Tournemire, Charles, 1870-1939

Alternative names
Birth 1870-01-22
Death 1939-11-04

Biographical notes:

French organist and composer.

From the description of Autograph letter signed : [n.p., n.d.], to an unidentified recipient, [n.d.]. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 270677813

Charles Tournemire (b. Jan. 22, 1870, in Bordeaux, France; d. around Nov. 4, 1939, in Arcachon, France) was a French composer, organist, and teacher.

From the description of Charles Tournemire collection, circa 1868-1962 (bulk 1900-1936). (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 71129933

Biographical Note

Charles Tournemire, a composer, organist, and teacher, was born in Bordeaux, France, on Jan. 22, 1870. He was appointed organist of the church of St. Pierre in Bordeaux at the age of eleven. After studying at the Bordeaux Conservatoire, he transferred to the Paris Conservatoire at the age of sixteen, where he studied the piano with Bériot and harmony with Taudou. Around 1889, he joined César Franck's organ class and in 1891 Tournemire won first prize for organ in Charles-Marie Widor's class. After working briefly at Saint-Nicolas-du-Chardonnet, he succeeded Gabriel Pierné as organist at the Basilique Sainte Clotilde, a post he held for the rest of his life. Between 1900 and 1904 he composed his first five symphonies. He achieved his first major recognition as a composer when he won the concours musicale de las ville de Paris for his choral work Le sang de la siréne in 1904.

In 1908, Tournemire married the sister of the wife of Josephin "Sâr" Péladan, a French mystic who was the founder of the Ordre de Rose-Croix in Paris. Tournemire began immersing himself in nineteenth century French mystical writers, such as Hello, Huysmans, and Péladan. Beginning in the late 1920s, Tournemire increasingly withdrew from the musical establishment becoming heavily involved with not only mystical writers, but medieval architecture and early Christian spirituality.

Tournemire composed three more symphonies after the First World War, none of which were performed in his lifetime. In 1919, he became professor of chamber music at the Paris Conservatoire where he also taught organ improvisation. Tournemire was an influential teacher whose students included Maurice Duruflé, Jean Langlais, and Daniel Lesur, among others.

After 1921, many of his best compositions were written for the church. He wrote the immense L'orgue mystique (1927-1932) which was a cycle of fifty-one organ suites, one for every Sunday of the church year, each based on the appropriate plainsong. In 1931, Tournemire recorded five organ improvisations at Sainte Clotilde. These were later transcribed from the phonograph recordings by Maurice Duruflé and are among his best known works. His last composition was the opera Il poverello di Assisi (1937-1938) based on a text by "Sâr" Péladan.

The precise cause and date of his death are uncertain. He died at Arcachon around Nov. 4, 1939.

From the guide to the Charles Tournemire Collection, circa 1868-1962, (bulk 1900-1936), (Music Division Library of Congress)


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  • Composers
  • Sonatas (Violin and piano)--Scores
  • Music--Manuscripts
  • Organists--France
  • Composers--France
  • Music--Manuscripts--20th century
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  • France (as recorded)