Beethoven Cello Works 1

Beethoven Cello Works 1

Inbal Megiddo | Jian Liu

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Inbal Megiddo (cello)
Jian Liu (piano)

This is the first of two volumes of Beethoven works for cello featuring Inbal Megiddo (cello) and Jian Liu (piano). Both the recording and performances have extraordinary clarity and focus. Megiddo and Liu are exceptionally talented musicians, and they perform this wonderful music with great precision and expression. Passionate, articulate, deeply expressive, and wholly musical, this is a fabulous classical debut from an exciting new duo.


RAT-D035 (December, 2011)
This recording was made possible with financial assistance from the New Zealand School of Music, Wellington, New Zealand

Produced by Dave Lisik ( with assistance from Paul Altomari
Recorded, edited and mixed by Dr. David Lisik at the New Zealand School of Music, Wellington (, assisted by Jack Hooker
Mastered by Steve Garden at the Garden Shed, Auckland, New Zealand
Design by UnkleFranc

Beethoven Cello Works Vol 1
Inbal Megiddo & Jian Liu

Sonata No.3 in A major, Op.69
     I. Allegro, ma non tanto (13:11)
     II. Scherzo, Allegro molto (5:03)
     III. Adagio cantabile & Allegro vivace (8:46)

Sonata No.4 in C major, Op.102 No.1
     I. Andante & Allegro vivace (7:22)
     II. Adagio, Tempo d'Andante & Allegro vivace (7:06)

Twelve Variations on See the conqu'ring hero comes
     from Handel's Judas Maccabaeus, WoO 45 (13:26)

Seven Variations on Bei Männern, welche Liebe Fühlen
     from Mozart's Die Zauberflöte, WoO 46 (10:19)

     Total (54:51)



Notes on the Beethoven Cello Works

It is often difficult for us mere mortals to comprehend the possibility that someone of Beethoven’s enormous success and fame might have been, at times, a sad and lonely man. But his increasing aural and social isolation, brought on by the hauntingly inevitable encroachment of deafness, and, later, a drawn-out court battle over the custody of his nephew, only augmented the true loneliness that comes with fame, creating the temptation to withdraw from the world, with its demands and awkwardness, altogether.

Indeed, the composer Rossini found as much when he visited Beethoven in 1822:

‘The portraits of Beethoven which we know, reproduce fairly well his physiognomy. But what no etcher’s needle could express was the indefinable sadness spread over his features… When I descended those dilapidated stairs, I retained of my visit to this great man an impression so painful – thinking of this destitution and shabbiness – that I could not repress my tears. “Ah!”, said [Italian poet and writer, Giuseppe] Carpani, “that’s what he wants. He is a misanthrope, cranky and can’t keep friends.”’

With this knowledge, it is easier to understand the personal intimacy of his later works, where, by his own admission, Beethoven aimed to compose neither for the performer nor the public (as he had done in earlier stages), but for himself. Like a number of the compositions by Schumann and Liszt later in the Romantic period, for example, the third and fourth cello sonatas portray an introverted journey of discovery and fulfilment rather than the outward heroism and triumph of works such as the more famous Eroica Symphony or the Emperor Concerto.

From the very outset of the third sonata, where the cello enters with a tentative solo line, this idea of a solitary journey is clear. Despite its fairly Classical proportions, and its place in the middle or ‘heroic’ period of Beethoven’s works (being composed in 1807, the year of his Fifth and Pastoral Symphonies, and the Violin Concerto), it foreshadows the late period in a number of telling ways. The Classical tradition of opening a sonata with a solid piano part, for instance, has been discarded in order to create an aura of introverted reflection – a less-defined earthiness which seeks not so much to make beauty through order and symmetry than to create beauty from more realistic portrayal of the human journey, with its joys and triumphs, sorrows and struggles.

Throughout the first movement, there is an aspect of struggling towards an unknown goal, with an abundance of revolutionary and uplifting harmonies along the way. The tantalisingly wicked Scherzo is typical of many in the era, with its unstoppable momentum and metrical surprises, before a reflective and timeless Adagio cantabile interlude delivers us straight to the barely-suppressible bubbliness of the Allegro Vivace’s delightful tunes: our character from the first movement has finally found happiness, and the emphatic ending resolves all past insecurities, concluding what would become Beethoven’s most famous cello sonata.

Beethoven’s fourth sonata for piano and cello, written in the very Classical and – to Romantic tastes – rather banal key of C major, provides much in the way of superficial similarity to its predecessor, but their differences are both revealing and profound. Gone is the requirement of phrases to be symmetrical and ‘tucked in’, and the earthiness hinted at in the third sonata has spread to all facets of composition, creating a startlingly new style, well and truly heralding the commencement of his Late Period of composition.

The first movement (of only two!) again begins with a brief solo cello meandering, out of which comes an enormous amount of material to be used in the rest of the composition. Its initial Andante provides a sylvan and tranquil opening, which is interrupted by the A-minor Allegro Vivace to plunge into a more menacing and operatic world, with matchless counterpoint and dialogue between the instruments.

The initial Adagio of the second movement returns to the pastoral ideal, with more phantastic harmonic wanderings and lighter textures. Accelerating to Allegro Vivace again, it bursts into exultant and extroverted sections, while maintaining the pastoral feel through deep drones and high trills. And as if to remind us that he is still the Beethoven of the heroic past, the composer includes a wonderfully teasing finale, having retained all of the cleverness and humour of his youth.


An aspect of artistic creation which has been all but lost in the postmodern era is a satisfaction with partial plagiarism or, more fairly, borrowed originality – a practice that used to be commonplace. With the absence in Beethoven’s life of any sort of coherent set of copyright laws, it was all to easy to find the music score equivalent of today’s file-sharing websites, and the phenomenal cost of paper and printing only compounded the problem. But in a more musical sense, composers found no problem in writing works based on others’ creations, whether these were transcriptions, adaptions, or quotes and variations. Even the great creative geniuses such as Beethoven were neither immune from nor afraid of borrowing themes from other composers, a synthesis which created an exciting fusion of styles.

Composed in the early days of his career, in 1796, Beethoven’s Variations on a theme of Handel borrow a tune – ‘See here the conqu’ring hero comes’ – from the opera Judas Maccabaeus, which was written just fifty years prior. Indeed, the short time between the age of Handel and the Beethoven era only emphasises the breakneck speed at which Western music of the period was developing, and provides some insight into the necessity for composers to evolve in order to stay fashionable – an attribute that Beethoven demonstrated with unrivalled proficiency.

Handel was a favourite composer of Beethoven, and his mastery of melody, drama, and counterpoint undoubtedly influenced Beethoven throughout his career. Evidence of this is ample in the twelve variations. The memorable tune lends itself to being changed in all manner of ways, and the piece uses alterations in harmony, melody, rhythm, and texture to portray themes from intense stoicism to mock dramaticism and pensiveness. This range in styles, interestingly, is particularly appropriate for the Judas Maccabaeus theme, which comes from an opera describing the story of an oppressed Judea and its uprising, ending as triumphantly as the variations do.

Like Bach and Handel before him, Mozart was a favourite composer of the young Beethoven, who went to see him aged sixteen with the hope of learning from the thirty-year-old Classical maestro. Mozart is said to have been so impressed with the teenager’s improvisations that he went to some friends in an adjoining room, saying, ‘Watch out for that boy: one day he will give the world something to talk about.’ Fifteen years later, and five years after his Handel variations, Beethoven published a set of seven variations on Mozart’s Bei Männern welche Liebe fühlen from the The Magic Flute.

Taking the tune from an ode to love – ‘In men who feel love, a good heart is not lacking’ – its touching but serious theme further explores the range of sounds and textures possible with the combination of piano and cello. The variations have more of a co-operative improvisatory element, showing similarities to Beethoven’s later contemporary, Franz Schubert. A rather troubled, reflective minore variation languishes in the tonic minor, unfurling an adventure back to the more hopeful and cheeky E-flat major. After sharing such a delightful collaborative adventure, the composer wastes no aural breath on a theatrical coda, instead opting for a surprising but definitive ending.

Beethoven never lost interest in creating variations on borrowed or original themes; in fact, his interest in them intensified towards the end of his life. He developed additional musical tools throughout his career to make even more original their writing and development. But prime examples such as these, written at the very start of his career – when he was seen more as a whizz-bang virtuoso than a serious, provocative composer – nevertheless serve to warn the world that the real conqu’ring hero of music was coming, ushering in with him profound and irrevocable changes from which art music would never look back.

Notes by Ben Booker, 2011