova York, insinua, amb discreció, una certa densitat en les textures sonores. En aquest sentit, els passatges seqüencials i la seva exploració de la naturalesa psicològica de la memòria mitjançant l’ús de citacions musicals —de Pérotin, Guillaume de Machaut i Neidhart von Reuental— per connectar diferents èpoques de l’expressió artística, com també les seves connexions musicals —que apareixen com records fugaços de temes musicals—, ja sigui basant-se en estructures musicals preexistents o fent referència a d’altres no musicals, són, per concretar, l’eix de la seva escriptura.

El distingit conjunt vocal AuditivVokal Dresden, rigorós, disciplinat i perfeccionista en les seves interpretacions amb tècniques vocals esteses, posa la seva experiència al servei d’aquesta obra amb solistes d’alt nivell internacional, com l’encantadora veu de la soprano Hanna Herfurtner, l’expressiva Olivia Stahn i l’excel·lent narradora Susi Wirth, tots sota la direcció d’Olaf Katzer.

La part instrumental va a càrrec de l’Ensemble Adapter, un prodigiós grup de música experimental amb seu a Berlín i Reykjavík. Les aportacions del director de cor Olaf Katzer descansen en lectures d’ampli ventall, resoltes amb un mestratge admirable.

Füting, que ha dedicat Mechthild al seu pare, Dieter Füting, és l’artífex d’una obra meticulosa que reflexiona sobre la música actual i l’art contemporani.

— Carme Miró, 4.29.2023

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