Born to a rich Alsatian family in Paris, Charles Koechlin's father originally intended that he become an artillery officer. However, while at the Ecole Polytechnique he developed tuberculosis and was thus deemed ineligible for military service. Convalescing in Tunisia, he began to compose seriously and upon returning to Paris in 1890 enrolled at the Conservatoire. There he studied composition first under Jules Massenet and then, far more influentially, Gabriel Fauré, whose simplicity and elegance was to serve as Koechlin's stated paradigm, although in reality, Koechlin's eclectic influences precluded him from attaining such an ideal. Financial hardship drove him to write extensively as a theorist and critic, and along with Maurice Ravel he founded the Société Musicale Indépendent to promote new music. He orchestrated for Claude Debussy , taught Poulenc and Tailleferre and associated with Satie and Milhaud .
The 1920's saw Koechlin's own music take prominence, which by this point had evolved into a mature polytonal style. His most famous works are those he based on Kipling's The Jungle Book - seven in number, their composition and revision spanned 40 years. Koechlin was also a keen ethnomusicologist, including in his published works a transcription of gamelan music.