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I’m doing Level 10 Harmony right now and I’m being asked to identify a Coda in a Rondo. Any specific characteristics that I should look out for to make it easier to identify?

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  1. Since the classic rondo form begins and ends with an A section, look for the end of the closing A section by comparing to the opening A section. Anything coming after the A section -- or that deviates substantially from the close of the first A section -- is a likely candidate for the beginning of a coda.

  2. You could also look for a (fairly) clear cadence prior to the formal end of the piece. The cadence itself may or may not be in the home key, and it might be obscured visually by immediately moving into the coda, but it's not uncommon for the piece to "end" and then be followed by a longer ending to allow for a "cool-down" period.

  3. Sometimes a subdominant harmony will show up. Noticing a subdominant passage close to the end of a piece would suggest some further consideration of whether it might be part of a coda.

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    Cheeky but might be helpful to include “it looks like a little target” when used in conjunction with DC / DS. – jjmusicnotes Nov 17 '20 at 11:55
  • @jjmusicnotes - The only rondos I recall that use DC/DS are American compositions from the ragtime era, often rondo-form rags such as Gershwin's "Rialto Ripples". – Dekkadeci Nov 17 '20 at 13:09
  • @jjmusicnotes For the good of humanity, I really, really, really hope by "Level 10", the target sign and the "Coda" label are well established. :-) – Aaron Nov 17 '20 at 16:27
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It comes at the end, and it's additional to the basic Rondo form. As you know, a Rondo has a recurring theme separated by contrasting sections. When the final instance of the theme has finished, what's left is the Coda.

Compare with Sonata form. A basic feature is a literal repeat (Recapitulation) of the material of the Exposition (though with a different key structure). When this Recapitulation is complete, anything more is the Coda.

There's no particular musical features of a Coda, other than it leading to a definite ending in the tonic key. It can be a 4 bar cadential 'wrap up'. Beethoven was quite capable of almost writing a second Development section as a Coda!

But, back to your Rondo. I don't think you need to look for anything that complicated! Just look for the point where, if there WAS to be another episode, it would start.

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  • In sonata form, the recapitulation should not be a literal repeat of the exposition. The exposition should not end in the home key, while the recapitulation should end in the home key or tonic major before it reaches the coda (and only in very rare cases have I heard sonata-allegros whose recapitulation second theme groups are not in the home key or tonic major but whose codas are or modulate to there). – Dekkadeci Nov 19 '20 at 12:37
  • Yes, the moment I wrote that I thought 'someone's going to pick me up on that, should I go deeper?' :-) Amended. – Laurence Payne Nov 19 '20 at 17:01
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The obvious thing is that it's at the end. "Coda" means tail in Italian. It's music added to the end.

  • thematically it doesn't relate to the main composition, or it just makes a slight reference. Whatever the exact amount the point is the music is ending so there isn't really development of themes. This makes sense. Development is continuation not ending. Mozart's K 331, Alla Turca is a good example. It just bangs away mostly on the beat with little turn figures the refer to the main theme.
  • harmonically it's simple. I could simply be a figuration of the tonic chord. Otherwise it would make simple changes to contrast with the tonic. Again the Mozart sonata is a good example of that.
  • formally (as in the musical structure of phrases) the coda will come after the proper final cadence of a composition. The so-called plagal cadence, the "amen" cadence at the end of hymns, is a special example. Usually there is a proper V I cadence to make the final end, then the IV I "amen" is stuck on the end of that as a kind of formulaic coda.
  • it's usually short, but if the scope of the composition was grandiose, the coda could be long almost like an entire section.
  • structurally, a coda is a way to signal the real end of a composition. The extra length, drawing out the tonic, gives more weight the final end as compared with endings of other movements.

I think Erik Satie made a nice musical summary of the nature of a coda, especially the grandiose ones, in Embryons desséchés, it has nothing to do with the composition and goes on way too long! Obviously, Satie was have fun with that, but it does summarize the qualities of a code nicely, even if an exaggeration.

It's not part of your assignment, but you might look up cadenza in connection with coda. It's another type of inserted section. But, it's an extension idea rather than an ending. It has a characteristic placement, usually toward the end of a movement, and it often isn't thematically related to the main work. It's a section for virtuosic display with a improvised, rhapsodic feel.

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  • The coda (admittedly more often of sonata-allegros) can easily include substantial secondary development. Beethoven loved secondary development in his codas (e.g. 1st movement of his Appassionata Sonata, 4th movement of his Symphony No. 8 in F Major). – Dekkadeci Nov 19 '20 at 12:32
  • I wanted get this into my answer, but ended up skipping it: kuscholarworks.ku.edu/handle/1808/30191, the author specifically cites that Beethoven in relation to Satie. Anyway, the point is about the characteristic of what (a normal) coda is, instead of how the Romantics pushed the limits. – Michael Curtis Nov 19 '20 at 17:04

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