Archival sources: Concert de musique française ancienne et moderne, 1939

On 18 February 1939 Louise Hanson-Dyer put on a concert featuring a characteristic pairing—of “ancient” with modern French music—the Press’s two specialisms at the time. It also furthered Dyer’s aims of having some of the music she published able to be heard, a particular passion of hers. Though this was an invitation only concert—albeit broadcast—past and planned recordings, on 78 rpm disc, dominate the repertoire performed at the concert. Recordings were already an important part of the business, and L’Oiseau-Lyre’s production of both print and disc versions of a work was often evident from the otherwise utilitarian printed covers.

Rameau, Les Paladins, 1st Suite [of two] (Paris: EOL, [1946])


OL 71B, Rameau, Les Paladins, 2nd Suite, II (Désormiere, unnamed orchestra)


The Editions de l’Oiseau-Lyre archive includes secretarial, and contractual and other financial documents, such as invoices, relating to this pre-War period—not all of them, certainly, but what there is can help unravel, or sometimes contribute to, mysteries around aspects of Hanson-Dyer’s professional life. It can also demonstrate her level of commitment to making her Press successful. The archive also contains promotional material—technically ephemera—but in this instance the concert poster for the 1939 concert is hand coloured, which elevates it beyond that category as a potentially unique item; we don’t know, however, whether it was a proof or a final copy.

Concert de musique française ancienne et moderne, hand coloured concert poster, Editions de l’Oiseau-Lyre concert, 13 February 1939. EOL Archive 2016.0017.00002


Just one single-sided document in the archive — viewed alongside the concert poster – has much to impart at first glance but also raises questions that only additional research will be able to resolve. This post makes only a few preliminary observations and is open to correction!

EOLA 2016.0035.00323


The document, on Société des Concerts du Conservatoire letterhead, seems to be an itemised list of the cost of hiring particular musicians (soloists and rank-and-file). Though its exact relationship to final outlays cannot be certain, the first and most striking feature is the amount of money totalled at the bottom. Dyer was most likely prepared, and able, to spend over 12,000 French francs on a single concert and broadcast: an enormous outlay. This is not a concert where careful choice of repertoire means that each paid performer appears regularly throughout; there is nothing prudent that I can see about the programming. Fernand Oubradous’s participation—as he could have played in the majority of the programmed works—is the notable exception.

It is interesting to see which performers received an all-inclusive fee, and which were paid (using two standard rates) for each rehearsal; and for the performance; plus what must be a fee for broadcast. Conductor Gustave Cloëz is listed as commanding the highest fee, with the joint next-highest for mezzo-soprano Germaine Cernay in La Voyante, and, as soloist in the first performance of the Boismortier bassoon concerto, Oubradous. Ruggero Gerlin, a harpsichordist and pupil of Landowska, is pencilled in at the end. The meaning of the final item—convocation—at a cost of 100 Fr is unclear. Perhaps an administrative charge? Désormière, who appears on the poster as conductor, is not listed, raising questions of who actually conducted. Each of the two men had conducted Couperin works performed at this concert in the studio for L’Oiseau-Lyre sound recordings: Désormière the 4e Concert Royal (OL 51 & 52); and Cloëz the Quatre versets d’un motet compose de l’Ordre du Roy (1703) (OL 60 & 92), the latter released post-War. Fortunately this is answered from another source: Darius Milhaud tells us that Cloëz was employed as a replacement for Désormière when the latter had a skiing accident.[1] This also suggests that the document above captures the actual participants around the time of the concert.

Every one of the eight works was available from Editions de l’Oiseau-Lyre in score form: seven could be purchased outright, while the Boismortier Bassoon Concerto score and parts—performance material for the recording OL 145 (1948)—were available to hire only. Sadly, the EOLA President’s collection does not include a copy of Koechlin’s 1ère Sonatine pour orgue (op. 107, no. 1) (OL 114) , but it definitely went to press. The Koechlin work is the only one on the program, as far as can be ascertained from the level of detail on the poster, that was never recorded by Editions de l’Oiseau-Lyre.

This little-known material in the Archive provides an interesting starting point in researching a 1939 concert where programming and promotion work together. Hanson-Dyer’s concert of French music, old and new—was very much repertoire she had, in every sense, invested in and in many cases would continue to. Her motivation was surely to make the music—through performance, print, broadcast and disc—better known and appreciated through events such as this.

[1] Darius Milhaud, Ce Soir (24 February 1939), 7.


Jen Hill, Curator Music, Archives and Special Collections

If you wish to browse the Editions de l’Oiseau-Lyre archive, the following links may be useful:

Listings of the EOL archive are accessible through the University of Melbourne Archives catalogue and also online.

For music, in the Baillieu Library catalogue you can view a description of the series of “Music for performance and publication” then link to detailed catalogue records for each of 266 items; for EOL publications please see the “President’s collection” (308 items). For books, you can browse records for the Press’s reference library (254 items); and Louise Hanson-Dyer’s personal library (257 items).