Born as the second daughter into a family of restorers in Ludwigshafen on the Rhine, she studied music in Mannheim and Munich. Between 1958 and 1962, she was assistant professor for Piano at the Academy for Music and Theatre in Mannheim. After studying Composition with Hans Vogt in Mannheim and Harald Genzmer in Munich as well as scholarship studies in Film Music in Siena, she received a scholarship grant for International Holiday Courses in New Music in Darmstadt, where, in 1963, she became a free-lance composer and pianist. She also archived and documented the estate of the Darmstadt composer HermannHeiß (1897-1966) published as Hermann Heiß, eine Dokumentation von Barbara Reichenbach, Schott 1975. From 1986 to 1993, she was a member of the board of the Institut für Neue Musik und Musikerziehung. As a founding member - and until 1981 board member - of the International Working Committee Women and Music, she dedicated herself after 1978 to propagating the works of Forgotten Female Composers from the Past such as Fanny Hersel, née Mendelssohn, as well as living, contemporary women composers, for which she was awarded the Aloysia Assenbaum Memorial Prize in Heidelberg in 2005. Between 1988 and 2001, she created numerous multidisciplinary projects and experiments with women composers, audio-tape collages, sound installations, electro-acoustic music, collaborative works (with Nikolaus Heyduck and Michael Harenberg), improvisation and collective-projects.
Barbara Heller performed as a pianist, presenting her own and other contemporary works (especially other women composers) as a soloist and in various chamber music formations which she founded herself. Her compositions comprise chiefly piano works, chamber music, art songs as well as multidisciplinary projects. Her instrumental music is sometimes notated in the traditional manner, sometimes experimentally, or graphically: this applies principally to her piano and chamber music works. Her music is characterised by a stylistic richness and development with roots in tradition: ernest and passionate, impulsive and playful, archaic or clearly structured, strictly worked out or with a hint of improvisation, poetic and alive.