He received the 1952 Nobel Peace Prize for his philosophy of “Reverence for Life”, expressed in many ways, but most famously in founding and sustaining the Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Lambaréné, now in Gabon, west central Africa (then French Equatorial Africa). As a music scholar and organist, he studied the music of German composer Johann Sebastian Bach and influenced the Organ Reform Movement (Orgelbewegung).
Schweitzer was born in the province of Kaysersberg, which changed hands between France and Germany near and during his lifetime. Schweitzer considered himself French and wrote mostly in German. His mother-tongue was Alsatian.
Schweitzer was born in Kaysersberg, Alsace-Lorraine, the son of Louis Schweitzer and Adèle Schillinger. He spent his childhood in the Alsatian village of Gunsbach, where his father, the local Lutheran-Evangelical pastor of the EPCAAL, taught him how to play music. The tiny village is home to the Association Internationale Albert Schweitzer (AIAS). The medieval parish church of Gunsbach was shared by the Protestant and Catholic congregations, which held their prayers in different areas at different times on Sundays. This compromise arose after the Protestant Reformation and the Thirty Years' War. Schweitzer, the pastor's son, grew up in this exceptional environment of religious tolerance, and developed the belief that true Christianity should always work towards a unity of Faith and Purpose.
Schweitzer's first language was the Alsatian dialect. At the Mulhouse Gymnasium he received his "Abitur" (the certificate at the end of secondary education) in 1893. He studied organ in Mulhouse from 1885 to 1893 with Eugène Munch, organist at the Protestant cathedral, who inspired Schweitzer with his profound enthusiasm for the music of the German composer Richard Wagner. In 1893 he played for the French organist Charles-Marie Widor (at Saint-Sulpice, Paris), for whom Johann Sebastian Bach's organ music contained a mystic sense of the eternal. Widor, deeply impressed, agreed to teach Schweitzer without fee, and a great and influential friendship thus began.
From 1893 Schweitzer studied Protestant theology at the Kaiser Wilhelm University in Strasbourg. There he also received instruction in piano and counterpoint from professor Gustav Jacobsthal, and associated closely with Ernest Munch (the brother of his former teacher), organist of St William church, who was also a passionate admirer of J.S. Bach's music. Schweitzer served his one-year compulsory military service in 1894. Schweitzer saw many operas of Richard Wagner in Strasbourg (under Otto Lohse) and in 1896 he managed to afford a visit to the Bayreuth to see Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen and Parsifal, which deeply impressed him. In 1898 he went back to Paris to write a PhD dissertation on The Religious Philosophy of Kant at the Sorbonne, and to study in earnest with Widor. Here he often met with the elderly Aristide Cavaillé-Coll. He also studied piano at that time with Marie Jaëll. In 1899, Schweitzer spent the summer semester at the University of Berlin and eventually obtained his theology degree in University of Strasbourg. He published his PhD thesis at the University of Tübingen in 1899.