Hey guys,
So i understand how codas work techinically, as far as D.S. al coda, To coda and all. But, when would one actually apply it and how? If someone could explain, and if somebody had an example of one in a song that'd be awesome.
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^^ that is what D.S. (which translates to "to the sign") means, but not what a Coda is.

Note: Holy shit this post ended up being very long! A short explanation of a coda is in the following paragraph, what follows afterwards is an in-depth examination of a great usage of a coda. it will interest, I hope, any person who is interested in what theory can do beyond simple chordal analysis.

A Coda (or, when it is short, a Codetta) is a section of a piece of music that occurs after a point where the music seems to definitively end. They are like an afterthought, or an appendix to the piece. Their function (as with most musical concepts) varies wildly depending on how the composer utilizes it. Some composers use it as an "extra" and nothing more, others might present a "codetta" at the end of a formal section that presents seemingly insignificant material that will later be expanded on (Mozart did this often), others will use codas to tie up motivic or melodic ideas they feel haven't been sufficiently dealt with even though the piece is harmonically closed (Beethoven was a master of this technique)

That is the basics of a coda, I will provide a thorough example of one below if you still feel confused about its application.

To show you an example, take this Mozart Sonata in D major (K. 311):
Audio - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SzzK7Ikef0Q
Score - http://dme.mozarteum.at/DME/nma/nma_cont.php?vsep=196&gen=edition&l=1&p1=104

The "Exposition" occurs from :00 until 1:07 (m. 1 through 39 in the score) and is repeated in its entirety. Let us consider just this section by itself as though it were a complete piece. Experiment, if you will, by playing the piece from the start and pause it right at 1:03 (you'll hear a brief flourish, then a quick V to I cadence in the key of A, then a short silence. Pause at this silence. In the score, the pause is at the rest at 37). This sound's like a nice, complete, tidy piece of music, a listener feels no need for the piece to continue. But, then let the video play and you will hear an extremely brief, 2 measure (4 second) additional figure. It seems unnecessary to a listener, as it does not really add much to what you've just heard: it isn't a melody you've heard before, it doesn't modulate, it doesn't seem to serve any function at all.

But this is exactly what Mozart wants you to think. Think of the world of Copernicus, you could imagine him uttering the following phrase to his friends "the earth is the center of the Universe... or is it?" This "or is it?" addition is exactly the function of the Coda in this sonata. You are presented with something that seems to you to be tied up nice and cleanly, and then something at the end is presented to you that makes you go "huh... that was wierd" or "why would he do that?" Its almost as if the existence of the Coda justifies the repeat of the exposition because you want to see if you really heard that coda. Was it really there? Or did I just imagine it?

Well, let's find out. Continue the recording and hear the repeat of the exposition. Yes, yes, Mozart, we've just heard all this, bring on the coda again! at 2:08, it plays again (guess it wasn't your imagination), but what's this? If you continue to let it play (starting the Development), suddenly this afterthought begins to modulate. He runs with it, letting the motive it modulate throughout all sorts of distant keys. It's as though he's seized upon this strange coda and is now examining it to see what it is all about.

To return to our Copernicus analogy, it's like the "or is it?" now seizes Copernicus, and he begins to question all he once understood as truth. He says "well, wait a second, there are so many things that just don't make sense if we accept that the earth is the center of the Universe." He begins to question the idea, and he ends by dropping the idea in favor of developing a Heliocentric view. Similarly, Mozart just seems to drop all his ideas in the Sonata presented thus far in favor of examining the codetta figure almost obsessively (much more reminiscent of what Beethoven does then anything Mozart is known for)

Now, one other thing that is interesting to note is that once the development begins, it never returns to the original material (ie, the Recapitulation) as most standard sonata forms do. The return to the Exposition represents firm closure and and a release of tension in this period. Since this sonata never firmly returns to the Expositional material***, this means all of the tension built up during the development is not released. So we are looking for something to finally ease the tension.

And how do you think Mozart does it (I'll give you a hint, it's the subject of this thread)? Notice how the end of the whole piece works (Beginning at 4:06, or measure 109). You hear the flourish and the cadence as you did in the Exposition (though now in the key of I, as is traditional), however notice the way the cadential figure (m. 110) is changed. Instead of moving firmly from I to V7 to I as in m. 37, the 110 figure moves from I to vii07/vi to vi. This is highly unfamilliar motion and turns what was once a firm end in the Exposition into an uncomfortable question mark in the psuedo "recap." But he can't leave the listener with a question mark! So he uses the "codetta" to finally provide the answer and establish a final release of tension. In the end, we are left craving and wanting the very thing we once took to be absolutely insignificant.

Thus, as you can clearly see, Mozart very subtly transforms our idea of what is important in the Sonata. He first presents a codetta that appears meaningless. Then, he uses the codetta idea as the basis for his Development section (instead of a more familliar theme, as most listeners would expect). Finally, he makes the codetta figure absolutely essential for tension release and tonal closure in the final bars of the sonata. He pulls through the sonata by playing on our ideas of what what is or is not important to a composition (This may also be seen in how out-of-order the pseudo recap is, as though Mozart no longer cares what order the themes of the Exposition are presented in). It is one of the finest examples of coda usage that I have ever come across.

This sonata is absolutely genius, anyone who thinks that Mozart isn't in the same league as a Bach or a Beethoven should take a listen. It is pieces like these (and not pieces like the divertamentos) that show how much respect Mozart deserves as a composer.

***a firm return is what distinguishes a recapitulation; for although parts of the Exposition are repeated beginning at 75, it emerges from the Development, instead of being firmly set apart like normal Recaps. Also, only parts of the Exposition recur, often out of their original order. All of this is so contrary to the idea of a recapitulation that we may be justified in declaring that this Sonata has no true Recapitulation, only a pseudo one.
Last edited by nmitchell076 at Aug 15, 2011,
Wow. Well done, rabbit-man. Incredibly informative and, more importantly, analytical. That's the kind of post I love to see.
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