He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1976 for a song cycle called "From the Diary of Virginia Woolf," a setting of eight entries from Woolf's diaries.
After serving in the Army, he studied at the Peabody Institute conservatory in Baltimore on the G.I. Bill. He received a doctorate in musical composition from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York.
He was an American song-writer and opera composer and librettist. He worked in Minneapolis throughout his career, taught composition at the University of Minnesota, and worked with director Sir Tyrone Guthrie at what became the Guthrie Theater.