Louise Hanson-Dyer

19 July 1884 — 9 November 1962

Music publisher and philanthopist.

Louise Hanson-Dyer

Louise Hanson-Dyer was born Louise Smith into a wealthy family. She was the daughter of Louis Lawrence Smith, a prominent medical practitioner and politician in Melbourne from the 1850’s until the turn of the century. Her mother, Marion Jane Higgins, was Louis’ 2nd wife. Louise married James Dyer at the age of 27. He died in January 1938 and she subsequently married Jeff Hanson in April 1939. She died in Monaco in November 1962. Louise had no children. She is buried at the Melbourne General Cemetery.

A portrait of Louise as a child by Tom Roberts hangs in the National Gallery of Victoria near a portrait of her father also by Tom Roberts. A later portrait hangs at Presbyterian Ladies College (PLC) where she went to school. A copy also hangs in the Melba Hall at the University of Melbourne on the left of the portrait of Dame Nellie Melba.

She used her affluence, from both her father and her husband, in a range of philanthropic causes, both in Australia and in Europe. She had a significant influence on the musical and cultural life of Melbourne.

She helped establish the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and arranged performances of ‘early music’ and French baroque music at a time when it was little known in Australia (or Europe for that matter). She was very active in the Alliance Francaise.

She also established the British Music Society of Victoria as an autonomous local chapter of a parent society in the United Kingdom, which had branches throughout the British Empire. This parent body dissolved in 1933. Since then the Society has been completely independent. In 2008 the Society chose to be known as the Lyrebird Music Society Inc to properly reflect the diversity of music presented at its concerts. The Society also encourages composers by annually awarding the Lyrebird Commission for Composition to a Melbourne based composer and presenting the commissioned work at a public concert. The society continues to be supported by an annual endowment from her trust.

Louise also had a keen interest in literature, providing substantial support to the Australian poet, John Shaw Neilson. For details, see websites below. Louise also maintained a strong association with PLC. She was secretary, then president of P.L.C. Old Collegians’ Association, from 1919-21 and again in 1924-26. After establishing herself in Europe, she would visit the school on her occasional trips back to Melbourne, with the visit being of such significance that the school cancelled classes to enable their students to see and hear Louise

Louise and James left Melbourne in 1927 for England, finally settling in Paris in 1929. In Paris she became a successful business woman, establishing a major music publishing and recording company, the L’Oiseau Lyre, (The Lyrebird Press) which supported music from 13th through to the 18th century. Her status was established by the publication of the complete works of Couperin le Grand, in twelve volumes. It set the standard for high quality workmanship and musical scholarship. Volumes on Purcell, Blow and the volumes Polyphonic Music of the XIIIth Century followed. For her work for French music, she was awarded the chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur in 1934, with promotion to officier of that order in 1957.

The Lyrebird Press moved into gramophone recordings producing the first long playing recordings of the Monteverdi Vespers and many Handel operas. The company also supported many contemporary composers such as Schonberg, Stravinsky and Milhaud, as well as Australian composers, Peggy Glanville Hicks and Margaret Sutherland.

The Lyrebird Press moved to England during the war. It returned to Paris after the war, but quickly relocated to Monaco as conditions were not yet appropriate to support a music industry.

Louise died during an operation in a hospital in Monaco on 9th December 1962.


Picture of her grave site

In 2006 the Lyrebird Press collection of 15th to 19th century music imprints, first editions and music manuscripts was donated to the University of Melbourne. The press release on that occasion and the Faculty of Music link

The L’oiseau Lyre website has a photo of Louise Hanson Dyer and an extended biography of her and the Lyrebird Press.

The Australian Dictionary of Biography has an extensive article on Louise as well as one on her father.

The Hall of Fame maintained by Live Performance Australia, the peak body for Australia’s live entertainment and performing arts industry, has four pages on Louise including an engaging story about her support for the Australian poet, John Shaw Neilson.

The Women in Australia website has a brief biographical entry.

Biographical references

Jim Davidson: ‘Louise Berta Mosson Hanson Dyer’, in Australian Dictionary of Biography, volume 8, Melbourne University Press

Jim Davidson: Lyrebird Rising, Miegunyah/Melbourne University Press, 1994

Richard Excell and Jennifer Hill: Bowerbird to Lyrebird, Baillieu Library, University of Melbourne, 2006