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Work of the Week – Dieter Schnebel: Utopien


On 17 July in Schwäbisch Gmünd, Germany, Dieter Schnebel’s theatre work Utopien (2008-2013) will be performed by members of the Neue Vocalsolisten Stuttgart ensemble, including sopranos Sarah Maria Sun and Susanne Leitz-Lorey, mezzo-soprano Truike van der Poel, tenor Martin Nagy, baritone Guillermo Anzorena and bass Andreas Fischer.

As a composer, pedagogue and theorist, Schnebel has contributed to music’s history for decades, such as by developing experimental compositional approaches to vocal writing, liberating the human voice into previously unknown dimensions.  Schnebel also blurred the distinctions between concert music and theatre performance by requiring musicians to move around the theatre space as they play. Utopien was first premiered in May 2014 at the Munich Biennale Festival, and was Schnebel’s last theatre work before his death in May earlier this year. The composer often referred to it himself as his magnum opus.

Dieter Schnebel – Utopien: Physicality in music

Utopien is divided into five movements that each evoke a different utopian state – first faith, followed by doubt, acceptance, hope, and finally love. Four intermediate passages are inserted between these movements, to reflect and comment upon the utopian state explored previously. The protagonists of the work negotiate these stages as a group, but also as individuals.  In addition, the physical requirements of the composition ask the singers to jump, run and crawl. Stylistically the music uses archaic, romantic and avant-garde experimental sounds, and librettist Roland Quitt uses elements from texts by René Descartes, Sebastian Brant and Thomas More.

“For all its humorous lightness, Schnebel’s Utopien is almost confessional in character. Much of the music therein is best understood as the life a committed Christian who is at sixty-eight both in the present day, and simultaneously traverses their memories of all the years before.”  – Roland Quitt in the premiere programme, 17 May 2014

Utopien can also be heard on 19 July at the Stuttgarter Hospitalkirche where it will be performed as part of the Stuttgart Summer Festival.


©photo: Adrienne Meister