Sergiu Celibidache was born on 28 June 1912 in a small town in North East Romania, where his father was a government official. Early in his youth, he began studying piano and after traditional schooling in Romania, he was sent by his father to Bucharest and then to Paris where he studied music, philosophy and mathematics. His father had expected him to pursue a political career in Romania. However, Celibidache chose to enroll in the Hochschule für Musik (Academy of Music) in Berlin, Germany in 1936 where he studied composition. He continued with doctoral studies at the Friedrich Wilhelm University in Berlin. During his studies in Berlin, Celibidache was introduced to Zen Buddhism through the influence of his teacher, Martin Steinke, and the tenets of Buddhism informed Celibidache's worldview and work for the rest of his life.
Sergiu Celibidache studied in Berlin and, from 1945 to 1952, he was principal conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic. He later worked with radio orchestras in Stockholm, Stuttgart and Paris. He also worked in Britain in the late 1940s and 1950s, due partly to the promotional efforts of the pianist Eileen Joyce and her partner, an artists' agent. From 1979 until his death he was music director of the Munich Philharmonic. He regularly taught at Mainz University in Germany and in 1984 taught at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Celibidache died at the age of 84 on 14 August 1996 at La Neuville-sur-Essonne, in the Arrondissement Pithiviers, near Paris. He was buried in the Cimetière de Neuville sur Essone.