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Charles Tournemire

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Charles Tournemire (Bordeaux, January 22, 1870 – Arcachon, November 3, 1939), was a French composer and organist, most famous for his improvisations. While he could play the conventional organ literature expertly, he rarely played anything in his titular post other than his own improvised works. His improvisations were consistently brilliant, and most often rooted in Gregorian thematic material. His output contains many organ works, including a cycle L’Orgue Mystique of pieces for the entire liturgical year, eight symphonies (one of them choral), and several chamber works.

Tournemire was the youngest student of César Franck. He was the Organist Titulaire Basilica Ste-Clotilde, Paris 1898-1939. His roles also included professor of Chamber Music, Paris Conservatory, and teacher of organ improvisation. Tournemire recorded five improvisations in 1930. These were later transcribed by Maurice Duruflé, who patiently listened to the phonograph recordings over and over, so as to notate them. L’Orgue Mystique, created between 1927 and 1932, covers the cycle of the Catholic Liturgical Year. These pieces, fifty-one sets of five movements each, are based on the Gregorian chants for the day. Though composed works, they sound almost like improvisations when played. His music is an interesting contrast to his colleague, peer, and friend Louis Vierne, also a gifted improviser, whose improvisations actually sound more like composed works.

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