1917 - 1920

During the next few years after his mother's death, Ravel sought to recover his health and his spirits. He left the Avenue Carnot, and often stayed with friends or in hotels away from Paris. He did not settle into a home of his own until 1921 when he acquired Le Belvédère.

Lyons-la-Forêt, Le Frêne

Villa Le Frêne, Lyons-la-Forêt(08/2012)  ©Manuel Cornejo Plaque at Villa Le Frêne, Lyons-la-Forêt(08/2012)  ©Manuel Cornejo After gaining his discharge from the army in the spring of 1917, Ravel stayed at the Paris home of M. and Mme. Dreyfus, at 1 rue de Chazelles, 17e, in Paris, and then in June he went to their country house of Le Frêne at Lyons-la-Forêt, near Rouen; here he remained until November 1917, completing Le tombeau de Couperin.

He was to return here from time to time, notably from May to September in 1922, when he was orchestrating Tableaux d'une exposition. "J'ai passé, à travailler, une saison qu'on est convenu d'appeler l'été." (Letter to Alfred Casella, 18 September 1922: Orenstein [1989] p.205.)

Geneviève Bailly has written an illustrated book about Ravel's association with the town and surrounding area of Lyons-la Forêt and with the house of Le Frêne: Ravel à Lyons-la-Forêt (published by Editions Freylin, Paris, in 2012).

Paris, St.Cloud, 7 avenue Léonie

When in Paris, he and his brother stayed with M. and Mme. Bonnet at a villa in St.Cloud in the south-west of the city. Letters and autographs show that he resided here between June and November 1918, and again from May to September 1919. While staying here, he produced one of the rare works from this period, Frontispice, in June 1918.


Under doctor's orders, and possibly suffering from suspected tuberculosis, Ravel spent the first months of 1919 at the Alpine resort of Mégève in Haute Savoie. He was there probably from the end of November 1918 (see Orenstein [1989] p.167, letter 147) until the beginning of April 1919 (Orenstein [1989] p.171-172, letters 153-154), staying at the Hôtel du Mont Blanc. He found it impossible to work at this period, but his letters indicate that he was at least thinking about Colette's libretto for L'enfant et les sortilèges. He returned to St. Cloud in Paris for the summer.


Maison Hérold at Lapras (07/2012)  ©Manuel Cornejo In the following winter, from December 1919 until mid-April 1920, Ravel again spent an extended period in isolation far from Paris. He stayed at the country home of André Ferdinand Hérold, a writer and an old friend, in Lapras, near Lamastre, in Ardèche. He spent much of his time completely alone and it was while here that he was able to resume some sort of normal pattern of work. After making an orchestration of the Deux mélodies hébraiques, he set about completing the score of La valse.

His letters at this period attest his low state of morale and poor health, although the isolation seems to have been beneficial to his inclination to work. "Et puis, j'ai trouvé enfin ma vocation: j'étais fait pour être ermite." (Letter to Georgette Marnold, 8 Dec. 1919: Orenstein [1989] p.177.) "Je suis assez mal fichu, je dors de moins en moins." (Letter to Ida Godebska, 15 Jan. 1920: Orenstein [1989] p.178.) And the arrival of New Year only intensified the sense of loss which he felt for his mother: "J'en ai oublié que c'était le réveillon. Mon 31/12 va être sinistre. Je songe à ceux d'autrefois, dans ce charmant appartement de l'avenue Carnot où j'ai été si heureux. Je songe qu'il y aura bientôt 3 ans qu'elle est partie, que mon désespoir augmente de jour en jour. J'y songe encore plus depuis que je me suis remis au travail, que je n'ai plus cette chère présence silencieuse m'enveloppant de sa tendresse infinie, ce qui était, je le vois plus que jamais, ma seule raison de vivre." (Letter to Ida Godebska, 27 Dec. 1919: Orenstein [1989] p.178.)

It was also during his stay at Lapras, in January 1920, that he had to deal with the furore that arose when he refused the nomination for the Légion d'honneur, an embarrassment which continued to trouble him for the next three months. "Je commence à rigoler - il était temps. Cette affaire a tout de la comédie de Calderón." (Letter to Roland-Manuel, 22 Jan. 1920: Orenstein [1989] p.180.) In the end, the award was withdrawn with a public explanation of 'personal reasons'. "Les 'raisons personelles' que m'a prêtées Édouard intriguent fort ces messieurs." (Letter to Georgette Marnold, 13 April 1920: Orenstein [1989] p.182.)

He returned briefly to Paris during April and May. (Nichols [2011] pp.205-209).

The history of Maison Hérold at Lapras, and its many associations with writers, musicians and the Symbolist movement, has been documented by Isabelle Moreau; download available here (in French).

Châteauneuf-en-Thymerais: La Bijeannette

In May 1920, Ravel went to stay with the family of Pierre Haour at their country house of La Bijeannette at Châteauneuf-en-Thymerais, in Eure et Loire, south-west of Paris. During this period he was working on the Sonate pour violon et violoncelle. While he was there, Pierre Haour became seriously ill; Ravel departed anxiously at the end of August, and his friend died in September.

After a further visit to Lyons-La-Forêt, and a return to Paris, Ravel installed himself at his new home of Le Belvédère at the beginning of 1921.