PAUL STEINITZ (1909-1988) Founder of London Bach Society & Steinitz Bach Players

Paul Steinitz was born in Chichester, West Sussex on 25 August 1909.  During his lifetime Dr. Steinitz was acknowledged to be one of the leading authorities on the music of J S Bach and the word ‘legendary’ is now often applied when describing his pioneering work and public Bach performances. He was a pioneer in the use of period instruments in the UK and introduced important stylistic considerations in the performance of baroque music that are now established practice as the result of his scholarship and advocacy. He realised a determined pre-WW2 ambition and was eventually able to found the London Bach Society on 7 November 1946 with the first rehearsal of the Society’s choir in January 1947. The Artistic aims for the long term were to perform ‘Bach in its original form’. Later Steinitz realised another ambition and in 1968 founded Steinitz Bach Players, the professional chamber orchestra that has underpinned Steinitz’ musical ideals since, provided a professional chamber orchestra for the developing Society and to complement the singing style of the choir.

Among his most significant and influential achievements are:

  • The first performance in Britain of Bach’s Matthäus-Passion (1736) in its complete and original German Form (1952).
  • The first complete cycle of Bach’s extant church and secular cantatas in public performances using professional forces in the UK (1958-1987)
  • First appearance in modern times of the clarino (natural) trumpet, Bach’s Magnificat in D, City of London Festival, July 1962, followed later by the cornett, sackbut and baroque flute (1960s) and the violone as a key basso continuo instrument from 1969
  • Implementation of radical change in the way secco recitatives are played, among other aspects of period style performance
  • Tour with London Bach Society choir to Leipzig and Halle in East Germany, first western cultural group to cross the Berlin Wall, 1964
  • Return visit to Leipzig, East Berlin and Potsdam with LBS choir, Steinitz Bach Players to include a performance of Bach’s Mass in B minor in Leipzig’s Thomaskirche (part of Martin Luther 500th anniversary) June 1983.

The Bach cantata cycle took nearly thirty years to complete, the achievement of which is still unique to the Society in this country today. Inspired by Paul Steinitz’s example, contemporary conductors, singers and players  now readily turn to the cantatas,  the cornerstone of Bach’s output.

Paul Steinitz studied at the Royal Academy of Music, held a Doctorate of Music of the University of London and was a member of the University’s Senate. He was also a Professor, Consultant Professor and Fellow of the Royal Academy of Music, and a Fellow of the Royal College of Organists. Dr. Steinitz was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in H M The Queen’s New Year Honours in Bach’s ter-centenary year, 1985.

The memorial to Paul Steinitz, founder-conductor in the Cloister of St Bartholomew-the-Great

The public memorial to Dr Steinitz was unveiled by the Lord Mayor of London (Sir Alexander Grahame GBE) in April 1991 and is placed in the historic Cloister of the Priory Church of St. Bartholomew-the-Great West Smithfield, London’s oldest church, where Paul was Organist and Director of Music from 1949-1961. On 2 May 2017 Paul Steinitz’ name was inscribed in the Book of Remembrance of the Musicians Chapel, St Sepulchre-without-Newgate in the City of London.