PAUL STEINITZ (1909-1988), Founder of London Bach Society & Steinitz Bach Players
Paul Steinitz was born in Chichester, West Sussex on 25 August 1909 and died at his home on 21 April 1988. 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 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 founded the London Bach Society on 7 November 1946 with the long-term ambition to perform ‘Bach in its original form’.
As artistic director and musicologist he was responsible for the pioneering and exploratory nature of the London Bach Society’s programme planning, carrying out a policy that also included the commissioning of new works by contemporary British composers, Sir John Tavener among them, in addition to his historic Bach presentations. Many of his public concerts were broadcast by BBC Radio 3 and he was regularly invited to bring his musical forces into the BBC recording studio to create special series of programmes honouring Bach, plus Handel, Schütz and also for the bi-centenary of the 18th century English composer William Boyce in 1979. 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 hearing in modern times of the clarino (natural) trumpet, Bach’s Magnificat in D, City of London Festival, July 1962, followed later by the cornett, sackbutt and baroque flute (1960s) and the violone as a key basso continuo instrument from 1969
- Implemented 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, and nothing would have delighted him more than the RAM/Kohn Foundation Bach Cantata Series taking place at his alma mater www.ram.ac.uk/bach.
As a complement to the study and performance of Bach’s music, Paul Steinitz was a pioneer in promoting the music of Bach’s great influence and forerunner, the Dresden Kapellmeister Heinrich Schütz and this has resulted in a number of editions prepared for and published by Oxford University Press. As a music educator, Dr. Steinitz also prepared numerous books on music techniques for use in the Classroom and at undergraduate level.
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 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. The church is also the setting for many of the London Bach Society’s pioneering concerts during Paul’s lifetime and since.
Aside from music, Paul Steinitz was a passionate advocate of organic gardening, an allotment holder and an early member of the Soil Association. He also enjoyed reading, the theatre and travel in the limited time he had available to pursue such interests.