Jan van Gilse was born in Rotterdam on May 11, 1881 and died in Oegstgeest on September 11, 1944.
Van Gilse started to study the piano, composition and orchestral conducting at the Cologne Conservatory in 1897.
After the death of his teacher Franz Wüllner in 1902, he studied with Engelbert Humperdinck in Berlin, completing his studies there in 1905.
He moved to the Netherlands during World War I and was appointed conductor of the Utrecht City Orchestra.
In 1905, he became conductor and répétiteur of the Stadttheater Bremen opera and three years later of the North Netherlands Opera.
On Van Gilse’s initiative, the Genootschap van Nederlandse Componisten (GeNeCO, Society of Dutch Composers) was founded in 1911.
In Munich, Van Gilse completed the opera 'Frau Helga von Stavern'. The Bureau voor Muziekauteursrecht (BUMA, Music Copyright Bureau) was founded in 1913; Van Gilse was chairman from 1917 to 1942. In 1917, he also became the conductor of the Utrecht City Orchestra.
After a series of cutting journalistic attacks by Willem Pijper, Van Gilse resigned from the Utrecht City Orchestra, ending his career as a conductor in 1921. However, he resumed composing – throughout his period as a conductor, a time he referred to as his “years in exile”, he did not produce a single composition.
Van Gilse returned to Germany in 1926, composing there 'Prologus Brevis', for orchestra, among other compositions, and beginning his – never completed – memoires.
In 1933, Jan van Gilse became director of the Utrecht Conservatory. He started the Nederlandse Muziekbelangen [Dutch Musical Interests], a foundation to promote the performance of Dutch music from which the publisher Donemus emerged in 1947.
After many annoyances, Van Gilse resigned as director of the Utrecht Conservatory in 1937 and decided to devote himself to composition. He met Hendrik Lindt, and together they composed the opera ‘Thijl'.
Jan van Gilse lived in Germany in the first years of the 20th century, and it was at this time that he wrote most of his compositions.
His music was initially influenced by the late German Romantic style, Richard Strauss and Max Reger in particular. But he gradually shifted focus. “With the last two movements of the 'Fourth Symphony', a tendency toward an individual style begins, which comes to fruition in the 'Dansschetsen' (1926).” (Hans van Dijk). French influences (impressionistic, or Debussyan) are perceptible in the 'Gardener Liederen' (1923). In the opera 'Thijl' (1940) and the unfinished 'Rotterdam', he also flirted with folk music.
In 1901, Jan van Gilse was awarded the prize of the Beethoven-Haus in Bonn for his 'Symphony in F'.
He received the German Michael Beer Preis in 1909 for his 'Symphony No. 3, Erhebung', for soprano and orchestra, an award that makes it possible for him to work in Rome for a year.