Date of birth: June 16, 1818
Date of death: October 17, 1893
Gounod was born in Paris, the son of a pianist mother and an artist father. His mother was his first piano teacher. Under her tutelage, Gounod first showed his musical talents. He entered the Paris Conservatoire, where he studied under Fromental Halévy and Pierre Zimmermann (he later married Zimmermann's daughter). In 1839, he won the Prix de Rome for his cantata Fernand. He was following his father; François-Louis Gounod (d. 1823) had won the second Prix de Rome in painting in 1783. While in Italy, Gounod studied the music of Palestrina and other sacred works of the sixteenth century; these he never ceased to cherish. Around 1846-47 he gave serious consideration to joining the priesthood, but he changed his mind before actually taking holy orders, and went back to composition. In 1854, Gounod completed a Messe Solennelle, also known as the Saint Cecilia Mass. This work was first performed, in its entirety, for the church of Saint Eustache in Paris on Saint Cecilia's Day, November 22, 1855; from this rendition dates Gounod's fame as a noteworthy composer.