Gilson, Paul


Gilson, Paul

Alla marcia. Rhapsodie pour orchestre d’instruments à cordes (first print)


Paul Gilson – Alla marcia. Rhapsodie pour orchestre d’instruments à cordes

(Brussels, 15 June 1865 – Brussels, 3 April 1942)


Paul Gilson left behind a large and varied oeuvre in which practically all genres are represented. The focus, however, is on the more than 200 works he wrote for various wind orchestras and, to a lesser extent, on some fifteen works for string orchestra. With some of those works for strings, he seamlessly connects to the romantic tradition of Edvard Grieg, Peter Tchaikovsky and Antonín Dvořák.

Alla marcia also fits into this tradition, composed for a symphonic string ensemble of twelve first and twelve second violins, eight violas, eight cellos and six double basses. He varies this instrumentation with great care by having the various groups of instruments play ‘divisi’ or by increasing or decreasing the number of instruments. He also applies the various playing styles, such as con and senza sordino, flageolet tones and arco, and varied accentuation with great effect. The work is built on an alternation and contrast between an energetic martial theme (ff, rudement accentué) and a lyrical phrase (pp, cantabile), themes that are skilfully harmonically coloured and motivically defragmented.

Alla marcia was first performed on Sunday 9 November 1890 at the annual prize-giving ceremony of the Conservatoire royal in Brussels; Emile Agniez (1859-1909) conducted a string ensemble of the Conservatoire. The work was published by Maison Beethoven in Brussels.
Gilson sent a score of the work to César Cui (1835-1918), with whom he exchanged compositions and kept up a busy correspondence. In a letter dated 10 March 1893, Cui expressed his appreciation: ‘Your Alla marcia is superb in pace and tone; the second theme is delightful.’ The score with a handwritten dedication by Gilson is kept in the library of the Rimsky-Korsakov Conservatory in St. Petersburg.

Later Gilson arranged the work for symphonic orchestra; that autograph is kept at the Foundation Paul Gilson in the Brussels Conservatory Library.

Jan Dewilde (with thanks to Jaak Van Holen)
(translation: Jasmien Dewilde)

A facsimile of the edition by Maison Beethoven was published earlier in this series (The Flemish Music Collection, 528). This edition was edited by Stijn Saveniers for a performance on 21 May 2021 by the Orchestre Philharmonique de Liège conducted by Karel Deseure. In this score, some inconsistencies from the original edition have been removed.
This edition was produced in collaboration with the Study Centre for Flemish Music (

Read German and Flemish full preface > HERE

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