Charles Arnould Tournemire (1870-1939) was born in Bordeaux into a bourgeois family of five including Charles and two sisters. The father was a wine dealer. Before continuing his studies in Paris, he studied music at the conservatory in his native city and became organist at St. Pierre at the age of eleven and later at St. Seurin. When he was sixteen he entered the Paris Conservatory and won First Prize in organ and improvisation in 1891 first studying with Franck and upon his death in 1890, with Charles Marie Widor. His early church positions included assistant organist to Widor at St. Sulpice (1891-92), St. Médard (1892-97), St. Nicholas du Chardonnet (1989) and finally Sainte- Clotilde where he served from 1898 until his death in 1939.
His marriage in 1903 to one of his students, Alice Taylor, brought him much financial stability and happiness. The following year, he won the Composition Prize for the City of Paris which assured him additional financial security. Alice’s sister had married the French writer-mystic Joseph Péladan who along with the writers Ernest Hello and Léon Blum, also had a marked influence on Tournemire. In 1919 he was appointed teacher of chamber music at the Paris Conservatory. His early organ pupils were Joseph Bonnet and Ermend Bonnal, who succeeded him at Saint-Clotilde.
A number of his pupils, Daniel-Lesur, Maurice Duruflé, Jean Langlais, André Fleury, and Swiss organist, Bernard Schulé also substituted for him at Sainte-Clotilde. His sphere of influence, however, extended beyond his students to Gaston Litaize and Olivier Messiaen who publically acknowledged Tournemire as one of his main influences.