Dukas was born in Paris and studied at the Conservatoire there (under Théodore Dubois and Ernest Guiraud among others), where he was a friend of Claude Debussy. After completing his studies he found work as an orchestrator and critic. He was also a well known teacher, with Joaquin Rodrigo one of his famous students.
Although Dukas wrote a fair amount of music, he destroyed many of his pieces out of dissatisfaction with them, and only a few remain. Of those that do, the only one which is performed with any frequency is L'apprenti sorcier better known under its English title The Sorcerer's Apprentice, which is based on Goethe's poem "Der Zauberlehrling". This piece was used in the Walt Disney film Fantasia, which accounts for much of its fame.
Paul Dukas is one of many famous people to be buried in the Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris.