Lipatti was born in Bucharest into a musical family: his father was a violinist, his mother a pianist, and his godfather was the composer George Enescu. He finished second at the 1934 Vienna International Piano Competition, which led to Alfred Cortot, who thought he should have won, resigning from the jury in protest. Lipatti subsequently studied under Cortot and Nadia Boulanger in Paris.
Despite a relatively short playing career, and a relatively small recorded legacy, Lipatti's is considered among the finest pianists of his time. He is particularly noted for his interpretations of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Frederic Chopin.