Paul Steinitz (born Chichester, 25 August 1909; died Old Oxted, Surrey, 21 April 1988) was an English conductor and organist. He was one of the first musicians in the 20th century to make a careful study of the way that music by Johann Sebastian Bach should be performed so that it would sound like it used to in Bach’s day, in the early 18th century. He started a choir called the London Bach Society and a group of instrumentalists called the Steinitz Bach Players. He conducted them in lots of concerts. During the space of 25 years he performed all the cantatas of J.S. Bach in London. There are over 200 of them.
Paul Steinitz was born in Chichester, West Sussex, in the south of England in 1909. His father was an Anglican clergyman. He became a student at the Royal Academy of Music, studying under George Oldroyd. He was a very good organist and got his FRCO diploma in 1930. In the 1930s he was Director of Music at the church of St. Mary's Ashford, Kent. There he became very interested in the music of Bach while studying for his Doctorate
In 1946 he started the London Bach Society. Then he became Director of Music and organist at the Priory Church of St. Bartholomew-the-Great in London, which was a very old church, a lecturer at University of London and a Professor at the Royal Academy of Music.
London Bach Society
When Paul Steinitz founded the London Bach Society he wanted them to perform Bach’s music. Most musicians in those days played Bach in an exaggerated, romantic style, using large choirs and orchestras, playing with lots of vibrato, and with lots of changes of speed which Bach would not have done. Steinitz wanted to show people how Bach’s works should sound. From 1950 he performed them in German. When more musicians started to learn how to play period instruments he started to use these. In 1952 he conducted the first performance in Britain of Bach’s St Matthew Passion in its complete and original German form. It was all part of a movement which was known as “Back to Bach in its original form”.
In 1958 he started to perform all the 208 Bach cantatas that are known (it is thought 100 have been lost). He finished this project in 1987, shortly before he died. He got together a group of players which he called the Steinitz Bach Players. They were professional musicians who agreed with what Steinitz was trying to do. Every Lent they performed one of the two great Bach passions: the St Matthew Passion, or sometimes the St John Passion. He took the choir and his orchestra on tour to the USA, Israel, German Democratic Republic (twice, including performances at Bach’s own church, the St. Thomas' Church Leipzig) and Bulgaria.
Steinitz did not just perform Bach’s music. He conducted music by many Baroque composers as well as modern composers such as Igor Stravinsky, Peter Maxwell Davies, John Tavener, Stanley Glasser (sung in Zulu) and his own pupil Nicholas Maw.
Steinitz wrote a lot about music. He wrote a chapter on 18th century German church music in The New Oxford History of Music, he wrote several books to show students how to write harmony, and books on how to perform Bach’s music called Bach’s Passions, Bach for Choirs, and Performing Bach’s Vocal Music.
Paul Steinitz had many honours. He was a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Music and Royal College of Organists. He was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1985, the year in which Bach’s 300th birthday was celebrated.
At the end of his concerts, when the audience applauded, he would often hold up a picture of Bach, so that the audience was thanking Bach for his music.
Dr. Steinitz died in April 1988 at home in his lovely 18th century cottage in Old Oxted, just south of London. He was a Quaker who believed strongly that music could help to bring peace in the world.
There is a public memorial to him in the Cloister of St Bartholomew-the-Great, West Smithfield, London.
Today Steinitz’ wife Margaret continues her husband's work with the London Bach Society, of which Steinitz Bach Players is an integral part. To reflect modern Bach scholarship and continue Dr. Steinitz's work along the lines he had planned, the original choir was disbanded to make way for smaller professional choirs - more Bach in its original form. She also founded an annual Bachfest in 1990, which is presented each autumn.