Born in Charleston, West Virginia, George Crumb attended the universities of Illinois and Michigan before teaching at Colorado and Pennsylvania, where he remained until retiring in 1995. His orchestral work Echoes of Time and the River (1967) won him the Pulitzer prize and he has written many choral pieces inspired by the writings of Federico Garcia Lorca.
Crumb's use of extended performance techniques leads to his music being at once sonorous and disjointed. He cites Béla Bartók as a major influence, and shares with him an uncomfortable sense of the macabre. His Makrokosmos piano collections can be seen as picking up Bartók's thread, and as with Crumb's string quartet Black Angels he specifies that the acoustic instruments be amplified. The esoteric titles and themes of Crumb's work (a movement of Black Angels is entitled 'Night of the Electric Insects') are echoed in esoteric compositional techniques. Quotation, parody and dreamlike mood invite comparisons with Luciano Berio - both composers are hugely devoted to the work of Gustav Mahler.