Louise Hanson-Dyer: Some Personal Reflections

by Kerry Murphy

Australian-born music patron and publisher Louise Hanson-Dyer settled in France in 1928 and in 1931 founded the music publishing house Les Editions de l’Oiseau-Lyre and then began releasing recordings under the L’Oiseau-Lyre label (issuing the first long-playing records in France). When she died in 1962 she bequeathed her estate to the University of Melbourne.

I first became conscious of Louise Hanson-Dyer in the 1980s when I was doing research for my PhD in Paris. My supervisor, François Lesure, had known her and was sorry that I hadn’t: “Une femme formidable”, he said. Sometime also in the early 1980s, when visiting my English cousin Ulrich Scharf in London, he told me that an Australian historian was coming to talk to him about his grandfather Eduard, who had taught Louise Dyer the piano in Melbourne. The historian was Jim Davidson, whom I met and who told me many fascinating stories about Dyer, later of course to become transformed into his path-breaking book on Dyer and Les Editions de l’Oiseau-Lyre.

When I joined the staff at the Faculty of Music at the University of Melbourne, I was on occasion given tasks to do when I was in Paris doing research or presenting at conferences relating to the university and Les Editions de l’Oiseau-Lyre. One task was organising the microfilming of Dyer’s valuable collection of rare early imprints and music manuscripts, to be sent back to Melbourne (the full collection is in Melbourne now, with most of it digitised). During this period I was privileged to visit Dyer’s stunning apartment in the 16th arrondissement in Paris, which was occupied by Margarita Hanson, the second wife of Dyer’s second husband. The apartment was virtually untouched from the 1930s, with extraordinary art deco decorations and furniture; I would have coffee out on the little balcony looking over the Eiffel Tower.  In retrospect, I curse myself: why didn’t I take photos of the apartment? Why didn’t I pay closer attention to the details of the decor? Too late. The apartment is now sold.

In 2013 an outstanding doctoral graduate of the Music Faculty, Simon Purtell, was sent to Monaco, to the office of L’Oiseau-Lyre press to arrange the transfer of stock back to Melbourne. It was Simon who first alerted me to the portrait of Louise Dyer, by the Italian Expressionist painter Giovanni Costetti, hanging over the downstairs mantelpiece in the apartment in Monaco. Dyer was a patron of Costetti’s.

I loved the portrait and began a campaign to try and get it to the University of Melbourne. I was actually in Paris when the portrait arrived there from Monaco, to the new apartment of Margarita Hanson, and was given the task of slitting open the wrapping. It was not a disappointment. It is a long saga, but the portrait arrived at the University this year thanks to a wonderful collaboration between Archives and Special Collections and the Faculty of Fine Arts and Music at the University. It will be unveiled at a ceremony next year.

A detail from this portrait is on the cover of Lyrebird Press’s forthcoming book, Pursuit of the New: Louise Hanson-Dyer, Publisher and Collector, edited by Jennifer Hill and myself, with some preliminary perspectives by Jim Davidson and contributions from ten distinguished authors. We hope readers will be as excited as we are by the book’s exploration of the extraordinary achievements of Louise Hanson-Dyer.

Louise Dyer at her apartment in Paris, c. 1930. Rare Music, Archives and Special Collections, 2016.0014.00062, EOLA.
Dyer apartment, 17 rue Franklin. Photographic print (cropped). Rare Music, Archives and Special Collections, 2016.0014.00001 (Unit 1), EOLA.