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

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 où elle est, joie y porte; / Les desconfortez reconforte, / Et nes seulement de l'oïr, / Fait-elle les gens resjoïr.

-Guillaume de Machaut1

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 My er 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. Their content serves as witness for the struggles and triumphs of establishing a specialist publishing house. Most important is a portrayal of Hanson-Dyer's personality, which exuberates persistence and strength through an ambitious set of expectations and delivery.

FORTUNATE BEGINNINGS

Hanson-Dyer was born into a comfortable and wealthy home in Melbourne, Australia. Receiving her formal music education first at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, she was a skilled pianist and eventually moved to Scotland to continue her lessons with Philip Halstead of Glasgow.3 Her first marriage to the prosperous Scottish businessman, James Dyer, who, being twenty-five years her senior and a successful Melbourne representative of the linoleum company Michael Nairn & Co., Scotland, enabled Hanson-Dyer to maintain the affluent lifestyle she had known in her youth and continue to pursue her musical and cultural endeavors.4 On the day of her marriage at the age of twenty-seven she secured her financial position and by doing so won the approval of her family and social circles. Newly wed and back in Melbourne, it was important for Hanson-Dyer to maintain a certain level of acceptable social gatherings. Music was a natural point of departure for her. Through her dealings with the British Music Society in Victoria and Alliance Française, Hanson-Dyer exposed herself to many influential musicians, hosting numerous occasions with full glamour and excess.

By 1927, Hanson-Dyer had returned to Europe, this time Paris, where she established herself in the electrifying cultural circles of la ville lumière. The founding of l'Oiseau-Lyre in 1932 arose out of Hanson-Dyer's dissatisfaction with music presses available in Paris at the time. …

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