Bowerbird to L'oiseau-Lyre: The Hanson-Dyer Collection at the Louise Hanson-Dyer Music Library, the University of Melbourne

Article excerpt

Many music librarians will recognize the name of Louise Hanson-Dyer as the founder of the publishing house of l'Oiseau-Lyre. (2) From its very first publication, the exquisitely finished Couperin edition, the elegant curves of the lyrebird's tail were a constant motif and a subtle memento of Louise's Australian homeland. But shortly before the lyrebird spread its magnificent tail, she had emulated another distinctive avian Australian, the bowerbird. Both birds are indefatigably obsessed with display, manifested by the lyrebird through performance, and by the bowerbird through collecting.

The 'bowerbird' phase of Louise Dyer's (as she was at the time) life was brief--just a couple of years--but extraordinarily fruitful. She was not a typical collector at all: no years of gradual accumulation, no trading items with other collectors. After 1931, nothing was added to the collection as it sat on the specially-made shelves in her Paris apartment, but neither was anything taken away by her, her second husband Joseph Hanson, nor his second wife Margarita Hanson, whose model custodianship deserves commendation.

Historical background

Louise B. M. Smith was her mother's first child and the eleventh of her father, a successful (if at times controversial) doctor and parliamentarian. As four of his children had already died, Louise's birth in 1884 was an event of significance. Her father, although regarding her birth as precious, also believed that 'children should be kept active while awake'. At two years of age, she was already travelling with her parents to Europe via Mauritius, the Seychelles, and on to Paris. The attention and stimuli Louise received were to be precursors to her later interests which were varied and European. Musicians, artists and politicians were regular visitors to the family home. In addition to the visitors were the six servants, and four step-sisters who would visit from boarding school.

She attended school at Presbyterian Ladies' College (PLC), the same school which had graduated Nellie Mitchell, the singer who was already known from her Covent Garden success as 'Melba', and Henry Handel Richardson (Ethel Florence Lindesay Richardson), who wrote of her school experiences at PLC in her novel The Getting of Wisdom.

Louise was a better than average, though far from outstanding, scholar. A naturally gregarious and sociable child, she would have found the constraints of boarding school stultifying and frustrating. Although she struggled to learn French at the Alliance Francaise, she was later to become its President and an ardent Francophile. In addition to French lessons, Louise learned piano from Miss Adelaide Burkitt, who also taught Percy Grainger. She attained good marks in her piano exams and was encouraged to consider a career as a performer. Taking lessons in singing and playing the harp, music began to dominate Louise's life. In 1905, she enrolled as a student at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music in Albert Street.

Louise travelled to Britain with her favourite brother Louis in 1908 and then on to Paris for the first time as an adult. Returning to Melbourne in 1909, she realised that she did not have the ability to make a career in concert performance and thereafter performed only rarely in public, exploring other avenues for her creative energies.

Louise married a Scot, James ('Jimmy') Dyer, when she was 27. He was nearly twice her age and had a successful position with a linoleum company. Within a year of marrying she was pregnant, but she soon fell seriously ill and was reluctantly persuaded to terminate the pregnancy and undergo a hysterectomy. The First World War having begun, Louise involved herself in fund-raising for orphans, and her advocacy of things French and British grew stronger.

After the war, she formed the Victorian branch of the British Music Society and fostered performances of works by British composers (especially Gustav Holst) and their Australian counterparts. …