Manuel Villet obituary

·2-min read

My friend, Manuel Villet, who has died aged 90, had a career as an international concert pianist and accompanist, and was hailed as one of the greatest pianists to emerge from South Africa.

He was a gentle and genuinely humble man, much loved and respected by those who knew him and performed music with him. Although he was frail in his later years, his technique and musicality remained undiminished and he continued to give piano recitals locally in Barking, east London, well into his 80s.

Manuel was born and grew up in George, South Africa, the eldest son of John Villet, a garage proprietor, and Gladys (nee Thorpe). His considerable early musical talents were recognised and developed by his primary school music teacher, Sister Hiltrudis, who told him, “you must kiss the keys!” – an oft-recalled comment he felt “prepared him for the years to come”. He made his concert debut at the age of nine, gave radio broadcasts from 11, performed on the organ when he was 15 for the then Princess Elizabeth during the royal visit to South Africa in 1947 and, from the age of 16 onwards, gave numerous recitals.

After leaving Outeniqua high school in George, he gained a BMus degree at the University of Cape Town, where he studyed piano under Lili Krauss, and gave concerts with the violinists Jean Fournier and Szymon Goldberg and with the orchestras of Cape Town and Johannesburg. A scholarship enabled him to study in Paris under Nadia Boulanger, who bestowed glowing praise on him. During this time he won the Maurice Ravel prize and gave many broadcasts on French radio.

Extensive concert tours in South Africa followed, to tumultuous acclaim and, at Yehudi Menuhin’s request, he gave highly successful recitals accompanying Menuhin in Johannesburg and Vienna.

Manuel’s London debut was at the Wigmore Hall in 1957 for which he received outstanding praise by the music critics of the Times and the Evening News, the capacity audience giving him a prolonged ovation and insisting on many encores. Thereafter he gave highly praised concerts at many venues in the UK and South Africa performing under conductors including Sir Adrian Boult, Sir Charles Groves and George Hurst.

He moved permanently to the UK in 1966, living in London and Sussex and then settling in Barking in the mid 1980s. Manuel became involved with teaching at the University of East London and was awarded an honorary doctorate of music. For many years he was vice-president of Redbridge Music Society at which he gave occasional recitals.

Manuel is survived by his brothers, Ruxton, Glen and Richard.

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