The publishing company Éditions de l'Oiseau-Lyre (named after the rare Australian lyrebird) was founded in Paris in 1932 by Louise B. M. Dyer (1884-1962), an Australian patron of music from Melbourne who had already built up a remarkable personal collection of early music prints and manuscripts (sometimes referred to as the "Oiseau-Lyre Collection" and today part of the Louise Hanson-Dyer Music Library at the University of Melbourne). The firm's headquarters were in the Principality of Monaco from 1948 to 2013. Louise Dyer's main aims were to make available early music that had never before been published in a good modern scholarly edition, and also to support young contemporary composers by commissioning and publishing new works. Her first project was to publish the Œuvres complètes of François Couperin (1668-1733) in time for the 200th anniversary of the composer's death in 1933. The result was a twelve-volume edition that has since been acknowledged to be a monument of fine scholarship, superb engraving, and artistic book design. In recognition of her work for French music, the President of the French Republic awarded Louise Dyer the Légion d'Honneur in 1934.
After the death of her first husband in 1938, Louise Dyer married the British literary scholar Joseph B. (“Jeff”) Hanson (1910-1971). For nearly 25 years they worked together building up a remarkable catalogue of fine editions, often luxuriously produced. With music ranging from the thirteenth to the twentieth centuries, the emphasis of Éditions de l'Oiseau-Lyre's catalogue has always been the publication of French music, particularly the harpsichord repertory of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In addition, Louise Hanson-Dyer and J.B. Hanson helped in various ways to further the careers of many contemporary composers from Australia, England and France; Georges Auric, Benjamin Britten, Joseph Canteloube, Peggy Glanville Hicks, Gustav Holst, Jacques Ibert, Vincent d'Indy, Darius Milhaud, Albert Roussel, Henri Sauguet, and Margaret Sutherland were among the many artists she helped.
Together with the publication of books and scores, the company built up, during the 1950s, an extensive catalogue of LP records. Indeed, Éditions de l'Oiseau-Lyre was the first record company to issue 33rpm LPs in France. J.B. Hanson, after his wife's death in 1962, continued her work as a publisher by commissioning a new edition of the complete works of Clément Janequin (c.1485-1558). His particular interest, however, was the recordings. He produced discs of rare and otherwise unrecorded works (often music published by the company), and was also committed to supporting young musicians. Under his direction, Éditions de l'Oiseau-Lyre brought out hundreds of LPs, helping to launch the careers of a whole generation of young artists. In 1970, less than a year before his death, he sold the recording side of the business to the Decca Record Company, London, who continued the imprint as their specialised early music label.
From 1971 to 1996, Éditions de l'Oiseau-Lyre were run by J.B. Hanson's second wife, Margarita M. Hanson. The firm's most significant publishing venture to date (the monumental series Polyphonic Music of the Fourteenth Century) was completed in 1992 under her directorship. Known all over the world as the definitive edition of the entire corpus of surviving fourteenth-century polyphony, this 25-volume series containing well over 2000 compositions, stands (according to a recent review) as "one of the major achievements of musicology in the second half of our century".
Margarita Hanson also undertook the publication of a new series of reprints and revisions of existing editions in light of new scholarship and recently discovered sources. Among these publications is the new edition of the Œuvres complètes de François Couperin. In 1986, in recognition of her work, S.A.S. Rainier III Prince de Monaco named Margarita Hanson Chevalier dans l'Ordre du Mérite Culturel. The next year, the French government named her Chevalier dans l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. In 1992 she was awarded the degree of Doctor of Music Honoris Causa by the University of Melbourne.
Upon Margarita Hanson’s retirement in 1995 the Board of Directors named as Président délégué the musicologist and harpsichordist Davitt Moroney, who had been with the firm since 1981. During that period he had supervised production of the remaining Fourteenth Century volumes, initiated the monumental Magnus Liber Organi series with the help of an international editorial committee, and planned a collection of keyboard volumes under the title Le Grand Clavier. He also organised an annual series of concerts of early music, featuring leading solosits and chamber players, in Monaco’s historic Chapelle de la Visitation.
Following Davitt Moroney’s departure in 2001, the Board named Kenneth Gilbert, long associated with the firm, as Président délégué. Under his guidance the seven-volume Magnus Liber Organi series was brought to conclusion, and a number of new editions, including Louis Couperin’s Organ works and revised reprints of earlier Oiseau-Lyre editions, were published.
As the result of donations to the University of Melbourne given by both Louise Hanson-Dyer and J.B. Hanson, all the company's publications from 1979 were produced with the financial assistance of the University of Melbourne. The involvement of the University was substantial, notably after the signing in 1986 of a formal agreement of collaboration between the University and Éditions de l'Oiseau-Lyre. From 1988, the company operated as Éditions de l'Oiseau-Lyre SAM (Société Anonyme Monégasque) and, from 1990 until its closure in 2013, was owned and managed by the Lyrebird Trust, of which the University is a Trustee.
In 2013 Éditions de l’Oiseau-Lyre ended its presence in Europe and reverted to the parent holding, Lyrebird Press, at the University of Melbourne. The Éditions de l’Oiseau-Lyre archive is now housed in the Louise Hanson-Dyer Music Library, University Library, and the printed music is administered by the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music.