Théodore Dubois was born in Rosnay in Marne. He won the Prix de Rome in 1861. In 1868, he became choirmaster at the Church of the Madeleine, and in 1871 took over from César Franck as choirmaster at the Basilica of Sainte-Clotilde. In 1877, Dubois returned to the Church of the Madeleine, succeeding Camille Saint-Saëns as organist there. From 1871 he taught at the Paris Conservatoire.
Dubois was director of the Conservatoire from 1896 (succeeding Thomas upon the latter's death) to 1905. He resigned two months before the refusal to award the Prix de Rome to Maurice Ravel; this created, nonetheless, a substantial public outcry against him, which was increased by an open letter from the novelist and musicologist Romain Rolland. Gabriel Fauré took over from Dubois as director.
Although he wrote many religious works, Dubois had considerable hopes for a successful career on the operatic stage.
The music of Dubois also includes ballets, oratorios and three symphonies. His best known work is the oratorio. His Toccata in G (1889), for the organ, is a recital staple, by no means solely in France. The rest of his large output has almost entirely disappeared from view. He has had a more lasting influence in teaching, with his theoretical works Traité de contrepoint et de fugue (on counterpoint and fugue) and Traité d'harmonie théorique et pratique (on harmony) still being sometimes used today.
He was an outstanding musician, though his works show no renewal.
These two pieces are exemplary for his type of organ compositions.
Compare that to what Messiaen was writing only twenty years later ...