Ivan Moravec was born in Prague. His first musical interest was in opera, which he attended as a child with his father. His father was an amateur pianist and singer, and helped his son sight-read and sing through the opera scores. Moravec later began piano studies with Erna Grünfeld (niece of the Austrian pianist Alfred Grünfeld). At twenty, he entered the Prague Conservatory, then went on to the Prague Academy of Arts, where he studied with Ilona Štěpánová-Kurzová, daughter of Vilém Kurz. In 1957, after hearing Moravec play in Prague, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli invited him to attend master classes in Arezzo that summer.
In the late 1950s, an audio tape of a Prague recital was circulated in America. Soon afterwards, Connoisseur Society, a small American audiophile record company, negotiated with the Czech authorities to engage the young Moravec. In 1962 he traveled to New York to create the first of many recordings for that label, and in 1964 George Szell invited him to perform with the Cleveland Orchestra. Moravec's international concert career was launched.
Moravec performs major recital works by Chopin, Debussy, Beethoven, and Mozart, as well as Czech composers. He has played with most of the world's notable symphony orchestras, and his active piano concerto repertoire has included more than a dozen works by Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Schumann, Ravel, Prokofiev, and Franck. Moravec has also taught music in Prague, and frequently gives master classes when on tour.
Moravec has a reputation for attention to the condition of the pianos he plays. He contends that this reputation is somewhat exaggerated, and names other pianists who have traveled with a spare action or even their own pianos. Moravec's baggage is less extensive: a small black bag containing a few carefully chosen voicing tools. He comments, "I only try to meet with the technician, and I listen with him for any unevenness in sound. I do not find mechanical problems, because today the technicians in great cities are very knowledgeable, so mainly I listen to harsh notes, or to weak notes, and ask for these to be changed gently, and I try to put the local piano in the best condition."