Academic journal article Notes

The Unique Patroness: Louise Hanson-Dyer's Letters to the Library of Congress, 1936-1952

Academic journal article Notes

The Unique Patroness: Louise Hanson-Dyer's Letters to the Library of Congress, 1936-1952

Article excerpt


The Australian-born Louise Hanson-Dyer (1884-1962) was known in her day to be an equal to her contemporaneous music patronesses, compared most regularly to her more well-known American equal, Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge (1864-1953). The publishing house she founded, l'Oiseau-Lyre, specialized in producing publications of early music, and is still considered to be the cornerstone for editions of medieval and renaissance music today. Hanson-Dyer's audio recordings featuring the same music provided the first widely-available sound reconstructions of music from the distant past. Although she supported many composers and performers through financial donations, she is singled out as a unique patroness in her obituary by Fontes Artis Musicae owing to the nature of her contribution to the world of music publishing.

Among the Music Division Old Correspondence at the Library of Congress are preserved forty-one letters between Hanson-Dyer and staff of the Music Division. The discourse within the letters reveals a professional and personal relationship developed between the owner of l'Oiseau-Lyre and members of the Library of Congress-a relationship that was an essential part of her business to provide copyright protection for her unusual publications. This article retells the difficulties and triumphs of an ambitious enterprise through letters that crossed the Atlantic prior to and immediately following the Second World War. They reveal how nothing was too difficult for Hanson-Dyer, who ignored geographic barriers, gender stereotypes, cultural misunderstandings, and societal restrictions to provide informed, scholarly editions and recordings to an international community of music scholars and enthusiasts. **********

Et Musique est une science / Qui vuet qu'on rie et chante et dance. / A chose qui ne puet valoir, / Eins mettels gens ennonchaloir. / Partout ou elle est, joie y porte; / Les desconfortez reconforte, / Et nes seulement de l'oir, / Fait-elle les gens resjoir.

-Guillaume de Machaut (1)

Patrons do not merely fund music. They have talent, vision, and optimism, often backed by deep personal interests and a singular mission. Without daring measures taken by patrons such as Jeannette Myer Thurber (1850-1946), Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge (1864-1953), and Sophie Drinker (1888-1967), celebrated American institutions and traditions of music would simply not exist. These women were well-educated, well-cultured, and well-traveled. Above all, however, they had acquired through inheritance or marriage significant amounts of wealth. (2) Mixing fortune and talent to generate opportunities for musicians, they became movers within the arts through individually unprecedented efforts: Thurber founded the National Conservatory of Music of America primarily for underprivileged and under-represented students, while Coolidge promoted the composition and performance of new music through her foundation at the Library of Congress, and Drinker, through her famous house concerts, advocated the importance of a woman's place in music. Not an American herself, but a patron of music closely associated with the Library of Congress, Louise Hanson-Dyer (1884-1962) is counted among such contributors of pioneering institutions. Through publishing and recording unusual music from a distant past, Hanson-Dyer founded and operated l'Oiseau-Lyre, the publishing house that produced editions of early music still considered to be authoritative by scholars today. Hanson-Dyer's press made unfamiliar and forgotten music of the past accessible to scholars and performers alike with whom she developed close relationships.

This article examines a set of letters written between Hanson-Dyer and staff of the Music Division at the Library of Congress between the years 1936 and 1952. The letters, held in the Music Division Old Correspondence Collection at the Library of Congress, provide a window into how Hanson-Dyer found her way into, and operated within, the world of publishing. …

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