Beethoven’s Expansion of the Symphonic Coda

Beethoven’s Expansion of the Symphonic Coda

This paper was originally dated 12/9/1992. And since this was 1992 and I had no scanner, my examples were merely copied on a copy machine and glued onto the blank spots – so I no longer have the actual music samples for those examples.

Ludwig van Beethoven contributed a wealth of innovations to the evolution of music. One such contribution was his expansion of the symphonic coda to become an integral part of the sonata-allegro movements.

Through Beethoven’s nine symphonies, one may see a definite pattern of awareness that the composer took toward the treatment of the coda. First, the coda became functional as a second development section. It also became an avenue through which Beethoven introduced new ideas. Another new function of the coda was the extension of the final cadence to a point beyond the recapitulation. This was used in some works to divert attention away from the tonic by actually modulating in the coda. Finally, the sheer size of Beethoven’s codas demonstrates a shifting of emphasis toward the end of the work.

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Before any specific works are cited, it would prove useful to view the codas of Beethoven’s symphonies graphically to see what conclusions may be drawn. Appendix A (at the end of the paper) represents the codas of the first movements of Beethoven’s symphonies. The numbers on the graph represent the coda as a percentage of the movement. Notice that there is a general trend toward larger codas, if only slightly.

Appendix B is based on the same principle as Appendix A, but applied to the last movements of Beethoven’s symphonies. The first item one observes on this chart is the considerably higher percentages. This only bolsters the argument that Beethoven gravitated the weight of emphasis toward the final movement of the symphony. The coda of the Eighth Symphony, for example, is nearly half the movement. That particular coda will be discussed later. It must be noted that the last movement of the Eroica is omitted from this chart because it is a variation movement, and its coda has a completely different function than those codas in the sonata-allegro form.

One must look only as far as the first movement of Beethoven’s Second Symphony to find evidence that he was beginning to see potential for the coda not only as a place to confirm the tonic key, but as a place for further development. At measure 350, the strings play the first theme, while the brass play the second theme.


This is significant for several reasons. First, Beethoven did not refer to the second theme in the development section. Hence, this kind of development was new to the piece.

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The fourth movement of this symphony also contains an innovative coda. George Grove, when describing this coda, wrote:

And now begins the most individual and Beethovenish part of the entire work. It is as if. . . we had passed through a door and were in a new, enchanted world. All that we have heard before vanishes. Earth is forgotten, and we are in Heaven.

Indeed, this coda contains new ideas, such as the line appearing in the upper winds in measures 306-312. This melodic line appears in different forms throughout the coda. The introduction of new ideas to the coda was another step toward an increasing emphasis on this section of the symphony.

The next symphonic movement that Beethoven wrote, the first movement of the Eroica, contained still more innovations in the treatment of the coda. The first, and most obvious, characteristic of this coda is an immediate modulation a whole-step down from the tonic of E-flat to the subtonic D-flat. This is probably a reference to a brief D-flat passage in the recapitulation. The coda then briefly passes through the keys of C, F minor, and B-flat before returning to E-flat. It is within these brief modulations that the music takes new avenues. First, the theme is stated in C with an additional contrapuntal figure at measure 569. This figure appears prominently throughout the coda.


Additionally, new thematic material is introduced in F minor at measure 581. It does not play a major role in the coda, but serves to divert attention away from the first theme which has just concluded the recapitulation and will soon conclude the coda.

Modulation in the coda was highly unusual at this time in music history. The coda was defined as a “tail” which, up to this point, primarily served cadential purposes. The first movement of the Eroica shows that Beethoven used the coda to divert attention away from the tonic before bringing back the final key and cadence. It served as a sort of break between the tonic-heavy recapitulation, and the final cadence in the coda. It seems appropriate to quote George Grove again, who used the following sentences to describe this coda:

The beginning of this Coda is one of the most astonishing things in the whole musical art . . . (Beethoven) treats the Coda as a definite, recognized, important section of the movement, and announces it with so much weight and force as to compel attention to the fact that something serious and unusual is going on.

The next symphonic movement which demonstrates significant innovation in the construction of the coda appears in the fourth movement of the Fourth Symphony. The opening of the coda is an almost exact restatement of the opening of the development.

EXAMPLE 3a (Development, meas. 100)

EXAMPLE 3b (Coda, meas. 279)

This further demonstrates that Beethoven drew some kind of link between the development section and the coda. That the respective sections soon depart in their similarity only demonstrates that the composer felt a need to take the development of the first theme through a different avenue once the initial development was stated.

Though the first movement of the Fifth Symphony does not contain any new innovations, it deserves mention because it does incorporate several of the new ideas referred to earlier. The recapitulation ends in C major, the parallel major of the tonic C minor. He uses the coda to bring the movement back to C minor. The first device he uses is to modulate briefly to F minor at the opening of the coda. The next notable event is at measure 424. This is where the strings begin playing what reminds one of the second theme, but sounds new at the same time.

EXAMPLE 4a (Second Theme)

EXAMPLE 4b (New Theme)

This is the same point where C minor is finally established, and allows a satisfactory cadence to begin.

The next “new” device Beethoven incorporated into his treatment of the coda came in the last movement of his Fifth Symphony. When one scans the development of this movement, the primary figure throughout is the second theme. It may be argued that the second theme was the emphasis of the development because its rhythmic character was “easier” to manipulate. Given that the development is filled with the second theme, the coda is a perfect balance in that it is devoted to development of the first theme.

The coda of the first movement of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony has some noteworthy elements. There is no second theme in this movement, which creates a new environment for the coda. It would seem that, in such a case, the composer would not opt for a developmental coda, assuming the development handled the treatment of the first theme. Beethoven’s solution to such a problem was to create a coda even more complex than the development. First, the coda modulates from the tonic A major to such remote keys as F minor and A-flat major. It is a highly developmental section until measure 401. At this point, the harmony is back in A, with the exception of a repeating bass line based on the theme, which includes the dissonant note B-sharp.


This is a new idea in which there is a diversion of attention away from what is, at this point, familiar in the movement. The fact that part of the diversion (the repeating bass line) is based on the theme shows Beethoven’s ability to manipulate his resources. This figure repeats until measure 423, after which the music serves to cadence in the tonic.

The first movement of the Eighth Symphony does not contain anything not yet discussed, but it does contain many of the innovations already examined. As with most of Beethoven’s codas, there is no presence of the second theme, but there is considerable development of the first theme. It begins like the development section, but soon strays to explore other means of development. A countertheme that appears in the winds against the first theme in the exposition is given a new emphasis in the coda. The overall mood of the coda is familiar, but fresh.

The fourth movement of the Eighth Symphony is perhaps the pinnacle of Beethoven’s treatment of the coda. As seen earlier, when examining Appendix B, the simple fact that the coda takes up nearly half the movement is significant. This coda is too enormous to simply label “closing material” or “cadential.” The development section (measure 91) and the coda (measure 267) begin with the same thematic material, the development beginning in the tonic F and the coda beginning in the subdominant B-flat. After 12 measures, the coda is no longer like the development. A new figure, marked by a descending line of half notes, is introduced in the second violins.


This is repeated in the winds with a contrary motion figure mirroring it. For the first 31 measures that this figure is present, a motto from the first theme appears at all times, with each string part taking turns playing it. At measure 314, the motto is altered to a single set of quarter-note triplets followed by a quarter note. At this point, the rest of the orchestra plays the accompaniment figure while the strings play the new theme. The rhythmic motion begins to accelerate at measure 336 and leads to the next significant event in the coda. At measure 350, there is a transition consisting of octaves. This is first given to the strings and flute on the note A, then to the bassoons and timpani on the note F. This is the exact transition Beethoven used between the development and the recapitulation. At measure 355, the first theme is again introduced over the continuing octaves.

At measure 380, Beethoven presents another innovation: a double bar followed by a key change. It is a brief diversion to F-sharp minor for only eight measures, but it is something Beethoven had not yet done. The end of this modulation, and the ensuing music (to measure 407) is taken from the exposition, and it is developed unlike in the development section. At measure 407, the second theme is stated, but only once.
There is an emphatic statement of the first theme in the strings at measure 442, and this is followed by cadential material, some of which is based on the first theme.

It is only speculation why Beethoven introduced a new figure at the beginning of the coda, but did not refer to it again. The aural effect of this new figure is that of a brief departure serving to temporarily replace the mood of the rest of the movement, and allow the listener a break from the much-stated first theme.
Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is a work of great magnitude. The codas of this symphony are also of great magnitude, but in a different – and perhaps less significant – way than those of the Eighth Symphony. The coda of the first movement is 120 measures. It contains many of the features discussed in earlier symphonies such as modulation and further development of the first theme. A fugue that appears during the development (at measure 218) is also referred to in the coda at measure 486. There is a new, two-measure theme introduced in measure 513 in the strings, which is sequenced seven times, after which it is followed by the final cadential material.

At first glance, one may believe the coda of the last movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is the most innovative. The large-scale form of the coda could be the most intriguing. It is in two parts: Allegro ma non tanto (mm. 763-850), Prestissimo (mm. 851-940), interrupted by a short Maestoso from measure 916 to 919.

Two factors must be considered, however, when looking closely at this coda. First, the movement is not in sonata form; it is a Cantata in rondo form. One must view the various sections, then attempt to relate the coda to them. In this case, the correlation to the various sections seems insignificant. This is because, upon hearing the coda, one realizes that its function is to provide a spirited ending to an epic work. The melody that begins the coda could be related to the theme in the Alla Marcia section at measure 343, but only loosely.

It is interesting that so little has been written on Beethoven’s symphonic codas in and of themselves. It seems unusual that the part of the movement that often took up twenty-five percent of the movement
Beethoven’s symphonic codas evolved dramatically over the twenty-four years that encompassed his symphonic composition. He invented new purposes in a section that was traditionally a tail at the end of a movement which served to cadence, confirm the tonic key with “extra” measures, or to add to the recapitulation a more dramatic ending than would have been possible by following the trend of the exposition.

Though there may have been some innovations by predecessors, such as Mozart and Haydn, Beethoven’s expansion of the coda went far beyond anything that had been written before. The many contributions to the development of the coda that Beethoven made have been discussed. Such contributions include the use of the coda to introduce new developmental material. Many of his codas also contained new material which often served as a diversion between the cadences of the recapitulation and the coda. Modulation became an important element, again acting as a diversion from the tonic key. In several symphonies, the coda could be described as a “second development” – especially when looking at the example from the fourth movement of the Fifth Symphony in which Beethoven delayed development of the first theme until the coda.

It is apparent that Beethoven realized the vast potential of the coda. Though the ultimate goal of a satisfying cadence remained unchanged, he expanded the path by which the music took to get there. One could say Beethoven took the “scenic route” to the final cadence. These “scenes” consisted of new ideas which served to make the final cadence more fresh upon arrival.


Grove, George. Beethoven and His Nine Symphonies. London: Oxford
University Press, 1896.

Hopkins, Anthony. The Nine Symphonies of Beethoven. Seattle:
University of Washington Press, 1981.

Kalmus, Edwin F., Publisher. Ludwig van Beethoven Symphonies No. 1, 2, 3, 4. New York: Kalmus, 1954.

Kalmus, Edwin F., Publisher. Ludwig van Beethoven Symphonies No. 5, 6, 7. New York: Kalmus, 1954.

Kalmus, Edwin F., Publisher. Ludwig van Beethoven Symphonies No. 8, 9. New York: Kalmus, 1954.

Stedman, Preston. The Symphony. 2nd edition. New Jersey: Prentice
Hall, 1992.


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