Don Hosek - Past reading - Music

My other area of autodidacticism. Many people assume that I was a music major in college. Actually I never took a single college-level music class in my life (in fact, the only music class I ever took was orchestra in high school). But I read a lot, and eventually after enough books have been read, it coalesces into something approaching knowledge.

What I've been read in the past - Music
The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century by Alex Ross
[Finished 8 January 2020] See my review at

An American Demon by Jack Grisham
[Finished 26 April 2011] If you’re writing a memoir, do you really want James Frey blurbing you? Perhaps, this odd choice was an essential part of the story, in which Grisham claims to be an incarnated demon who became human after the birth of his daughter. But between not really believing Grisham about his callow evil and the rather unpleasant nature of he narrative, this was something that I could have easily skipped reading.

Our Noise: The Story of Merge Records, the Indie Label that Got Big and Stayed Small by John Cook
[Finished 13 October 2010] A bonus book from the TNB book club. I’m largely ignorant of the artists of Merge Records, but even so, as a musician, I was able to appreciate this account of what’s wrong and right with both the major labels and indies.

If I had a problem with the book, it would be, to quote Billy Joel, “there’s a new band in town, but you can’t get the sound from a story in a magazine.”

Dvorak and His World edited by Michael Beckerman
[Finished 11 September 2008] A collection of essays I stumbled upon while looking for a biography of Dvorak. I really had no sense of critical perspectives on Dvorak before reading this, and found that there was a whole universe of which I was unaware.

Illegal Harmonies: Music in the 20th Century by Andrew Ford
[Finished 7 June 2003] A good history of how music developed in the twentieth century. It’s written for non-musicians so the details on the music are often absent, but it does give a good big picture sense of the relationships between different composers (and also brings in jazz and rock as key elements of the development of serious music).

The Acoustic Guitar Answer Book by Sharon Isbin
[Finished 17 May 2003] One to avoid. I had hoped for some good insights into acoustic guitar playing from one of the masters of the craft. Instead I got a disjoint collection of magazine articles she’d written. Some interesting, some dull, and not worth the price of admission as a whole

Harmony and Voice Leading by Edward Aldwell and Carl Schachter
[Finished 27 April 2002] If you only read one book on harmony, this is the one. Written from the perspective of providing the information that the composer needs to know to be able to fully employ the harmonic tools at her disposal, I found this book enormously helpful in understanding concepts which had previously remianed a bit elusive. I haven’t seen the workbook, but I assume it is equally helpful.

Counterpoint by Walter Piston
[Finished 22 January 2002] Deciding to take amazon’s advice, I picked up another book on Counterpoint (beyond the Jeppeson). It was definitely a more lucid discussion of the topic although I’m not sure how much of that to credit to the fact that this was the second book I’ve read on counterpoint and how much credit belogs to Piston himself.

Art of Double Bass Playing by Warren A. Benfield and James Seay Dean, Jr.
[Finished 8 January 2002] An odd mix of materials, some seemingly geared towards the person considering playing the bass, and others towards the advanced student. Inspirational, and worth keeping near the music stand, but not all that practical in the end.

Orchestration by Cecil Forsyth
[Finished 25 April 2001] The first practical book I’ve read on orchestration. It’s a bit outdated in places and at times charmingly un-PC, but a handy guide regardless. While it doesn’t talk as much about combinations of instruments as Rimsky-Korsakoff’s book, it provides detailed and practical information on each of the instruments it covers.

Twentieth-Century Harmony: Creative Aspects and Practice by Vincent Persichetti
[Finished December 2000] Both a manifesto and a textbook, the opening sentence sets the tone:

Any tone can succeed any other tone, any tone can sound simultaneously with any other tone or tones, and any group of tones can be followed by any other group of tones.
I love this book, and I love Persichetti’s compositions. Clearly an essential work for students of music theory.

Counterpoint: The Polyphonic Style of the Sixteenth Century by Knud Jeppesen
[Finished November 2000] As part of my program of musical autodidacticism, I decided that I needed to learn about counterpoint (partly because I found myself wanting to write a piece in the style of classical counterpoint). A bit of research revealed this to be the generally acclaimed best book on the subject, and I found that it did suit my needs quite well, although less so than actually performing Palestrina pieces with the Holy Name Choir.

Harmony by Walter Piston
[Finished 5 January 2000] An excellent introduction to harmonic analysis. Some sections were a bit unclear, but a large part of that was more because I read 2/3 of it away from a keyboard so I was relying on my musical imagination to tell me what the examples sounded like. Reading it has certainly done a lot to broaden my own compositional skills. Reviews at indicate that the current edition is not as good as the older edition which I read. Pity.

Principles of Orchestration with Musical Examples Drawn from his own Work in Two Volumes Bound as One by Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov
[Finished 16 November 1999] A bit frustrating as many of the principles are still left unillustrated even with the copious score extracts, and much is left unexplained. The introduction explains how the text came to be (compiled from fragments of a planned work left unfinished at Rimsky-Korsakov’s death), but fails to explain why the work was published in its present state. It has influenced me somewhat in my playing and arranging, but was of little direct use to me.

The Flute and Flute Playing in Acoustical, Technical and Artistic Aspects by Theobald Boehm
[Finished 9 November 1999] When I started teaching myself the flute, I put this book aside as being a bit impractical for my interests. I was right to do so, but as I progressed, I decided to pick it up again and see if it was interesting. Very much so. It was occasionally confusing as some of Boehm’s terminology clashed with my own (e.g., what he called the C# key, I called the C key, his reasoning being that the hole beneath the key sounded C# while mine was that closing the key caused the flute to sound C), but it was fascinating reading the description of how the modern flute came to be. I’ve read some autobiographies of flute techs who said that they used this book to disassemble and reassemble a flute for the first time. Maybe so, I don’t see that, but still worth the few bucks it’d cost any flute player to pick this one up.

Beyond the Bass Clef: The Life and Art of Bass Playing by Tony Levin
[Finished 21 June 1999] Perhaps the only book that has inspired me to be a better musician.