Jan Pieter Hendrik van Gilse

Jan Pieter Hendrik van Gilse, born on 11 May 1881 in Rotterdam, was a stubborn yet sensitive man. He was a musician, composer and conductor. After studying at the Conservatory in Cologne, he composed various pieces of music and became conductor of the Bremen Opera and later second conductor of the Dutch Opera. Next he spent quite some time in Munich and Rome where his two children Jan Hendrik and Maarten were born in 1912 and 1916. He married Alida Henriëtte Hooijer from in 1909. Then in 1917 he was appointed conductor of the Utrecht Stedelijk Orkest. He did everything possible, both organizational as well as musically, to raise the quality of this ensemble to a higher level and was adored by both fellow musicians and the public alike. However, he also experienced much resistance, for example from the sharp-tongued and frequently unreasonable write-ups by the music critique working for the Utrechts Dagblad, the young composer Willem Pijper. Therefore Van Gilse left Utrecht and lived on money earned as guest conductor and from his compositions, some of which were played in Germany. He lived several years in Berlin but moved to Utrecht, and later to Amsterdam, after Hitler came to power. Van Gilse was involved from the very beginning with the Bureau voor Muziekauteursrechten (BUMA, i.e., rights of composers) as well as with an organization that devoted itself to performing compositions written by still living composers. Furthermore he was founder and chairman of the Genootschap van Nederlandse Componisten (Society for Dutch Composers) that would later establish the ‘Jan van Gilse prize’ in his memory.

Graf van Jan van Gilse, met het kunstwerk van Mari Andriessen

Resistance and seeking shelter

Jan van Gilse

However, now the country was at war. Van Gilse had already turned sixty and the war was gnawing away at him. He could not cope with the thought of war just like he could never cope with injustice. Together with others, he wrote a letter of protest against the cultural policy to Reichs Commissioner Seyss-Inquart and established the illegal  newspaper ‘De Vrije Kunstenaar’ (The Free Artist) together with his son Maarten who was a journalist and Gerrit Jan van der Veen who was a sculptor. He completed his opera begun in 1937 in which the central figure was Thijl who had resisted the Spanish during the 80 Year War. It was easy to see a parallel with this present war. Van Gilse refused to join the ‘Kultuurkamer’ which was obligatory for artists and performers. It was forbidden to perform his compositions, even the funereal music from Thijl that had already been scheduled for a performance in the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, and then all his manuscripts and sheet music for his compositions were finally confiscated. He was also expelled from the many positions which he held in the world of classical music. At the beginning of 1942, he was forced to go into hiding, moving from one address to another but carrying with him the music score for Thijl, fearful that it would be lost forever. Van Gilse’s youngest son Maarten, who had become a specialist in making false identity cards was brought before a German firing squad with other people in the resistance on 1 October 1943 in Amsterdam as reprisal for the liquidation of General Seyffardt. He now lies buried in Overveen. His other son Jan Hendrik who worked as a commercial artist but in particular led a group of saboteurs succeeded in freeing his own wife from prison in Arnhem but was soon arrested and shot to death on 28 March 1944 in The Hague. His grave was never found.
Illness and death
In May 1944, Van Gilse and his wife were forced to seek shelter underground in the home of Professor Escher which was situated on the Dorpstraat in Oegstgeest. The music score for Thijl was left behind at an earlier underground address in Nunspeet where some time later all the inhabitants were taken prisoner. One of the resistance fighters managed to rescue the score from the house just in the nick of time before it was thoroughly searched by the ‘Sicherheitsdienst’, a secret security unit serving Hitler’s political system. This man was either Pieter Bastiaan Jan IJzerman or his son Abram Arie; both men were arrested and sent before a firing squad in Varsseveld on 2 March 1945.

This as well as all the other horrendous events experienced by Van Gilse had seriously affected his health. In August 1944 he was admitted to the Diaconessenhuis hospital and registered under the false name, Johan Willem Dudok van Heel, the name used on his identity card.

This hospital had been moved to the Zendingshuis (Missionaries’ house), now the older part of the Hendrik Kraemerpark apartment complex; the building belonging to the Diaconessenhuis located on the Witte Singel had been claimed by the Germans as ‘Ortslazarett’ or army hospital. Van Gilse, who died on September 8th, was buried on September 12th in the Groene Kerkje cemetery under his false name.

It was not until 6 months after the war had ended that Dr. Rooseboom gave notification of the death of Van Gilse under his real name. Still later his good friend Mari Andriessen, who had been deeply involved in resistance activities in Haarlem and later sculpted the war monument called the ‘De Dokwerker’ (dock worker) in Amsterdam, created a stone monument to mark his grave – one of the most beautiful works of art in Oegstgeest. A broken man, his sword slipping away, yet still holding his lyre on high. Much later Van Gilse’s wife Ada would be laid to rest beside her husband.

Former home of prof. B.G. Escher, where Jan van Gilsewas sheltered until his death.

Escher’s house

Escher’s house was a center for the resistance, this spacious old parsonage quietly situated on the Pastoorswetering, down the lane behind café ‘De Roode Leeuw’ (The Red Lion). Today this road is called the Groenhovelaan. The former owners had given this house the Japanese name ‘Mukashi’ which means something like ‘the good old days’ but the new owner had painted over this word thoroughly. This was the geologist Prof. Barend George Escher, elder half-brother to the graphic artist Maurits Escher. Because Professor Escher was a prominent member of the resistance at the University of Leiden, he had been imprisoned 6 months in Haarlem. After the war, he was appointed ‘rector magnificus’ (chancellor) of the university, and on 10 May 1946 presented Sir Winston Churchill with an honorary degree. Every year during the war, on 8 February, a select company of individuals celebrated the ‘dias’ or ‘founding day’ of Leiden University at Escher’s home. One of these people was Professor Johan Huizinga, author of Herfsttij der Middeleeuwen. In 1942, the 70-year-old professor of cultural history was pulled by sled by his students from his home in the Raadsherenbuurt, via the Dorpsstraat, to Escher’s house. In August that year, he was taken hostage in St. Michielsgestel and then released several months later with the explicit order not to return to western The Netherlands. He died in February 1945 in Cleveringa’s house and was later buried in the Groene Kerkje cemetery. The Van Gilse family had met Professor Escher through their friendship with his 31-year-old son and composer Rudolf Escher. In 1944 Rudolf himself had gone underground in Ginneken. Living at home with Escher was his niece, the freedom fighter Dr. Mies Rooseboom. Before the war had begun, she had been a student living in the same house in Katwijk with Princess Juliana.