The Kennedy Center

Arnould Charles Tournemire


Arnould Charles Tournemire was a French composer, organist and teacher.  He is described as a prolific composer and one of the greatest improvisers of his time.  He is best known and remembered for his organ music, especially his L'Orgue Mystique, which took more than five years to write and is based on the style of Gregorian chant.  He composed in a variety of genres, organ, piano, chamber, symphonies, oratorios and also on religious and mysterious theme subjects.
Tournemire was born in Bordeaux, France, on Jan. 22, 1870.  He studied at the Bordeaux Conservatoire and at the age of eleven, he was appointed organist of the church of St. Pierre in Bordeaux.  He showed exceptional musical talents and at the age of 16 he earned the First Prize for piano at the École Sainte-Cécile. This award entitled him to a further year of study at the Paris Conservatoire, where he enrolled in the piano class of the celebrated Charles de Bériot and harmony with Antoine Taudou.  In 1889, he became a student in the legendary organ and counterpoint class of César Franck, who regarded him as a gifted pupil.  In 1891 Tournemire won first prize for organ in Charles-Marie Widor's class.  He was greatly influence by Franck and it is directly reflected in his earliest works but he was also influenced by Widor. In 1931 he published a biography of Franck.
From 1898-1939, he was the Organist Titulaire Basilica Ste-Clotilde in Paris, remaining until his death in 1939.  Between 1900 -1904 he composed his first five symphonies, it was during this period where he achieved his greatest recognition as a composer.
He married in 1908 and slowly resigned from the musical establishment becoming heavily involved with mystical writers, medieval architecture and early Christian spirituality.  His symphony no.8 La symphonie du triomphe de la mort, completed in 1924, was dedicated to the memory of his first wife, who died in 1920.
In 1919, he became professor of Chamber Music at the Paris Conservatoire and also teacher of organ improvisation.  He was an influential teacher whose students included Maurice Duruflé, Jean Langlais, and Daniel Lesur.  After 1921, his compositions were mostly written for the church.  His last composition was the opera Il poverello di Assisi based on a text by Sar Péladan. Tournemire died at Arcachon, France in 1939.
Arnould Tournemire