Louise Hanson Dyer: A life and legacy of uplifting artists

Discovering the extent of Louise Berta Mosson Hanson Dyer’s generosity is much like unearthing precious metals; the deeper you dig, the more you find.

Born in Melbourne in 1884, Louise undertook piano studies in both London and Edinburgh in the early 1900s. Though she never pursued a concert career, her patronage and passion for the arts persisted throughout her life.

Louise married her first husband, James Dyer, in 1911. Together, they hosted intimate concerts in their home where they supported young artists with their generosity and connections.

After moving to Paris in 1928, Louise established the publishing house Les Éditions de l’Oiseau-Lyreto promotehistorically accurate performances of baroque music, and later, to publish some major collections of medieval music that were largely unknown at the time.

These editions became landmarks of music libraries all over the world and remain key reference works for medieval and baroque performers, researchers and students today.

Louise Dyer on a balcony overlooking the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
Louise at her apartment in Paris circa 1930. Credit: Editions de l’Oiseau-Lyre archive, Rare Music, Archives and Special Collections Reference code ‘2016.0014.00062’

While there are many more examples of Louise’s generosity, both large and small, her final gift was left in her Will to the University’s Melbourne Conservatorium of Music. Her legacy supports symposiums and concerts at the Conservatorium, research activities, and the continuous enrichment of its curriculum and learning experience.

Professor at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music Kerry Murphy has long studied Louise’s life and legacy, and is delighted each time she discovers new correspondence and insights.

“Everyone talks about Louise’s boundless, irrepressible energy,” said Professor Murphy. “We know of the major contributions she made to the arts, but I think there are hundreds of people that she helped in ways that we don't know of, and I have had little hints.”

For the love of giving

Professor Murphy recalls one ongoing correspondence, which represents many more like it, between Louise and the Secretary of the British Music Society – an organisation which Louise founded in the 1920s that still exists today.

“Every second letter says, ‘thank you for the charming handkerchief’, or ‘thank you for the Christmas cake’,” explained Professor Murphy. “She was always giving little gifts, which is a striking aspect of her personality.”

Former Deputy Vice-Chancellor at the University, Professor John Poynter, married Louise's niece, Marion. He also authored the biography The Audacious Adventures of Dr Louis Lawrence Smith about Louise’s father and was a board member of Les Éditions de l’Oiseau-Lyre.

Professor Poynter also reflects fondly on Louise’s remarkably generous spirit.

“While I was aware that one of Louise Dyer’s early acts of charity in Melbourne had been to support the publication of John Shaw Neilson’s Ballad and Lyrical Poems in 1923, the full significance of this intervention was not clear to me until recently,” explained Professor Poynter.

Neilson, though a talented poet, was largely uneducated and worked as a laborer to support himself.

“When Louise met Neilson, she noticed immediately his hands, worn and hardened by a life of physical labour, and she joined others to get him a small pension and a paid position,” said Professor Poynter.

“Thereafter, in her library, successive editions of his verse, each sent with hand-written words of gratitude, shared space with her other treasures.”

Neilson dedicated the first print of his book New Poems to Louise – writing ‘and her mouth shall be as the green honey’.

An inspirational presence

Not only did Louise influence those who she met during her life, but she made plans to continue encouraging young artists and musicians after she was gone.

“Her foresightedness strikes me, because we're still living with her legacy, and not just in financial terms,” said Professor Murphy.

Director at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music Professor Richard Kurth agrees, noting that generations of students and researchers have – and will – benefit from Louise's generosity.

“The gift in Will has supported symposia, concerts and a wide range of research activities aligned with Louise’s interests in historical music, contemporary music, British music, Australian music, and musical life in Australia,” said Professor Kurth.

It also supports the constant improvement of the Conservatorium’s teaching program.

“These funds ensure the ongoing vigour and impact of the Conservatorium, by supporting excellence and innovation in our curriculum and our students' learning experiences,” explained Professor Kurth.

In 2006, Lyrebird Press was established at the University of Melbourne to continue the work of Les Éditions de l’Oiseau-Lyre.

Louise’s gift in Will continues to support Lyrebird Press – particularly through its book series on Australasian Music Research. The archive and reference library of Les Éditions de l’Oiseau-Lyre have also been given to Archives and Special Collections at the University of Melbourne Library.

“Numerous PhD dissertations, dozens of articles, edited volumes and research monographs have resulted from research using the materials she bequeathed,” explained Professor Kurth.

Additional to the physical and financial rewards of her gift in Will, Louise’s memory inspires staff and students at the Conservatorium to pursue excellence in their work – thereby ensuring the continued vitality of musical creativity in Australia.

The Louise Hanson Dyer Hall

The Hanson-Dyer Hall is on the third floor of the Ian Potter Southbank Centre.

“The beautiful recital hall at the heart of the new Conservatorium building, opened in Southbank in 2019, is named Hanson-Dyer Hall in her honour,” said Professor Kurth.

“Oil portraits of Louise grace the foyers of Hanson-Dyer Hall in Southbank and Melba Hall in the 1909 Conservatorium building in Parkville, so that she is a constant presence and inspiration.”

Generosity with enduring value

Through the many pursuits and achievements made through Les Éditions de l’Oiseau-Lyre, it’s evident that Louise was passionate about supporting female artists and shaping the future of music publishing.

“Louise Dyer’s earlier interest in works by women was shown by her publication of compositions by Australians Peggy Glanville-Hicks and Margaret Sutherland,” said Professor Poynter.

Les Éditions de l’Oiseau-Lyre was also the first firm to produce long-playing records in France, with an adventurous catalogue reflecting its concerts and publications.”

Much like Louise’s many gifts, all characterised by their consideration and foresight, the items created through Les Éditions de l’Oiseau-Lyre continue to hold, and grow, value.

“Her publications were printed on exquisite, high-quality paper so that they would last,” said Professor Murphy. “Her things have survived and are still valued for their aesthetic quality.”

“She knew that these publications would last, and she wanted to be remembered for them.”

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