Tureck was sometimes referred to as the High Priestess of Bach. She was a pioneer in Bach playing on the keyboard; some of her most famous concerts included performances on two instruments: she would play the Bach “Goldberg Variations” on the harpsichord, then the audience would break for dinner, and then would return later that same night to hear her play same work on the piano.
Born in Chicago, Tureck studied as a child with several teachers including Sophia Brilliant-Liven, a student of Anton Rubenstein, to whom Tureck traced her technique. Tureck moved to New York at age 18 and studied at the Juilliard School with the famed Olga Samaroff. A year after her graduation in 1935 she made her New York orchestral debut, performing Brahms's Piano Concerto No. 2 with the Philadelphia Orchestra under Eugene Ormandy. During this period she also became closely associated with the music of Bach.
Tureck's celebrated all-Bach recitals began in the 1930's at New York's Town Hall. After her European debut in 1947, she began a successful international career that eventually took her to Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Israel. No less of a giant than Glenn Gould told an interviewer that as a young man he particularly admired Tureck's "Goldberg Variations" for having "a moral rectitude in the liturgical sense." Throughout her career she made several recordings of the "Goldbergs," some of which rank among the most imaginative in the catalogue and have been praised for their intensity of feeling and clear contrapuntal sense.
In the early 1960s Tureck took up the harpsichord and clavichord, although the piano remained her primary vehicle for performance. She also occasionally took the podium as conductor, appearing with several major orchestras including the Philharmonia Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic and the National Symphony Orchestra, as well as her own Tureck Bach Players and other groups.
Along with a rich concert and recording career, Tureck held numerous teaching posts as such institutions as the Juilliard School, Columbia University, and Oxford University. She published articles and books on pedagogical and performance-related topics, including "An Introduction to the Performance of Bach." She founded the International Bach Institute.
Along with her pursuits in the standard repertoire, Tureck's involvement in the contemporary-music world is reflected in her world premieres of a wide range of 20th-century modernists, including William Schumann's Piano Concerto and David Diamond's Piano Sonata No. 1. Throughout her life, she had a pioneering interest in electronic music, making her Carnegie Hall debut at the age of 17 on a Theremin; and performing on the Moog synthesizer in recitals and on television. In 1952 she presented the first program in the United States of tape and electronic music.