Known for his 1848 musical piece Die Schule des Oktavenspiels. He educated future notables like Alfred Grünfeld and Nikolai Rubinstein.
He developed a knack for music while very young and attracted the patronage of nobles such as Prince Anton Radziwill, who heard him perform when he was only eight. He also impressed King Frederick William IV.
He founded the Kullak Institute, later known as the Stern Conservatory, with Julius Stern and Adolf Bernhard Marx. He also founded the highly successful Neue Akademie der Tonkunst in 1851, where his son Franz trained.
He scaled back his pursuit of music at age 19 to study medicine at his father's urging, but he continued taking lessons on the side.
He was heavily influenced by Franz Liszt and Adolf von Henselt.