The peculiar, angular residence perched above Montfort-l’Amaury and resembling the prow of a ship, or so exclaimed a mischievous student who likened the house to a poorly cut slice of Camembert, was purchased by Maurice Ravel in 1921. With the help of his inheritance, the composer restored the house to his liking – a meticulous and eclectic design that came at no small expense since the abode lacked running water and electricity.
Ravel found the house to be an optimal retreat, close enough by train to Paris to indulge in the bright lights and the big city but secluded enough in the midst of Rambouillet forest within a short ride for long walks, provided the weather and work permitted.
Bolero, the most frequently performed classical music piece globally, was written in the same house where Ravel resided in 1928. Bolero’s swift composition for a dancer friend has been used on countless occasions in ad campaigns, Olympic games such as Torvill and Dean’s 1984 win, and significantly the score for Dudley Moore and Bo Derek’s iconic 10 romantic scene.
Ravel’s Bolero, according to the composer himself, reflects his fascination with the well-oiled pounding of heavy machinery. However, some see it differently as a ‘veritable hymn to desire’ and ‘an exaltation of the erotic.’ It’s estimated that Bolero plays somewhere around the world every 15 minutes. It has been one of France’s top musical exports for decades, generating revenue for both classical and contemporary music.
Despite Ravel’s oeuvre bringing in millions in royalties, anticipated to be in the public domain around 2015, most of his work aims to fund £1.5m annually, resulting in around £40m to date. Curator Claude Moreau intends to shed light on where all that money goes.
Belvedere, Ravel’s house, is open to visitors frequently throughout the year, with 3000 people making the pilgrimage annually. Moreau, the sprightly curator, leads visitors through its minuscule interior. Here, Ravel, a compulsive collector, stored his belongings and sat by his rosewood piano.
Belvedere is mostly intact, the same way Ravel left it before passing away during brain surgery in 1937 to address a degenerative disease. It is full of surprises that range from Dadaist teacups with holes in the bottom to a porcelain ashtray bearing the words, "Who burnt my table-cloth?"
While the Belvedere house is a sight to behold, there are moments of gloom and sadness. The carpets are threadbare, the silk curtains disintegrating with time, while the ceilings are cracked. The house suffered a pipe burst, causing water damage in Ravel’s bedroom, leaving wrecked wallpaper and bulging, crumbled masonry requiring a new roof and overhaul, despite not requiring significant funding.
Regardless, the French national museum, and surprisingly, the right owners of Bolero royalties, have refused to pay. Thus the composer’s house continues to rot away, despite raising millions on its own and earning additional income from royalties.
The story of the missing Bolero millions is a saga of artists’ rights and one of the most significant in history. It is a messy tale with manipulative confidants, Machiavellian schemes, a will rewritten, and conniving lawyers.
The subplot starts with Ravelito, aka Maurice Ravel, the childless, unmarried composer who left everything to his brother Edouard until his passing. Edouard then turned the Montfort-l’Amaury house into a museum, with Celeste Albaret as its eccentric concierge, who had served as Marcel Proust’s housekeeper. Everything seemed to be going smoothly until Edouard and his wife were involved in a severe car accident in 1954. The Tavernes, comprising a 48-year-old nurse and her husband, stepped in to take care of the couple. When Edouard’s wife passed two years later, the Tavernes took over and never looked back.
Upon returning home, Edouard Taverne inexplicably changed his mind and made Jeanne Taverne Ravel’s sole inheritor, despite the objections of publisher René Dommange who wanted the rights to benefit French music. Jean-Jacques Lemoine, legal director of Sacem, who knew Ravel’s worth, observed the ensuing legal battles between the Taverne and Ravel’s Swiss relatives, freezing all money coming into Ravel’s account until Alexandre Taverne won the case and received at least £3.6m. Lemoine, who resigned from Sacem and took Taverne as his first client, helped Taverne secure a portion of the publisher’s rights through a reworking of Dommange’s contracts and formed Arima to manage Ravel’s works. In 1972, the Tavernes gave Arima a portion of their publisher’s and composer’s rights, leaving the family with nothing, whereas Lemoine was the sole recipient of £30m of ill-begotten cash. Scarano, former proprietor of Durand, disputes this, claiming Arima is a joint publisher with Durand, but it remains unclear why the Tavernes gave Arima half their publisher’s rights and what Arima’s purpose is, considering its vague shareholder structure and offshore location in Gibraltar and the British Virgin Islands.
While standing on the balcony of the abode of the composer, Claude Moreau had a sorrowful gaze aimed at the verdant fields that were situated past the Montfort-l’Amaury church. It was at that moment that she expressed herself in an agreeable manner about the situation. She didn’t possess the monetary funds needed to repair the curtains, carpets or even the roof. Claude voiced her disapproval, stating that it was a scandalous and disrespectful act to the memory of Ravel. The dire circumstances which the abode was currently in had caused Claude’s concern to grow, as without the proper financial backing it would soon be too late for any restorations to take place.