The choir trembled when he took the podium. His rendering of music, of the world’s greatest composers, left audiences dumbstruck. He was an exceptionally talented pianist, organist, conductor, composer and accompanist. We are talking genius. A genius who is no longer with us. A genius who made Classical Music popular to this part of the world and who put Chennai on the world’s music map. A genius who lives on through his work. The conductor par excellence – Handel Manuel.
Handel Manuel was born in Tuticorin on April 27th, 1918. Named after the famous composer
G.F. Handel, not even his music-loving parents could fathom the great heights to which their son would rise. Handel was educated at the Madras Christian College, but not in Music. In fact he is one of the few composers in the world who can boast of being self-taught. He dedicated his life to music. And being a stickler for perfection saw him reach the pinnacle of success and greatness. He is the only Indian to be invited to the Tchaikovsky International Music Competition held in Moscow. He was appointed Producer, Emeritus, All India Radio. He was awarded the Padmashri in 1983. He was also awarded the ‘For The Sake of Honour’ award from Rotary. He is one of the chosen few who figures in the listing of the ‘International Who’s Who in Music’.
Church music was his first love. He was elected Honorary Life Member of the Royal School of Church Music, London. He was also recognised as India’s best pianist. Alan Hovhaness, the famous American composer, dedicated two pieces to Handel – the “Arjuna Symphony” and an Organ Sonata.
Probably the best tribute comes from Rita Saldanha, his famous student, who professes that with Handel “It was always a labour of love, never of work.”