What are the essential textbooks for a composer?
Answer by Gabriel Gloege:
I generally agree with all the recommendations thus far and am especially fond of Toch’s Shaping Forces of Music.
I’ve also found a lot of inspiration, guidance, and clarity from the more recent publications on music and the brain. Composing “good” music is as much about how it’s perceived by the listener as it is about melody, harmony, form, orchestration, etc. While the latter are essential tools, these books have informed how I use those tools and the musical decisions we composers make in every bar of our music.
I recommend starting with This Is Your Brain On Music by Daniel J. Levitin.
Beethoven’s Anvil was enlightening as well.
And if you really want to jump in the deep end, try Music, Language, and the Brain.
And of course, don’t forget Debussy’s advice to the young composer Charles Levade, which I believe to some degree applies to all aspects of music:"Ultimately you will learn orchestration better by listening to the sound of the leaves as they are stirred by the wind than by consulting treatises."
Education is a process of learning how to become the architect of your own experience and therefore learning how to create yourself. — Elliot W. Eisner. The Arts and the Creation of Mind (p. 24). Kindle Edition.
Music is a prism through which life is refracted.