Steinitz Bach Players


Steinitz Bach Players celebrating the Golden 50th at St John’ Smith Square, Tuesday 6 November 2018

Guest leader  baroque specialist Rodolfo Richter

Guest leader baroque specialist Rodolfo Richter

Guest leader violinist and chamber musician Jane Gordon

Guest leader violinist and chamber musician Jane Gordon

Steinitz Bach Players celebrated its 50th Anniversary in 2018  

The SBP was founded in one of the most important musical decades of the 20th century – the 1960s. These years saw the full flowering of English musical life after the immediate post-WW2 years and the austerity of the 1950s. Such circumstances did not dim the light of creativity nor stifle ideas, the rubble all around eventually giving way to expose new and fertile ground in which the musical seeds of what we not only enjoy, but also expect today were sown.

By the 1960s, the energy and drive of gifted creators and innovators not only saw the Aldeburgh Festival with Britten and Pears at the height of their power and influence, but also a golden generation of English solo singers (Heather Harper, Janet Baker, Helen Watts, Peter Pears, Robert Tear, Benjamin Luxon, John Shirley Quirk, John Carol Case among them, followed by James Bowman, Paul Esswood, Ian Partridge, Emma Kirkby). In the world of Early Music  there also began a determined drive towards performing and hearing pre-Classical music in its original form, just as the composers heard it. One of the most charismatic figures involved was the late, great David Munrow. Another was a fiercely single-minded Paul Steinitz in his London Bach Society, who in 1968 founded Steinitz Bach Players. It was all ground-breaking stuff!

SBP Today

Steinitz Bach Players has been able to play a pivotal role in the annual LBS Bachfest as resident orchestra, appearing in concerts of the major works, cantatas or chamber music that are either self-directed or with a guest conductor. In 2005, the SBP gave the UK ‘live’ première of a newly discovered Bach Aria “Alles mit Gott….” BWV 1127 sung by Gillian Keith and in 2013 the UK ‘live’ première of the early version of Bach’s Matthäus-Passion BWV 244b (1727), both directed by Anthony Robson. With its folio of achievement well stocked,  the SBP continues to share with its audiences some of the best-loved Bach works as well as some lesser known gems from his treasury, whether performed in the sophisticated concert hall, the village church, a City Livery Hall, in collaborations or in a sponsor’s board room!

Quite simply, the London Bach Society would not have achieved so much if it had not supported its own professional orchestra. The SBP’s 50th Anniversary will be celebrated at the 2018 Bachfest in November…..but how did it all start?

The Pioneering Launch of Steinitz Bach Players (SBP):

From a Press Report: “The main object in forming this orchestra is to introduce a type of string-playing more in line with eighteenth century style than that used by players of today in music of the period, and in this way a better balance with wind will be obtained (clarini, recorders and ‘baroque’ trombones have been used in LBS concerts for some time). Inevitably changes will be gradual, and at first the main objects will be to phrase in a lighter manner and to reduce vibrato and attack. Eventually too, all the players will use the older type of bow.” – The Times, 1968

Our beginnings…

Paul Steinitz founded SBP in order to enhance modern Bach scholarship in ‘live’ performances and move into the next stage of his long term artistic plan to get back to Bach in its original form. This meant hand-picking the players from among those sympathetic to his musical priorities and, ultimately, to using instruments with which the composer would have been familiar.  In many respects he was ahead of his time. Using period instruments meant the listener entering a new sound world and Paul began to persuade the listener along this somewhat controversial path in 1962, when he introduced the natural (clarino) trumpet  into the chamber orchestra at a performance of Bach’s Magnificat in D at the City of London Festival.   Below is the portrait by Elias Haussmann of Bach’s trumpeter Gottfried Reicha holding his clarino trumpet. Replicas of this were played in the LBS 1962 concert and one was displayed at an Exhibit at the Royal Academy of Music to mark the Society’s 70th anniversary 2016.  More period instruments were introduced  later including the baroque flute, cornett and sackbutt.  The violone was added to the continuo section from 1969.
Bach's trumpeter Gottfried Reicha holding his clarino trumpet
Pioneering a new sound world

Having introduced the clarino (natural) trumpet, the cornett, the sackbut and the baroque flute into the chamber orchestra from the early 1960s, Paul Steinitz then set about using them when possible in performances of Schütz and Bach alongside the modern instruments in other sections of the orchestra. The results paved the way for listeners to begin to enter this new sound world in Bach performances and for a whole generation of chamber orchestras to experiment and use period instruments comprehensively in the UK by the 1980s. Although controversial at the start, the stylistic approach advocated has since been accepted. In the beginning, heightening the dance element in Bach’s music, lightening the upbeats, applying brisker tempi and adding appropriate ornamentation were all novel and stimulated fresh thinking. A new approach to the art of playing secco recitatives, especially in the Bach Passions, also encouraged the composer’s music to be experienced further in a new light and begin to be heard as it might have originally sounded in the 18th century. For some later BBC Recordings, Paul had an opportunity to ‘match the voices to the instruments’ by performing some Bach cantatas with the all-male voices of Salisbury Cathedral Choir and the SBP.  Above all however, the overriding aim was to enhance the enjoyment and appreciation of what was then, and perhaps still is now,  often regarded as complex music for audiences.

It was with Steinitz Bach Players, joined by the LBS choir (1947-1989), that Paul Steinitz’ historic public cycle of Bach’s extant church and secular cantatas was completed in 1987.

For half a century now the SBP  has continued to provide a fully professional orchestra for the London Bach Society,  appearing with the Society’s original choir from 1968 to 1989 and the SBP is resident at the annual Bachfest today. The founder members in 1968 were the violinist Alan Loveday, oboist Tess Miller, trumpeter Michael Laird, violist Duncan Druce, cellist Jennifer Ward Clarke and violone/viola da gamba Adam Skeaping. At their first concert in December 1968, newcomer Catherine Mackintosh, soon to become one of our most distinguished baroque violinists and teachers, was also among the players.  Since foundation a wealth of leading specialist players has graced the orchestra’s concert platform, with the creation of opportunity for newcomers to enter the profession via the SBP an active policy. Notable debutantes on the period instrument include the recorder player and baroque flautist Rachel Beckett and the baroque oboist and director Anthony Robson.

Flexibility in direction

Today, there is no permanent director or conductor, which provides flexibility and brings a  stimulating variety of contemporary interpreters to the concert platform. It also enables the orchestra to work with a wide range of musical personalities. These have included oboist Anthony Robson, violinists Simon Standage, Rodolfo Richter and Jane Gordon, world Bach authority the late Gustav Leonhardt, John Butt, and lately Nigel Short, founder-director of Tenebrae Choir. Nigel directed his musical forces and the SBP in a programme of Bach motets and a Lutheran Mass, complemented with motets by Heinrich Schütz and Max Reger, in a specially commissioned sequence to mark 500th anniversary of Luther’s Reformation and presented at the 2017 Bachfest.

A little piece of history

In 1994 Steinitz Bach Players appeared with the Thomanerchor Leipzig in four performances of Bach’s 1725 version of Johannes-Passion on the choir’s UK debut tour, which the London Bach Society promoted. The choir and orchestra performed in London (Guildhall, city of London and Westminster Abbey), King’s College Chapel Cambridge, Birmingham Town Hall and Wells Cathedral.  It was the first time that the Thomaner had sung a Bach Passion with an orchestra of period instruments since the 18th century. The conductor was Thomaskantor Georg-Christoph Biller, the first to be appointed in the united Germany and whose predecessor in the 18th century was none other than J S Bach himself.

Orchestra Manager

Philippa Brownsword is our Orchestra Manager, bringing a wealth of experience to the role. She is also Concerts Manager at the SBP’s public performances. Philippa  joined our Bachfest management team initially in 1994 for the Thomanerchor tour and moved on to become the orchestra’s manager in 2001. Among other commitments, Philippa is also Orchestra Manager of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment.

Views from the Stalls:

BBC Invitation Concert broadcast:

“Tonight we hope to give to this early music (Schütz) the characteristic lightness and gracefulness which properly belong to it by using old-style bows and a different style of bowing. The double bass will be replaced by its predecessor the violone, and reconstructions of the small ‘baroque trombone’ will be substituted for the modern instruments.” – Radio Times, 1969

“The SBP played with grace, wit and style making a splendid start to the Festival.” – Early Music Magazine

Steinitz Bach Players’ appearance as part of a Bach Festival Weekend with the Chantry Singers and all star cast:

“Bath Abbey was full to overflowing… The Cantata 31, Der Himmel lacht!, written for Easter Sunday, reflects the unusually lavish set-up Bach had at his disposal at the court of Weimar. Strings, oboes, trumpets and timpani proclaimed the resurrection with a glowing sound” – The Guardian

On Brandenburg 4:

“It was nice to see a number of players finding little things to smile about in a work as well known as this – such apparent enjoyment is appreciated by audiences.” – Early Music Review

On Bach’s Mass in B minor:

” The Steinitz Bach Players brought a wealth of experience and virtuosity to this music and each section made its own special contribution, strings and continuo, woodwind and brass, including a remarkable natural horn* in the bass solo Quoniam. The playing was majestic in its quality and inherent sympathy with the changing moods of the music”.  – This is Bath – Mass in B minor at Bath Bach Festival.   * Ursula Paludan Monberg


The clarino trumpet (centre) used in 1962 performance displayed at the LBS 70th Anniversary Exhibit at the Royal Academy of Music. The instrument originally owned and played by Philip Jones was kindly loaned by the Royal College of Music.

The memorial to Paul Steinitz, founder-conductor, placed in the Cloister of St Bartholomew-the-Great, West Smithfield EC1

The memorial to Paul Steinitz, founder-conductor, placed in the Cloister of St Bartholomew-the-Great, West Smithfield EC1. This memorial was carved by Richard Kindersley, detailing the two musical enterprises Dr Steinitz founded.  Originally a separate charity, Steinitz Bach Players is now managed and funded by the London Bach Society and appears under their umbrella. The memorial was unveiled in 1991 by the Lord Mayor of London.


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