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date: 23 October 2020

Musical Prosthesis: Form, Expression, and Narrative Structure in Beethoven’s Sonata Movements

Abstract and Keywords

This essay explores prosthesis as a hermeneutic model for the analysis of musical form and expression in Beethoven, with special attention given to codas and other parageneric spaces such as slow introductions. Codas in general, and Beethoven’s in particular, are theorized as extrinsic musical spaces that serve compensatory functions in relation to the normalized musical body of the sonata form. In a literal sense, a prosthetic compensates the disabled body by enhancing or remediating functions that deviate from the normal. Prosthesis thus becomes the means through which the relationships of inclusion and difference are mediated. By focusing on Beethoven’s slow introductions and codas and then recasting them as prosthetic spaces, the essay also revisits a famous exchange between critics Joseph Kerman and Charles Rosen on the topic of Beethoven’s codas, in order to resituate relational musical difference within more recent theories of musical form.

Keywords: Beethoven, prosthesis, Formenlehre, narrative, coda, slow introduction

Prosthesis has been applied to numerous types of discourses in recent decades, but music has rarely been included among these.1 The word “prosthesis” dates from the mid-sixteenth century, when it initially referred to the practice of adding a letter or syllable to the beginning or ending of a word.2 During the eighteenth century it acquired its more common medical meaning referring to the replacement or enhancement of a “defective” part of the human body through surgery or artificial supplementation.3 Put another way, prosthesis prescribes standards for “normalcy” by introducing something new, something additional, in order to restore functionality to that which has been transgressed. More recently, prosthesis also appears broadly as a critical term within the humanities, where it has been used to describe the ubiquitous presence of technological interventions into the human sphere. This has also led to an acknowledgment of the term’s rampant overuse and its resultant ambiguity.4 This posthuman sense of prosthesis is intimately bound to the very terms of modernity itself,5 but this contemporary usage falls distinctly outside the historical boundaries of the prosthetic metaphor that I am pursuing here in relation to eighteenth- and nineteenth-century musical form. In applying prosthesis to questions of expression in Beethoven’s music, I proceed within certain constraints that rely on the somatic basis of musical discourses about form. These musical discourses register the persistent presence of a normalized organic body wherever sonata form is invoked as a strategy, and it is often the case that Beethoven’s forms represent both a transgression of, and a prosthetic intervention into, that normal body. I will also consider prosthesis here in the sense that has often been used by disability scholars in the humanities, wherein the disabled human body is dealt with as a text to then be interpreted in terms of its narrative structure. The suggestion that a musical works tells a story and has a narrative structure is not a new idea, nor is the related argument that disabled bodies frequently figure into those narratives as active and critical components.6 (p. 619) In order to understand how disability typically functions in a literary narrative, I first summarize the basic arguments offered by David Mitchell and Sharon Snyder in their influential essay, “Narrative Prosthesis and the Materiality of the Metaphor.”

Mitchell and Snyder (2000) argue that disability and disabled figures present a cultural problem and that “the perception of a ‘crisis’ or a ‘a special situation’ has made disabled people the subject of not only governmental policies and social programs but also a primary object of literary representation” (47). Of course, there is no representational dimension within which instrumental music might portray disabled characters in quite the same manner as a literary narrative, but music can arguably still concern itself with the cultural problem of disability, and it does portray narrative structure. Images of disability intrude on the analytical narratives that surround musical expression, but especially those that concern excess in Beethoven’s strain of classical formal conventions.7

Mitchell and Snyder (2000) contend that the representation of disability in literary narratives is a “stock feature” and “an opportunistic metaphorical device” that constitutes the “perpetual discursive dependency” on disability that they refer to as narrative prosthesis (47). Narrative prosthesis, then, operates by introducing disability into a plot in order to establish the boundaries of the normal, but without allowing disability to become a focus of the reader’s attention. They also argue that disability frequently enters into other narratives as a metaphorical signifier that in turn gives fleshly form to an abstract condition of social or individual collapse. Accordingly, they focus their analytical work on what they call “open-ended narratives” (48) that actively perform their capacity to be simultaneously interpreted at multiple levels. It is a similar capacity of Beethoven’s music to register different levels of interpretation that has probably drawn so many commentators to it. The enterprise of constructing narratives about the heroic or the tragic in Beethoven’s music sustains a massive secondary literature that continues to position that composer at the center of so many of our musical discourses.8 It is not necessary here to either contest or supplant these other kinds of narratives, because prosthesis enriches those other interpretations by engaging our unconscious images of the disabled body, a body that resists deconstruction into standard or generic types and is easily identified with heroic struggle. In other words, prosthesis does the work of these other narratives in ways that go largely unnoticed, and in this manner it enacts its own musical variant of narrative dependency. Narrative prosthesis in Beethoven’s instrumental music is thus concerned with expressive excess. The application of narrative dependency to musical terms is predicated on the listener’s ability to register the unconscious presence of a disabled body, a body that only becomes apparent through the close analysis of form and its processes. In the following passage, Mitchell and Snyder describe the analogous work that disability performs in open literary narratives:

Whereas the “able” body has no definitional core (it poses as transparently “average” or “normal”), the disabled body surfaces as any body capable of being narrated “outside the norm.” Within such a representational schema, literary narratives revisit disabled bodies as a reminder of the “real” limits that “weigh down” transcendent ideals of the mind and knowledge-producing disciplines. In this sense, disability serves as (p. 620) the hard kernel or recalcitrant corporeal matter that cannot be deconstructed away by the textual operations of even the most canny narratives or philosophical idealisms. … We therefore forward readings of disability as a narrative device upon which the literary writer of “open-ended” narratives depends for his or her disruptive punch.

(Mitchell and Snyder 2000, 49)

The interactions of individual musical expressions with their implied genres, particularly those movements or passages that display deformations or are otherwise expressively marked by their differences, similarly demonstrate the “real limits” of knowledge-producing disciplines such as Formenlehre.9 The dependencies in such theories, it turns out, are not staked on the average or the normal (that body that has “no definitional core”), but instead on the “recalcitrant corporeal matter” of the difference itself, of the prosthetic, which allows the form to enter into some plot that is motivated by this displacement.

Musical form is a venerable subject in the discipline of music theory, and so querying it here in relation to images of the disabled human body requires some preliminary explanation. Disability scholars in the humanities have long asserted that disability pervades every aspect of culture. They have repeatedly demonstrated this claim through close critical readings of literature, art, performance, film, and other media, and more recently this mode of analysis has also been applied to various elements of music. Form as a method of musical analysis belongs to a much narrower and older field of musicological study, and the technical terminology invoked in that analysis can be a barrier when attempting to address a broader Disability Studies audience. In order to navigate the barrier of that technical terminology, I will therefore also engage parallel questions of form as they have been addressed in musical criticism. Musical criticism may be thought of in this context as a mode of analysis that is decidedly more accessible to a broad humanities-based audience, less prone to jargon and technical explanation than music theory. The degree to which the languages of both music theory and music criticism coincide when describing Beethovenian form is striking when considered in a Disability Studies context. Each language invokes elements of prosthesis in its own way, suggesting a resonant musical connection to the disabled body. The images of prosthesis and the disabled body that emerge from the study of Beethoven’s form and his use of codas are therefore not merely the artifacts of the particular methods of analysis or of their terminology, but instead suggest that the musical processes engaged by Beethoven in such forms are an expression of these primary somatic images, but now expressed in a purely musical domain.

I shall begin with the relatively uncontroversial assertion that musical works, formally and otherwise, have frequently been thought of in explicitly embodied terms. Of course the word coda, which literally means a tail, immediately confirms this assertion. We conceive of the sonata space of a work as a complete and standardized musical body, and thus the coda appears as an appendage to it, a prosthesis that serves some supplemental function.10 This is a metaphor certainly, but experientialist philosophers have argued that metaphors are not merely linguistic devices. Instead they reveal the way that (p. 621) we structure our concepts and then reason about them. Metaphors in this deeper sense rely on a source domain that is defined by our most basic and trusted experiences, which are then applied to other target domains that are less familiar to us. We understand the unfamiliar target domain through cross-domain mapping: a conceptual transformation through which we structure our experience within an abstract and unfamiliar target domain (musical form) in terms that are derived from the more familiar source domain (our bodies). Cross-domain mappings produce meaning at a very basic level. The experientialist philosopher Mark Johnson (1990) has argued that the source domain to which we consistently refer when constructing meaning is that of our own embodied experience; this source domain is itself structured as a series of image schemas that reflect our embodied experiences. His invariance principal describes how we selectively map features from the source domain onto a target domain in a manner that strives to preserve all of the features that are now found in that new target domain. Thus we experience the abstract relationships of music through spatially embodied metaphors such as UP/DOWN verticality, PATHWAYS toward GOALS, forces that act on musical entities, and CONTAINERS by which regions within the sonata form may be figured. These images directly reflect our own bodies, and the manner in which we navigate within them through the world. Linguistic metaphors, then, implicate the more deep-level cognitive translations that are inscribed by these mappings. By adapting the ideas of Mark Johnson and his coauthor George Lakoff to the concepts and methods of music theory, scholars began in the mid-1990s to critically reexamine the linguistic metaphors about musical processes that descend from such cross-domain mappings within our own discipline.11 Joseph Straus’s initial work on music theory and Disability Studies extended this project by revisiting this cognitivist theory and noting that in Johnson and Lakoff’s work “there has been the blithe assumption that we all inhabit the same kind of body, a normatively abled body, and thus all experience our bodies in pretty much the same way” (Straus 2006, 123). The formulation of musical prosthesis that I develop here is not enacted through the same image schemas that are proposed in Lakoff and Johnson’s theories. This is mostly because the prosthetic is not included among those images, even though prosthesis has been a very real part of the human embodied condition throughout much of history. The present theory of musical prosthesis does, however, follow directly from Straus’s earlier work. In particular, it presumes the pervasive presence of diversely embodied cross-domain mappings within music theory and music criticism, while consciously avoiding strict engagement of Lakoff and Johnson’s image schemas as an explicit structure. The prosthetic model seeks to correct the “blithe assumptions” that Straus has pointed out by recognizing that the prosthetic is a basic feature of human embodiment, and that this is routinely reflected in our theoretical percepts about musical forms and spaces.

In Straus’s critical examination of Formenlehre, he noted that there are two persistent models for thinking about musical form. One is the image schema FORM IS A CONTAINER. Through it, a work may either be well formed or else “deformed” if musical forces act on it to breach its boundaries or cause it to become distorted. The other model is FORM IS A NORM. This is not an image schema per se, but it does link (p. 622) musical form to the conceptualization of a disabled/enabled body by imposing a conformational model that measures degrees of deviation from an idealized standard (Straus 2006, 126–127). Codas and other prosthetic spaces are formal regions that are marked by their difference and that may be conceptualized in terms that situate their alterity in direct relation to these basic models of a normalized embodiment. For example, when James Hepokoski and Warren Darcy discuss codas and slow introductions in Elements of Sonata Theory (2006), they identify those sections of a work as “parageneric spaces”:

By sonata-space we mean that space articulated by the generic sonata form proper: normal treatments of the exposition, developmental space, and recapitulatory rotation. Some sonata movements also feature parageneric spaces (or not-sonata-space), everything else in the movement that may set up, momentarily step outside of, or otherwise alter or frame the presentation of the sonata form. In such movements the most frequently encountered parageneric spaces are accretions that in the second half of the eighteenth century came to be increasingly attractive options as add-ons to the basic structure. (281)

Such prosthetic spaces, then, are external to the container that constitutes the boundaries of the sonata form itself. They are nonnormative additions that are in some manner enabling of the interior space of the sonata’s body by redefining its own mediating differences. Hepokoski and Darcy’s use of the term “accretion” is especially interesting here. Etymologically, this term first appeared in the mid-seventeenth century and refers to a growth or enlargement on the body. But the word also has a second near-contemporaneous meaning that became increasingly common in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries: a growth that was not necessarily organic, but which might instead be a synthetic addition.12 The presence of a synthetic addition is not only crucial to the idea of prosthesis itself but also serves to underscore the discordant nature of the coda’s own nonassimilation into the given organic form that it enables. Translations of expressive terms from one natural frame (the sonata form) to another artificial one (a coda or other parageneric space) operate in a parallel manner to the cross-domain mappings of experientialist theory noted above. This translation of terms may be understood as the essence of prosthetic function in musical form. It may be of further note that the emergence of codas as a frequent feature of sonata forms during the classical era coincided historically with a rapidly expanding human experience of prosthetics in both medical science and in normal life. Prosthetics, as material supplementation to the human body, appear throughout history, but the sixteenth century marked the emergence of more advanced prostheses such as the artificial hands invented by the French physician, Ambrois Paré. The nineteenth century, however, marks an era during which prosthetic limbs suddenly became both increasingly common and increasingly visible (largely because of modern warfare), and thus became part of the lexicon of embodied experiences that the somatic image schemas are built on.

It should come as no surprise then that prosthetic spaces are poorly accounted for by theories of form that place their primary emphasis on commonly shared features of (p. 623) musical works—in other words, theories which exemplify FORM IS A NORM. Such theories are intent on recovering a normalized comparative practice and are hard-pressed to explain the function of parageneric regions such as codas and slow introductions. Beethoven’s codas, with the possible exception of those that appear at the end of rondo forms, are almost always a final response to some expressive need that is unique to a particular work or movement and manifests in structural issues that are consequently reflected in the form of the work. These expressive needs may be remediated by means of compensatory thematic functions, but they challenge the more normalizing terms on which FORM IS A NORM theories typically rely.

Form theories that emphasize similarity of design have been described as conformational and are opposed by generative models, which instead emphasize the individual shape of a work, its specific internal expressive forces, and its unique strategies for working these considerations out within the form of the movement (Bonds 1991, 13–30). Thus, while musical form may initially seem like something of an abstraction, especially given the specialized terms with which music theorists engage it, it should now be clear that what is actually at stake in the present study is a fundamental humanistic question about the ideology of the normative and how it is mediated in various cultural spheres, including music.

It initially seems that the generative approach, in which form and content are to some extent indistinguishable, might be better positioned to account for prosthetic spaces such as codas, promoting them to the rank of significant compositional responses to the unique circumstances of a work and its progress toward expressive completion. By contrast to the generative approach, conformational models appear to relegate these spaces to a supplemental function instead. This effect is fundamentally at odds with the prestige status that such movements have typically attained with audiences as a result of their marked differences. A basic dissatisfaction with the conformational perspective on codas was clearly expressed by Joseph Kerman (1982):

Musical analysts who deal with Beethoven’s sonata-form movements generally do rather poorly by the codas—do less well, that is, in accounting for actual musical experience when dealing with codas than with other sections of the form. All over bar the shouting is the impression one is often left with when the analytical account reaches the end of the recapitulation, though as a listener one knows perfectly well that an important part of the movement, perhaps the most exciting part, is still to come. (141)

Musical ProsthesisForm, Expression, and Narrative Structure in Beethoven’s Sonata Movements

Figure 31.1 Elision of prosthetic space to sonata space in Beethoven, Piano Sonata in C Minor, Op. 13, first movement (introduction).

A theory of musical prosthesis cannot, however, rely solely on the generative approach to sonata form. Prosthesis is itself predicated on the recognition of functional morphological differences that are only meaningful in relation to an established normal body that has been transgressed and must then be remediated in some manner. Prosthesis requires the specification of that normal musical body so that the prosthetic may then emerge against it and be marked by its difference. Put another way, the binary of conformational/generative form that produces this necessary tension is effectively the musical (p. 624) corollary to the prosthetic of narrative dependency that literary critics such as Mitchell and Snyder (2000) have explored. The musical prosthetic therefore responds to the unique generative forces of a work, and those forces result in formal permutations that require remediation via an accretion to that normal musical body. The musical prosthetic is therefore best defined within a continuum that embraces both the generative and the conformational models of form.13

The first movement of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata in C Minor, Op. 13 (Pathétique), offers considerable evidence for the ways in which prosthetic interventions into a sonata movement may both mark and compensate the form via generative thematic processes. At the outset of this movement, ten measures of Grave music introduce the exposition and also connect this material to the main theme through an elided perfect authentic cadence (PAC).14 This elided cadence underscores the interdependent mechanism by which prosthesis operates in this case: the introduction is simultaneously contingent and compensatory in relation to the intact sonata body of the movement (see Figure 31.1).15 Although it diverges expressively from what follows in every conceivable manner, the Grave music is nonetheless fused to the exposition through an unlikely fissure in the boundary of the sonata form proper—the initiating tonic of the main theme. This elided cadence ruptures the first and most primary formal boundary of the sonata body and then establishes a new dependency that subsequently works in both directions throughout the remainder of the movement.

The material existence of the Grave music itself is inextricably linked to that of the main theme, and vice versa. When the Grave music later returns in an abbreviated form to begin the development section as a transitional introduction, or precore, it once again connects to the main theme material in the developmental key of E minor by fusing to the start of the developmental core in the same way that it did at the start of the exposition (see Figure 31.2).16

Musical ProsthesisForm, Expression, and Narrative Structure in Beethoven’s Sonata Movements

Figure 31.2 Insertion of prosthetic space into sonata space in Beethoven, Piano Sonata in C Minor, Op. 13, first movement (development).

The Grave music then appears once more at the start of the coda, where it incites a loud final peroration of the main theme in the tonic.17 It is only at the beginning of the recapitulation that the main theme ever “stands on its own,” independent of the Grave (p. 625) introduction. The presence of the peroration in the coda following the Grave music suggests that this earlier recapitulation of the main theme was somehow insufficient, and that further closure was expressively required by the form all along. The coda compensates the recapitulation in particular here, but it also remediates the entire form more generally by restoring balance and settling matters that had disabled the sonata body earlier on.

The Grave music establishes an extra thematic area, one that stands in contrast to what follows it each time. No mere dominant upbeat, the Grave introduction instead serves a rhetorical function that can best be described as prosthetic. It begins as a rather tight-knit sentence, albeit one that modulates.18 Although we might wish to disregard the extent to which this unit truly forms a tight-knit theme type, a sentence form, this is only because of where it lies in relation to the body proper of the sonata form, in the prosthetic region prior to where the exposition begins with the main theme. The main theme itself is impacted by this prosthetic intrusion, too. The elided PAC fundamentally changes the basic terms of the sentence by altering its fundamental initiating function. This, in turn, problematizes the very act of beginning the movement. I would like to emphasize the role of the Grave music as the Other, but I would also like it to be understood as integrated into the musical body of the movement. It is the rhetorical alterity of this music, particularly in relation to what follows it each time, that defines its functional role. The prosthetic metaphor allows recognition of both difference and inclusion here by maintaining the formal and expressive distinctions of the generative/conformational binary, but the act of prosthesis itself then complicates that binary by recasting it as an extensive continuum.

In his study Musical Meaning in Beethoven, Robert Hatten observes that our willingness to perceive that a unit is functionally marked as thematic is largely conditioned by its position within the formal scheme: “To the degree that we recognize a ‘thematic’ slot, we are more likely to accept whatever material appears there as ‘the theme,’ even if the material would otherwise be understood as closural or developmental” (Hatten (p. 626) 1994, 119). Similarly, the expressively marked Grave music presents us with tight-knit thematic material that initiates the action of the sonata space, but in a formal slot prior to where that action is actually expected to occur. The repeated insinuation of this music as a marked semantic unit wherever the main theme is next to be found (except notably at the recapitulation) motivates its eventual return in the coda as one final and necessary compensation. This is the rhetorical terrain in which I would like to situate the first movement of Op. 13, as a conjunction of two discourses, one of them normalized through the rhetorical conventions of sonata form, and the other entrenched in its difference: more familiar yet also more foreign. The emblematic opening chords of the Grave introduction serve metonymically for the whole work. The normalized discourse that is initiated by the main theme proper could hardly stand on its own, for what is the basic idea of this main theme but an ascending scale responding to the weight of the Grave’s relentless descent? Even before the action of the sonata has begun, this other music that is marked as more foreign, more idiosyncratic, and certainly more stylized, is already compensating for the body-proper of the work whose main theme is all upward flight and no identity, and whose closure as a sentence is even further attenuated by the elision and repetition that leads it into the transitional zone. To displace the beginning of the work to the Grave music is prosthesis, and this prosthesis then functions by transferring the process of beginning back again to the main theme. And so it becomes part of the work of the Grave music to resituate itself each time in relation to the natural body, and to thus translate what follows as part of the prosthesis.

The first movement of the Pathétique presents a complex yet typical example of prosthesis, in which the prosthetic space of the movement both encloses and permeates the sonata space as a whole. The prosthetic space remains extrinsic and supplemental, but it also involves an insertion directly into the sonata body proper right at the start of the development section.

Musical ProsthesisForm, Expression, and Narrative Structure in Beethoven’s Sonata Movements

Figure 31.3 Three instances of the Lebewohl motto in Beethoven, Piano Sonata in E-flat Major, Op. 81a, first movement.

The first movement of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata in E-flat Major, Op. 81a (Les Adieux), presents a strikingly similar example (see Figure 31.3). Here, a slow introduction once again complicates the process of beginning the sonata movement and acts as a prosthesis that eventually culminates in a substantial coda. The introduction to Op. 81a contains a descending three-note motto that appears most prominently in the first measures, and (p. 627) then again in the coda of the movement. Musically, it is a gesture of closure that moves melodically downward by step to end on the tonic scale degree.19 But this typically closural gesture is also part of a rhetorical deflection: it is used here as an opening gambit at first, not a closing one, and it immediately casts doubt on what key the movement will ultimately be in. The supporting notes that appear against it in mm. 1–2 suggest the wrong key, or at least the wrong chord: C minor, not E-flat major. The repetition of the gesture in mm. 7–8 carries the music even further away from E-flat, to C-flat major, a chord that includes chromatic notes foreign to the key.

It is not until well into the coda, in mm. 227–229, that this motto ever aligns clearly with its expected function: to close clearly on E-flat as the tonal center. In much the same manner as the Grave music in Op. 13, the motto stands metonymically here for the movement as a whole, and thereby displaces one of the basic functions of the main theme. The slow music presents the expressively marked ideas to which the entire rest of the sonata form responds thematically. In this way, the sonata body accommodates the prosthesis. That generative thematic function is typically reserved for the main theme of the exposition, but it has been supplanted here by the more powerful and emblematic material that appears prior to the conventional beginning of the sonata space. The main theme suffers from this transfer of function in a manner that immediately recalls the opening of the Pathétique: the theme lacks a strong identity and instead responds to the downward weight of the earlier slow music by repeatedly fleeing upward toward a high B♭. The Lebewohl motto and its associated music have destabilized the tonality of the movement before it even had a chance to begin. It does this by assuming various harmonic guises during the introduction that pit the tonic of E-flat major against both C minor and C-flat major. When this motto appears again in octaves at the very beginning of the exposition, the sonata body proper destabilizes; it loses balance. It must be compensated by the prosthesis in some way in order to regain that balance.

Whereas the Grave music of Op. 13 had breached the exposition’s opening boundary through an elided PAC connecting to the initiating tonic of the main theme, the harmonic ambiguity of Les Adieux’s introduction completely obliterates that initiating tonic and replaces it with a different harmony instead to support the opening of the main theme. Consequently, the main theme can never establish the tonic convincingly; it cannot reach any type of closure. Instead, it drifts toward the transition, and temporary closure is only finally achieved later in the subordinate key of B-flat during the secondary themes of the exposition. Although the movement’s sonata form remains nominally intact within the typical placements of exposition, development, and recapitulation, the slow introduction has so thoroughly infused the generative thematic material of the movement with problems of both harmony and closure that an extensive coda of nearly 100 measures is then required at the end to restore balance and closure to the form as a whole. In short, the coda compensates that sonata space for those differences that marked the exposition and its thematic material as a result of the introduction.

For many commentators, Beethoven’s codas are notably distinct from Mozart’s both with respect to their scope and their expressive purpose. Kerman, for example, identifies a “principle” for many of the codas in Beethoven’s middle period: he describes their (p. 628) function as a “thematic completion” that is required because of some sort of “anomaly” within the main theme itself.20 This anomaly must subsequently be “normalized” through what eventually takes place in the coda (Kerman 1982, 148–150). Kerman’s use of terms like anomaly and normalization must be understood to implicate the prosthetic; this is language that specifies both difference and subsequent compensation in relation to the functional aspects of form. They are also terms that explicitly conjure the disabled body into a metaphorical musical existence. A different kind of narrative dependency is involved here than in the prosthesis described by literary critics like Mitchell and Snyder. In literary narratives the presence of the disabled body is eliminated or removed from view once it has served its purpose. The coda, on the other hand, is the last word in a sonata movement; it lingers. Even in movements where the prosthesis comes first, as in slow introductions, that early prosthesis often resonates throughout the remainder of the sonata form. It does not disappear from the stage as the disabled characters in a novel or play so often do.

Kerman’s principle of “thematic completion” is suggestively based on a movement’s narrative structure, but this narrative is still rendered primarily through its form: “With Beethoven a sonata-form movement is also ‘the story of a theme’—the first theme—and the exciting last chapter of that story is told in the coda” (150). We will return to the structural roles that narrative compensation can take in relation to musical form later, but it should already be clear from our first two analyses that these strategies often unfold through generative thematic processes and that musical works like the Pathétique and Les Adieux are especially valued for precisely these dramatic aspects of their implicit narrative designs.

Robert Hopkins also perceived a fundamental distinction between Beethoven’s codas and those of Mozart, but he considered these differences to be based largely on the evolving nature of sonata form in the nineteenth century. After reviewing various descriptions of the coda in the analytical literature, he observed that it had often been rendered as a “superfluous attachment,” rather than as a critical expressive device within the form of the work. He continues,

We should broaden our concept of sonata form beyond that based primarily in eighteenth-century views of harmonic structure and formal symmetry in order to account for the significance of codas in works of the nineteenth century. We need to increase our awareness of the functions and importance of codas in early nineteenth-century sonata forms. In short, we need to build a theory that explains the structural functions of codas and why they became necessary to the work.

(Hopkins 1988, 393–394)

Hopkins clearly follows Kerman by positing that many of Beethoven’s codas primarily serve to “normalize” something that has gone amiss within the main theme. As with Kerman, the coda then provides a necessary thematic completion that corrects some expressive matter that was initially ill-formed, or otherwise unstable (398–399). Hopkins goes on to provide two more motivations for a Beethovenian coda, stipulating (p. 629) that these three impulses taken together are neither mutually exclusive nor exhaustive. A coda may, for example, be required as a final recapitulation of the first theme in order to restore some missing balance and symmetry to the form as a whole. This specifies a formal compensation in relation to symmetry and balance, which are themselves basic image schemas of the body. Hopkins next describes a function for the coda in which some important harmonic resolution relating to the reestablishment of the tonic was somehow left unsatisfactorily in the recapitulation proper. This deficiency results in some weakness within the harmonic form of the movement as a whole, which must then be shored up by the coda’s more expansive confirmation of that tonic later on. Prosthetic compensation manifests itself here in relation to the harmonic structure of the form, which is clearly one of the most normalizing features of musical form during this era.

The idea that codas are compensatory, or that they serve to remediate some inherent functional defect that has occurred elsewhere in the work, is a recurring theme in many recent theories of form. Compensation will therefore be considered as one of the primary formal functions of prosthesis. By citing compensation for insufficient harmonic closure as a basis for a coda in the example above, Hopkins is notably at odds with some older Formenlehre theories, including Arnold Schoenberg’s, who remarked famously,

Since many movements have no codas, it is evident that the coda must be considered as extrinsic addition. The assumption that it serves to establish the tonality is hardly justified; it could scarcely compensate for failure to establish the tonality in the previous sections. In fact, it would be difficult to give any other reasons for the addition of a coda than that the composer wants to say something more.

(Schoenberg 1967, 185)

Schoenberg’s remarks demonstrate a familiar perspective on codas that Hopkins evidently wished to refute: namely that they are “superfluous additions” to the sonata form proper. Moreover, Schoenberg’s assertion that a coda cannot “compensate for failure to establish the tonality” earlier in the piece, seems to differ sharply with Hopkins’s own conviction that codas can do precisely that: they expiate a lack of closure when the reestablishment of the tonic was left unsatisfactorily within the recapitulation. Though the distinction between these two positions may hang precariously on terms like “satisfactorily,” and therefore appear to be merely a semantic quibble, both positions do significantly impact the idealized image of the healthy harmonic body of the sonata proper. Our analysis of the first movement of Op. 81a presented an instance of just such a sonata movement in which the expected tonal closure of the form certainly took place within the normal sequence of exposition, development, and recapitulation, but where that closure was not sufficient because of the earlier destabilizing effects of the introduction on the initial tonality of the exposition. While Kerman and Hopkins focused their attention on Beethoven’s codas primarily in relation to his main themes, prosthesis is a remediation of the entire form of the movement, and so we must engage Formenlehre in a more complete and comprehensive manner.

Two recent theories of form have been widely credited with a renewed scholarly interest in Formenlehre: James Hepokoski and Warren Darcy’s Sonata Form Theory and (p. 630) William Caplin’s Classical Form. In both of these sources, the coda falls into a category that may best be described as contingent, a perceived condition that I assert is also a prerequisite for the work of any prosthetic mechanism to take place. Significantly, Hepokoski/Darcy and Caplin both begin their respective treatments of the coda by remarking on Schoenberg’s previously quoted pronouncements. Whereas Caplin (1998) finds in Schoenberg’s comments something “rather flippant” (179), Hepokoski and Darcy (2006) instead consider Schoenberg’s appraisal to have been offered “perhaps wryly” (282). But Schoenberg’s conjecture that the composer has “something more to say” is hardly “flippant” or “wry”: instead it places the coda into a specifically discursive space relative to the rhetorical design of the completed sonata form. It is possible that Schoenberg may simply have been recalling, in a relatively colloquial fashion, that distinctly eighteenth-century viewpoint of musicians such as Koch (and later Reicha) who believed that music is constructed as a rhetorical, wordless oration. When Schoenberg states that a coda cannot specifically “compensate for the failure to establish tonality in the previous sections,” he implies, if only by omission, that it can instead compensate for other sorts of failings or differences. William Caplin’s explanation of the coda provides a variety of such “compensatory functions,” some of which seem specifically tied to unfinished thematic processes:

Although Schoenberg speaks rather flippantly about the coda’s appearing merely because “the composer wants to say something more,” it is nonetheless true that this final section allows the composer to say things that could not have been appropriately said in earlier sections. In this respect, the coda includes a variety of compensatory functions, for here the composer can make up for events or procedures that were not fully treated in the main body of the movement. More specifically, the coda often gives the composer an opportunity to impart a circular design to the overall form by recalling main-theme ideas; to restore expositional material deleted from the recapitulation; to recapitulate ideas from the development section; to shape a concluding dynamic curve that differs from (or surpasses) that of the recapitulation; and to realize the implications generated by various compositional processes that have been left unrealized in earlier sections.

(Caplin 1998, 179)

Caplin’s list of compensatory functions overlaps with Hopkins’s own in several important respects. His recollection of main-theme ideas corresponds in part to Hopkins’s second reason for a coda: a late restatement of the main theme in order to restore balance and symmetry to the form. Caplin’s shaping a new dynamic curve also impacts this same principal, because some of the perorations that Hopkins has in mind also create a late climax as a result. But Caplin’s functions also distinguish these processes so that changes in the dynamic shape of the movement, particularly when they do not recall the main theme, may also be accounted for. Caplin’s functions also account for other less common situations where instead of building to a late climax, the coda instead presents a series of recessive dynamics that dissipate the earlier culmination of momentum and energy from the recapitulation, for example in Beethoven’s Overture to Coriolanus (Caplin 2006, 187). Caplin’s third coda function, reference to the development section, (p. 631) also reaffirms Hopkins’s own analysis of the fourth movement of Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony, where, like Ratner and others before him, he posits a second or terminal development. Such historical assignations of an additional development section were sharply discounted by Kerman in his own commentary, but have nonetheless reemerged in some more recent theories.21 Prosthesis is principally an intervention into the normalized musical body, and so the assertion that a coda could also represent a second development section is problematic from our perspective. The development section is already a functional part of that body and has its own very specific location within it. Further, Kerman is absolutely correct in asserting that Beethoven’s codas are not unique in their propensity to develop thematic material, and that this process takes place generically across all formal boundaries in many of his movements, including the exposition itself often enough (Kerman 1982, 152). We will therefore set aside the question of whether the coda to the last movement of the Eighth Symphony is truly a terminal development, but the example raises another more pressing question about prosthesis and codas. The movement is cast as a sonata rondo and therefore the coda itself cannot be immediately understood as either contingent or extraneous. It is instead an expected formal feature that is virtually required of all final refrains in sonata-rondo forms, even though the expansiveness of this particular coda is exceptional in its depth and breadth.

In order to function as a prosthesis, we have already specified that a coda must be able to compensate the normal body of a form, must maintain its own alterity while doing so, and must also be contingent in some way. In the case of most first-movement forms, the coda unquestionably maintains this status, especially during the Classical era, when the coda was not specified as a given part of the normal body; it was something extra. By contrast, the codas that occur within the final refrain of a sonata-rondo movement are expected components. So, is it possible for these codas to also then function as prostheses if they are required elements? I do not attempt to formulate a complete or even a general solution to this problem here; there is no formula for the format of such codas, and so I believe the question must remain open. In the case of the finale of the Eighth Symphony, I believe that there are sufficiently compelling reasons to view this particular coda as prosthesis. First of all, it is clearly marked by its difference, especially in relation to all of those other codas that typically appear as part of the final refrain of a sonata rondo. In this regard, it is exceptional because it is one of Beethoven’s longest codas.22 It is more harmonically expansive than most others that appear in rondo movements, and of course this is precisely why some theorists have called it a second development. But perhaps most importantly, this coda compensates the form of the movement by remediating the expressively marked C♯ that had interrupted the main theme at its midpoint in m. 17, and which then arguably generates the various issues of closure that attend the subordinate theme areas of the outer couplets. These issues of closure and stability find no satisfactory resolution anywhere else in the given body of the form until they are finally taken up again in the coda—there, C♯ is finally subordinated to F♯ and then integrated back into the form of the work in relation to the tonic.23

Caplin provides one final coda function, the realization of unrealized implications, which is couched in terms that recall Leonard B. Meyer’s and Eugene Narmour’s (p. 632) implication-realization model.24 Surpassing Meyer and Narmour, Caplin also includes “harmonic, formal, rhythmic, and dynamic implications” as additional cues for subsequent realization. Caplin’s realization of implications function thus exceeds Meyer and Narmour’s model, which had been predominantly based on melodic implications (Caplin 1998, 187 and 279n36). If we read Caplin’s function broadly, it also exceeds Kerman’s proposition of an “anomaly” or “aberration” within the main theme that functions as a narrative strategy leading to a coda. While Kerman rightly asserts that Beethoven’s sonata forms are “the story of a theme” whose “exciting last chapter … is told in the coda,” he never provides any method for decoding that story. Recent theories of musical meaning and expression that rely on narrative discourse as a critical model provide a more secure basis for interpreting prosthesis within a comprehensive hermeneutic framework. To be effective in understanding prosthesis in this way, such interpretations need to be able to move smoothly between underlying systems of formal analysis and their framing hermeneutic backgrounds. The prosthesis provided by codas, then, straddles this boundary between theories of form and other models that rely predominantly on narrative structure. To illustrate this translation further, I turn now to one final example, from the first movement of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata in F Minor, Op. 57 (Appassionata).

Musical ProsthesisForm, Expression, and Narrative Structure in Beethoven’s Sonata Movements

Figure 31.4 D♭/D♮ cross-relation blocks GOAL, in Beethoven, Piano Sonata in F Minor, Op. 57, first movement.

The first movement of the Appassionata features a rather lengthy and structurally complex coda that may be productively viewed as a prosthetic space. This kind of lengthy coda is sometimes called “discursive” (Hepokoski and Darcy 2006, 284), and this description fits nicely within the kind of narrative that I wish to develop here. The plot of this narrative engages the harmonic form of the work and especially its inability to attain closure at critical junctures in the musical form because of an anomaly that occurs early on in the piece. This story will eventually conclude in the coda, but it begins with a thematic event that becomes the central character for the entire movement: the rhetorically charged D♭ (paired with G♭) that marks the first theme, disabling normative thematic processes and also preventing clear tonic closure in the first theme area (see Figure 31.4). Narratives about how the form of a work might be challenged by such notes are often discussed in terms of a “tonal problem.”25 Tonal problems generate an imbalance or unrest that has to be worked out through the harmonic form of the remainder of (p. 633) the movement. Accommodating or compensating such a disabling feature (especially if this takes place in a discursive coda) is therefore a type of narrative prosthesis.26

D♭ is, generally speaking, a normal enough note in the key of F minor, but here it causes an unexpected and disruptive cross-relation when it first appears in the fourth measure of the piece.27 Its presence also immediately runs afoul of the incomplete melodic motion by step that has just taken place in the previous measure: C♮, D♮, E♮. This line was stopped short of its tonic goal, F♮, and instead the E♮ transfers at the final moment back into the bass voice, as part of the chord on which the initial idea then comes to rest instead in m. 4—well short of its goal. When D♭ appears immediately afterward, it does not move back to C as one might expect it to do, but instead jars immediately against D♮ and E♮, and then takes on the chromatic note G♭ as a partner in order to move even further away from the tonic and toward the chromatically related Neapolitan (♭II) region in mm. 4–8.28 This discord motivates the sort of “plot” that is often invoked in a tonal problem narrative, and here it also results in an incomplete motion toward a goal, the tonic of the piece, F minor (see Figure 31.5). This narrative derives meaning, in part, from the image schema SOURCE-PATH-GOAL. The motion toward the tonic is blocked. The completion of that motion has effectively been thwarted by the D♭/G♭ pair of mm. 5–8. The ensuing repeated efforts to hammer the D♭ back into its proper position in the bass are now simply too late. Because completed motion to the tonic of the key has been blocked, the theme has now become disabled.29 The main theme never achieves closure and instead the inherited trait of motion away from tonic toward the D♭/G♭ pair is then passed on to the remainder of the movement, marking the exposition, development, and recapitulation sections in turn, but never producing a satisfying resolution of this impediment anywhere within the sonata form proper.30 A prosthetic intervention, in the form of a lengthy coda, will be required to restore mobility to the form.

Although the drama of the entire movement proceeds largely as a consequence of the ambiguity of this motion away from the tonic and toward the Neapolitan, the effect of this dislocation is felt in an especially acute fashion at the close of the development section when a false recapitulation of the secondary theme occurs in the key of D-flat.31

Musical ProsthesisForm, Expression, and Narrative Structure in Beethoven’s Sonata Movements

Figure 31.5 False recapitulation in D-flat, in Beethoven, Piano Sonata in F Minor, Op. 57, first movement, mm. 109–111.

Musical ProsthesisForm, Expression, and Narrative Structure in Beethoven’s Sonata Movements

Figure 31.6 Recapitulation in F major, in Beethoven, Piano Sonata in F Minor, Op. 57, first movement, mm. 174–183.

Because this is a moment in the form where a large-scale return to the tonic key is normally expected, the emergence of D-flat as the “wrong key” at this critical juncture (p. 634) signals a dramatic moment in the plot of the movement. It reminds us that D♭ has never been assimilated into either the exposition or the development sections of the movement and that the BLOCKAGE that this note represents has thwarted the normal mobility of the form of the movement to this point.

As the true recapitulation eventually proceeds, the first subordinate theme appears again at m. 174, but first assuming the major form of the tonic key, F major (see Figure 31.6). The reappearance of the pair D♭/G♭ in mm. 181–182 is now doubly marked: the notes are expressively marked by their chromatic conflict against the prevailing major mode, and also because they jar against the E♮ in m. 183. Closure, or completion, is once again stalled by the extensive chromaticism of the slow descending scale that follows it. The fortissimo G♭ that follows in the second subordinate theme is juxtaposed with G♮ each time, confirming that it will remain for the coda to resolve these matters, to reposition G♭/D♭ in order to bring closure to the normal sonata form and to restore balance by reaching the expected goals.

The coda begins by first assimilating the G♭ into the harmonic body of the movement through a new strategy: it now becomes the seventh of an applied chord in mm. 206–209 (see Figure 31.7). This forces a resolution of the tone G♭ to F and thus finally disassociates it from the stalled Neapolitan harmony. Although this is not yet a true tonic resolution, it does force the reinterpretation of the G♭ as a dissonance that resolves to the tonic (F). When the Neapolitan chord then reappears at the fortissimo passage beginning in m. 218, it is no longer an obstruction to the tonic. The entire bravura passage that follows through m. 234 emphasizes the completion of that previously blocked motion. This is first achieved in mm. 222–223, and then even more emphatically again in 235–239. The final peroration of the main theme at m. 239 is the remediation of that theme, and of every mobility problem with the form that began in that theme originally.

Musical ProsthesisForm, Expression, and Narrative Structure in Beethoven’s Sonata Movements

Figure 31.7 Beginning of the coda of Beethoven, Piano Sonata in F Minor, Op. 57, first movement.

(p. 635) It will now be apparent that this has been a narrative of a disability that is accommodated by a prosthesis, by a reenabling coda.32 The function of the coda here is one of narrative dependency, to provide the translation from the agon of the blocked and disabled sonata body to its eventual remediation through the prosthetic accretion that follows.

Musical prosthesis potentially provides a powerful remedy for the disconnect that persists between the embodied images that formal musical analyses typically present as genres, and those other generative forces that have motivated stylistic evolution within absolute music. As a hermeneutic model that is tied closely to formal processes, musical prosthesis is also closely aligned with narrative strategies for working within correlated frameworks of musical meaning.


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(1.) Some notable exceptions appear in Lerner and Straus 2006—for example, Iverson 2006 (which includes a brief but provocative discussion of Björk’s use of electronica as a prosthetic device in the domain of the natural voice) and Gross 2006. See also Jennifer Iverson’s chapter in this volume, which deals extensively with Björk’s electronica as a model for the prosthetic/supplemental in musical terms.

(2.) Oxford English Dictionary Online, s.v. “prosthesis, n,” accessed December 2009,

(3.) Wills 1995, 218.

(4.) For a critical discussion of the rise (and fall) of the prosthesis trope, see Jain 1999 and Sobchack 2006.

(5.) “Prosthesis has become a staple in the armory of metaphors or tropes that are utilized by intellectuals, scholars, students and practitioners who are concerned with interactions in general between the body and technology in modernity as they figure a conception of prosthetic lives in our post-human times” (Smith and Morra 2006, 2).

(6.) See Straus 2011, 45–62, for a detailed discussion of other narrative types involving disability in Beethoven’s music.

(7.) This is a recurring argument throughout Straus 2006.

(8.) Straus (2006), while concerned with different sorts of narratives about disability in Beethoven’s music than I am, has also noted this open-ended capacity of Beethoven’s music, particularly in the Eroica Symphony: “Most narrative accounts of the work (and there are remarkably many) imagine it as depicting a battle or a struggle of some kind” (155).

(9.) Formenlehre refers historically to the analytical study of musical form. I will engage both recent and historical theories of form in this essay.

(10.) “Sonata space” is a term employed in Hepokoski and Darcy 2006. There are other nonintegrated supplemental regions besides codas, too—like slow introductions, for example. These appendages may also be thought of as prosthetic, even though their names do not necessarily imply corporeality. The fact that tails are not part of the normal human body, our vestigial tailbones notwithstanding, implicates the extent to which the coda is truly something extra, either a subhuman or extrahuman addition.

(11.) In addition to Saslaw 1996, see the special issue of Theory and Practice 22–23 (1997–1998), dedicated to the music-theoretical application of Mark Johnson’s theories. Also, for more recent music theoretical extensions of Johnson’s theories, see Larson 2012.

(12.) Oxford English Dictionary Online, s.v. “accretion,” accessed December 2009,

(13.) The opposition of these two perspectives had historically always remained reconciled as long as they were both enfolded within an understanding of musical form that was grounded in rhetorical conventions. This balance persisted as long as the enterprise of creating new works was not prioritized over the conventions of their intelligibility. Bonds (1991, 146–149) identifies Koch as the last successful theorist to have wed the two perspectives within a rhetorical understanding.

(14.) Cadences may be thought of as roughly equivalent to a syntactical pattern that establishes closure at the end of a musical theme or a phrase. They are highly conventional and clearly audible to the audience. Perfect authentic cadences (PACs) close most strongly, and imperfect authentic cadences (IACs) close harmonically but not as strongly in a melodic sense. In many modern theories of form, cadences are the single most important element in the articulation of formal boundaries.

(15.) An elision is an overlap, therefore an elided cadence is a boundary that is left without a gap: one phrase closes simultaneously as the next begins.

(16.) Precore and core techniques are described in relation to the development section by Caplin 1998, 141–155. A precore may be thought of as developmental transition leading into the main action space of the development section. It is therefore contingent on what follows it.

(17.) Kerman (1982) refers to this type of coda in Beethoven’s first period as evincing “the calando effect” (143–144).

(18.) A sentence is a basic thematic construction that is marked by the immediate repetition of an initial idea and then trajectory toward a cadence.

(19.) The “tonic” is both the primary note and chord in a key and the first and last note in its associated scale. This particular melodic gesture is how a descending scale ends, as in the tune “Three Blind Mice.”

(20.) One surmises that Kerman’s dissatisfaction may have been directed toward various Schenkerian analyses, in which the close of the recapitulation may be taken to mark the close of the basic structure of the movement. The influence of Schenker on contemporary analytical accounts of Beethoven’s music at the time of Kerman’s comments was considerable.

(21.) See Hopkins 1988, 394–398; Kerman 1982, 151–153; and Caplin 1998, 187 and 279n31.

(22.) This movement has been the focus of numerous analytical narratives that seize on some comedic quality of the music and others that identify disabled bodies, or even Beethoven’s own deafness, as the source for its formal anomalies. Straus (2011, 57–59) discusses this Finale at some length.

(23.) It is also possible to think of this coda as responding to the coda of the first movement, in which case the C♯ is fulfilling an implication from that movement and the final coda then remediates the entire symphony.

(24.) See, for example, Meyer 1973 and Narmour 1992.

(25.) The “tonal problem” is discussed in the theories of composer Arnold Schoenberg, who posited that such events generated an imbalance that had to be restored by the rest of the work or movement. Detailed narratives using the tonal problem have disseminated to English-speaking readers primarily via Schoenberg’s American student Patricia Carpenter, who has analyzed this same movement in Carpenter 1983.

(26.) Straus 2012, 48–51 provides a detailed discussion of the tonal problem in terms of narratives of disability. His readings and my own are compatible and closely related. However, where Straus primarily uses the tonal problem as a means for engaging narratives of “disability overcome,” I am instead mostly interested in how prosthetic spaces may ultimately compensate the sonata body that has become disabled by the tonal problem.

(27.) A cross-relation occurs whenever a note that is chromatically altered, here a D♮, appears in a neighboring voice in close proximity to the unaltered form of that note (D♭). This cross-relation produces a strong dissonance (D♮ vs. D♭) and, in this instance, motivates a plot where harmonic ambiguity and imbalance results.

(28.) The “Neapolitan” is a chord or a key built a half-step away from the tonic. Despite that relatively small stepwise distance, it is actually quite remote from the tonic because of the chromatic notes from outside the key that are incorporated into it. Here, it represents a barrier to achieving motion back to the tonic.

(29.) Straus discusses BLOCKAGE as an image schema at some length in his initial work on music and disability. See Straus 2006, 122–127.

(30.) In Carpenter’s (1983, 24) Grundgestalt analysis of this same movement she implicates the unprepared derivation of the Neapolitan as a Schoenbergian tonal problem, and she then traces the harmonic forms that the associated complex A♭/C/D♭ takes throughout the rest of the movement. As in my own narrative, Carpenter suggests that the solution to this problem is withheld until the coda.

(31.) The recapitulation is one of the three major sections of a sonata movement, and it may also be thought of as a goal too: it is where the home key, or tonic, returns after some lengthy digressions away from it in the development section. It usually restates main-theme material, although it can sometimes also begin with other material from the exposition, but in the tonic key (as it does here). A false recapitulation occurs when that material appears in the expected part of the form where a recapitulation should occur, but where the tonic key has not yet been reached.

(32.) In addition to narratives of a disability that is accommodated, Straus 2006 also identifies many instances of the narrative trope of disability overcome, especially in Beethoven’s music.