Eurovision Song Contest 1956 (Lugano)

1957 >>>

Original Logo

(Lugano, Switzerland)

May 24, 1956

It was a memorable moment in Eurovision History: On a Thursday evening, almost closed to the public – television sets were almost nonexistent in European homes –  in the small Teatro Kursaal in Lugano, the biggest music competition and one of the biggest media events in the world was born.

In 1955 the officials of the young, just recently founded (1950) European Broadcasting Union were discussing the idea of an event promoting international understanding in order to try out the possibilities oft he new medium television and to promote and popularize the EBU. Two alternatives were discussed: A circus festival (as the famous Monte Carlo one) and a music competition following the example of the popular Italian San-Remo Festival.
Millions of Eurovision fans can be happy today that the majority of broadcasting officials was more into music than acrobatics!

On May 24, 1956 artists from seven countries, apart from the host country Switzerland these included Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, gathered in Lugarno. It comes as no surprise that these countries (except for ever neutral Switzerland) would also sign the Treaties of Rome one year later, thus becoming the founding nations of today’s European Union.

The first Eurovision Song Contest (originally called Gran Primo Eurovisione della Canzone Europea 1956) had (inevitably) many firsts but also many lasts: The host of the evening was Lohengrin Filipello, who to this day is the only single male host in Eurovision history. It is also the only year, in which each country’s jury could vote for their own country and the only Eurovision without a second or a last place (or any place for that matter) – Apart from the winner, the placings were never announced – the assessment forms were destroyed immediately.

Some of the rules may seem odd to us today: Only soloists were allowed to compete (11 women and 3 men, probably a good choice as jurors prefered female voices throughout Eurovision history) and dance moves were not allowed (imagine that in today’s Eurovision). Furthermore, every country was allowed to enter two songs into the competition (7 songs would not have been enough to fill an evening)

The songs were all pretty much what we would call “chanson”, some faster, some more solemn. What today is English, back then was French: the dominating language. There were no rules on which language to use in the song, but all countries sent entries in their national language nevertheless. Half of the entries were thus performed in French. Popular music styled oft he time, such as Rock’n’Roll did not even come near the contest – A fact that would continue until the late 2000s.

Luxembourg sent Michèle Arnaud to perform both their entries, probably due to financial problems oft he national broadcaster. Her melodic (compared to the others) song “Ne crois pas” for many Eurovision fans is a favourite of the year. Luxembourg also did not sent their own jurors for similar reasons and asked Switzerland to take over it’s voting rights. Combined with the rule mentioned above that countries could vote for their own entries Lys Assia’s historic victory loses a bit of its grandeur…

Assia was one of the biggest stars in Switzerland at the time and had had international success with her song “Oh, mein Papa” (Oh my daddy). She sang both entries for Switzerland, one in German and one in French. The victory of her French “Refrain” started a domination of Francophone entries and countries that would last for an entire decade (maybe longer)

Germany accounted for over 60 per cent oft the male artists – sending Freddy Quinn and Walter Andreas Schwarz. Quinn presented his song “So geht das jede Nacht” (It’s Like This Every Night), a modern and energetic boogie-woogie that was quite different from the other German entry (and all other entries for that matter) „Im Wartesaal zum großen Glück“ (In the Waiting Room for Big Happiness). The song appealed with several changes in rhythm and complicated, poetic lyrics. For parts of the song Schwarz talks more than he sings (nowadays we call that rap..) Rumor has it that Freddy Quinn actually came second and was only points behind Lys Assia, but no proofs for that have survived (despite fans efforts to reach jurors – Most of them didn’t even remember the entries)

The Netherlands had the honor (that was probably not as prestigious back then) to perform the first entry of a Eurovision Song Contest ever: Jetty Paerl with her “De vogels van Holland” (The Birds of Holland). The other Dutch entrant was no other than Corry Broken, who played several distinct roles in her impressive Eurovision career that would follow her first appearance: She participated 3 times, won once (1957), hosted the contest in 1976 and announced the Dutch points in 1997.

When Lys Assia was asked to perform her winning song again at the end of the broadcast, she was so overwhelmed that her voice cracked. Assia is still proud to be the first winner of the contest and told Jan Feddersen “I wore a real piece of jewelry on stage”, the venue she describes as a “cowshed”, though.

Unfortunately except for Lys Assia’s winning performance, no video material has survived. You can listen to the entire contest though:

Here is the full scoreboard:

Place Country Artist Song Points
1   Switzerland   .
Lys Assia Refrain *
*   Switzerland Lys Assia Das alte Karussel
  . Belgium Fud Leclerc Messieurs les noyés de la Seine 
  Belgium Mony Marc Le plus beau jour de ma vie
  France Mathé Altéry Le temps perdu
  France Dany Dauberson Il est là
  Germany Walter Andreas Schwarz   . Im Wartesaal zum großen Glück   .
  Germany Freddy Quinn So geht das jede Nacht
  Italy Franca Raimondi Aprite le finestre
  Italy Tonina Torrielli Amani se vuoi
  Luxembourg Michèle Arnaud Ne crois pas
  Luxembourg Michèle Arnaud Les amants de minuit
  Netherlands Jetty Paerl De vogels van Holland
  Netherlands Corry Brokken Voor goed voorbij

* the points and placings were not revealed

Sources= Klaus Berg ( – ESC Geschichte(n) ), Wunder gibt es immer wieder – Jan Feddersen.

1957 >>>

4 thoughts on “Eurovision Song Contest 1956 (Lugano)

  1. My personal Top 5:

    1. Germany – Freddy Quinn – So geht das die ganze Nacht
    2. Luxembourg – Michèle Arnaud – Ne crois pas
    3. France – Dany Dauberson – Il est là
    4. Switzerland – Lys Assia – Refrain (probably caus’ I’m used to it)
    5. Germany – Walter Andreas Schwarz – Im Wartesaal zum großen Glück

  2. Well, I will just copy paste my comment and add a p. s.

    Great idea. Thanks! :) And the article is comprehensive too. After all, ESC 1956 is a bit like the Hittite empire … there isn’t much we know about it.

    If we talk about the quality of the songs, the first ESC remains one of the best ever imo. I simply love this very diverse (I disagree with ET here) bunch of songs. Almost all live vocals were impeccable, the quality of the lyrics was very high and the live orchestra was exquisite. Have you noticed that most songs sound better live than in studio version?

    Among all the fine songs there are 3 that stand out imo.

    1. Belgium 1: I know that many people find the lyrics morbid, but since I am a very happy guy enjoying melancholy a lot once in a while and love Fud Leclerc’s voice (such a shame that he only had very few good songs) this one gets a 12/12 from me.

    2. Germany 1: These are officially the best lyrics ever in ESC. (Well, I am a literary historian after all and thus gave all ESC songs ever a thourough close reading.) The lyrics almost resemble eschatological medieval storytelling. However, in the 20th century there couldn’t be any moral closure anymore (in particular after Germany’s history in the 20th century …) and thus the almost cosmic drama unfolded throughout the story is not resolved in the end. Moreover, the recitative style the song was performed in suited the lyrics just perfectly. Another 12/12.

    3. Luxemburg 1: I simply love those straightforward uptempo numbers from the 50s and 60s, The lyrics are very fine too and Michèle Arnauds voice is the first ESC voice ever I absolutely fell in love with if we approach things chronologically. Another 12/12.

    My first place goes to ‘Ne crois pas’.

    Such a shame that one of the songs I like least won but that seems to be some sort of ESC tradition anyway.

    And finally the price for the cutest lyrics goes to ‘Das alte Karussel’.

    P.S. I have never understood why we got 3 of the weakest contests ever in the years after the great first year. There is so much silly, childish and embarrassing stuff in 1957 to 1959 that I find it hard to watch most of the acts. The Netherlands were the only country sending good quality to all 50s contests.

  3. Relatively high standard of songs this time. Agree that nearly all the vocalists are great, but then some of them may have made the respective songs better than they actually are. Somehow I am glad the picture side is gone, because I only have to use my ears.

    My ranking thus far with only two songs below average: “Das alte Karussell” and the fake rock’n roller “So geht das jede Nacht”.

    Belgium I (“Messieurs les noyés de la Seine”)
    Germany I (“Im Wartesaal zum großen Glück”)
    Italy I (“Aprite le finestre”)
    Netherlands I (“De vogels van Holland”)
    France I (“Le temps perdu”)
    Switzerland II (“Refrain”)
    France II (“Il est là”)
    Luxembourg I (“Ne crois pas”)
    Netherlands II (“Voorgoed voorbij”)
    Belgium II (“Le plus beau jour de ma vie”)
    Luxembourg II (“Les amants de minuit”)
    Italy II (“Amami se vuori”)
    Germany II (“So geht das jede Nacht”)
    Switzerland I (“Das alte Karussell”)
    Average: 7,29 (very high)

    • I copy this ranking I made in another thread. I’ve changed and updated some places and grades since then (I hadn’t the patience to write new comments ;) ).

      1. Les amants des minuit: What a magical and enchanting song! The suggestive lyrics about midnight lovers put together with the elegant composition and performed in a marvellous way by Michèle, there’s nothing more to ask for. One of the greatest Eurovision entries ever. (12/12)

      2. Messieurs les noyés de la Seine: This is very much Eulenspiegel. It’s dark and somber, and it’s done in one of the best possible ways. Pessimistic but yet cynical lyrics about all failures in life (really, this man in suicidal thoughts seems at least to have a lot of poetry left in him). In the end, a grand song with really engaging lyrics. (12/12)

      3. Im Wartesaal zum grossen Glück: A very different and daring song, already in 1956, I think. He is more of talking than singing. This great tune tells a moving story about unhappy people always searching for happiness, and always in vain, it seems. Once again, absolutely great lyrics (they had much of that in the early editions) and the melody that balances beween sadness and happiness is also great. (12/12)

      4. Ne crois pas: Straightforward and dramatic song in French, and once again performed by great Michèle. Luxembourg did really do a great start in ESC. It had the most memorable melody of all the 14 songs and I love this piece. (10/12)

      5. Aprite le finestre: This is simply a happy song about spring, and if there’s something Swedish people like myself like, it is happy songs about spring. No, not really. But this is a simple and yet effective song that doesn’t try to be anything more than it is. There is a scent of flowers in the composition alone, I think, and the merry way the song goes onward is really appealing to me. Very good and likeable. (9/12)

      6. Refrain: Very well, the first ESC winner. And this is, like most of the songs in this year, a chanson about sad love. I’m especially in love with the narrative, nostalgic and pastoral lyrics that are set up in a bittersweet nostalgic way. I’m a bit less in love with the melody, which I think loses some of its chanson magic because of the jazz influences it has. But that’s just minor problems, and Lys Assia delivers it very well. (8/12)

      7. Das alte Karussell: Such a sweet song. It’s almost like a song from a Disney cartoon from the 30′s and it’s very likeable. It’s interesting how a song about an old carousel can move me in some strange way, despite its very simple construction. It’s sweet and nice, not to say more. (8/12)

      8. De vogels van Holland: And the first Eurovsion song ever is like a children song (the second was somewhat like that too). Once again a simple melody with simple but yet well working lyrics which are a tribute to Dutch birds. It’s once again cute, but not so much more. But does it really need that? (7/12)

      9. Amami se vuoi: A romantic song about sad love. In some way the melody itself feels very Italian imo. It’s nice and pretty and there are absolutely qualities that I appreciate about it. (7/12)

      10. So geht das jede Nacht: The only song in the first ESC that is somewhat modern. It has clear inspirations from “Rock around the clock” and it’s very catchy and groovy. I think it was a nice try, and I enjoy the song even though my personal taste prefer more dramatic and dark stuff . (7/12)

      11. Le temps perdu: This somewhat the same song as “Amami se vuoi” to me. A typical French chanson with appealing lyrics that put a sad and poetic picture of the singer’s feelings. But I don’t really feel the sadness in the melody, which therefore leaves me a bit disappointed in the end. (6/12)

      12. Voorgoed voorbij: More songs about sad love, and once again, this is a very well put together song with once again fine lyrics. Maybe I should judge this higher, it’s just that it is a bit disappointing in comparison with the other songs in in the same genre from this year. (6/12)

      13. Le plus beau jour de ma vie: The big problem with this song is that the melody and the lyrics doesn’t really fit together. The joy and happiness in the lyrics requires a more happy and joyful melody imo. But it goes onward quite slow. And then we have this ding dong, which probably sounds very strange and non-fitting in this song (it’s not Teach-In style, so to say) if you don’t understand the rest of the lyrics. (5/12)

      14. Il est là: Okay, I’ve understood that this song is very popular among many ESC fans, but myself, I find this a very irritating melody which is justlacking any clear arrangement. The orchestration and the song doesn’t fit together, and the lyrics are for once just OK. Still, even if it is in my last place, it is a very high last place in comparison with later editions. (4/12)

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