Canteloube was born in Annonay, Ardèche, into a family with deep roots in the Auvergne region of France. He studied piano from the age of four with Amélie Daetzer, a friend of Frédéric Chopin. After earning his baccalauriat, he worked at a bank in Bordeaux. He returned to his family home in Malaret (Annonay) due to an illness, but when his health was restored, he decided to make a career in music in Paris. He entered the Schola Cantorum in 1901 and was a student of Vincent d'Indy and Charles Bordes, soon becoming friends with Déodat de Séverac, Isaac Albéniz, and Albert Roussel.
In 1907, he wrote a suite entitled Dans la montagne for piano and violin in four movements that was played at the Societe Nationale. Other significant works followed, including Colloque sentimental for voice and string quartet (1908); Eglogue d'Automne for orchestra (1910); Vers la Princesse lointaine, a symphonic poem (1912); Au Printemps for voice and orchestra; and L'Arada (The Earth), a song cycle of six melodies (1922).
Canteloube composed his first opera, Le mas ("farmstead" in Occitan language), to his own libretto from 1910 to 1913. The three act work won the Prix Heugel in 1925, and was awarded the one hundred thousand francs prize. However, the reaction to this composition by the leaders of the Opèra-Comique in Paris were far less enthusiastic than the jury. After pressure from the publisher, it finally premiered on 3 April 1929, but it was never revived. Vercingetorix, his second opera, in four acts, was inspired by a libretto by Etienne Clémentel, mayor of Riom (Puy-de-Dome) and Hervé Louwyck on the Gauls' defeat by Julius Caesar. The Paris Opera gave the first performance on 22 June 1933, but it was accused of lacking theatricality.
In 1925, Canteloube founded a group called La Bourrée with several young Auvergnats in Paris who were eager to publicize the folklore and the beauty of their home region. Canteloube himself believed that "peasant songs often rise to the level of purest art in terms of feeling and expression, if not in form" ("les chants paysans selevent bien souvent au niveau de l'art le plus pur, par le sentiment et l' expression, sinon par la forme"). He composed several song collections, which include Chants de Haute-Auvergne, albums of songs of Rouergue, Limousin, and Quercy, regional religious songs (Chants religieux d'Auvergne), and L'Hymne des Gaules based on a poem by Philius Lebesque. He also participated in the creation of the Bardic College of Gaul.
In 1941, he joined the government in Vichy France during the Nazi occupation, and wrote in the monarchist newspaper Action Francaise. He participated in numerous radio broadcasts of French folklore with his "Songs of France" with the tenor Christian Selva. The radio was an ideal vehicle for disseminating regional popular music.
Alongside his career as a composer, Canteloube worked as a musicologist, collecting traditional French folksongs, which were published by Didier and Heugel. He also wrote biographies of Vincent d'Indy (1949) and of his friend DÃ©odat de SÃ©verac (1950).
Canteloube took more than thirty years (1924 to 1955) to complete the compilation of his most admired and famous collection of songs, Chants d'Auvergne. Passionate, sometimes to excess, the songs reflect the landscapes of the Auvergne in lush orchestral colors and have enabled French folklore and rustic melodies to become better known.