Charles Arnould Tournemire was born in Bordeaux on 22 January 1870. He had his first organ lessons at the local conservatory. At the age of 11 he became organiste-accompagnateur at St. Pierre in Bordeaux. He left for Paris in 1886 for his further education. At the conservatory he studied with Bériot (piano), Taudou (harmony) and César Franck (organ). With Franck he studied fugue and composition privately.

After Franck's death in 1890 Tournemire continued his studies with Charles Marie Widor. In 1891 he received a premier prix.

Strict legato, double pedal and the use of two manuals simultaneously with one hand are things Tournemire learned from Widor.

In 1898, Tournemire was appointed organist at Ste. Clotilde in Paris. In his first organ works, of around 1900, one can clearly hear the influence of Franck. In the Triple Choral, opus 41 written in 1910 and dedicated to Franck, he went a step further.

In 1919, Tournemire was appointed teacher of chamber music at the Paris conservatory. All his life he composed strenuously, resulting in an enormous number of varied pieces of music. Although he is best-known by his organ music, Tournemire also wrote chamber music, theatre music, 8 symphonies for orchestra, songs and music for the piano.