Jan Pieter Hendrik van Gilse (1881-1944)

Jan van Gilse, born in Rotterdam, was son of a journalist and politician. In 1897 he was admitted to the conservatory of Cologne, where he was taught by Max van de Sandt (piano) and Franz Wüllner (composition and conducting). Due to a personal disagreement his studies came to an early end in 1902. By then he had begun establishing his name as a composer with the prize-winning First Symphony (1901) and the cantata ‘Sulamith' (1902), performed in Arnhem.

After studies in Berlin with Engelbert Humperdinck, Van Gilse was appointed conductor and repetiteur at the City Opera of Bremen (1905-1908), than at the ‘Noord-Nederlandsche Opera' in Amsterdam. His Third Symphony ‘Erhebung' was awarded the Michael Beer Prize in 1909. This enabled him to spend a few years in Rome with his wife Ada van Gilse-Hooijer. In 1911 he settled in Munich. Among the works of this period is the opera ‘Frau Helga von Stavern', which has not been performed.

In 1917 Van Gilse was appointed conductor of the Utrecht Symphony Orchestra (USO). A conflict with critic-composer Willem Pijper caused Van Gilse to resign in 1922. In the following years he continued working as a guest conductor and composer, living in the village of Laren, in Zurich and in Berlin respectively. The rise to power of the Nazis in 1933 was reason to leave Germany; Van Gilse accepted the directorship of the Utrecht Conservatory and Music School. In 1937 he resigned.


In the following years he worked on his opera ‘Thijl'. During the German occupation Van Gilse refused membership of the Kulturkammer; as a consequence, his works were no longer performed. Because of his outspoken criticism he had to go into hiding in 1942. Both of his sons were active in the Resistance and were executed by the Nazis in 1943 and 1944. After a wasting disease Van Gilse died in 1944 in Oegstgeest, where he was buried under a false name.

The oeuvre of Van Gilse includes four symphonies, an oratorio ‘Eine Lebensmesse' (1904), ‘Drei Gesänge aus Rabindranath Tagores Gitanjali' for soprano and orchestra (1915), a cantata ‘Der Kreis des Lebens' (1929) and ‘Drei Tanzskizzen' for piano and small orchestra (1926). Stylistically Van Gilse's works belong mostly to the German late romantic tradition, with a growing influence of French composers like Ravel and Roussel.

Van Gilse was among those responsible for the foundation of three musicians' interest organizations: the composers society Geneco (1911), the copyright organization BUMA (1913), and the ‘Stichting Nederlandsche Muziekbelangen' (1935), which promoted performances of Dutch music.

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