Eurovision 1956

In the beginning... Eurovision 1956

The Memories and Mysteries of the contest that started it all

Everyone knows about the first Eurovision Song Contest, the Grand Prix Eurovision de la Chanson Européenne 1956. The genesis of the contest has been and forever will be solidified in the annals of history. The meeting of the EBU in Monaco, the inspiration from the Sanremo Music Festival, the fact that the voting has always been kept secret but as I began my research to write this article I found many answers but also more questions.

Eurovision 1956: Teatro Kursaal Lugano
Teatro Kursaal, Lugano

Seven nations participated but it could have very easily been nine if Austria and Denmark hadn't just barely missed the deadline for submission. The seven participants were all encouraged to hold national selections which only four of them did. Belgium, France and Luxembourg chose to internally select their participants. Even today the ratio of National Contests and Internal selections seems fairly similar. Each nation was allowed two songs and five of them had two singers as well, a practice that would end the following year and every nation would only be allowed one entry.

First seven songs

The Netherlands would be the first nation to appear and Jetty Paerl would forever be known as the first ever Eurovision performance. The Dutch singer could have easily never had that title however. The Netherlands held the "Nederlandse Omroep Stichting" on 24 April 1956 as their national selection contest. This consisted of 8 songs: 3 by Jetty Paerl, 3 by Corry Brokken and 2 by Bert Visser. One song by Jetty Paerl and another by Corry Brokken were chosen as the winners and so the Dutch representatives for the inaugural contest were set.

Jetty Paerl was born in 1921 in Amsterdam but during the Nazi occupation of the netherlands she lived in London. Seems to me a perfect choice for the first performance in a contest which was meant to help heal the wounds of Europe after the defeat of the Nazi's. Her song was titled De Vogels van Holland (The Birds of Holland) written by Annie M.G. Schmidt and composed by Cor Lemaire. During the performance the 24piece orchestra was conducted by Fernando Paggi who would actually conduct for Switzerland and Germany. Jetty passed away on 22 August 2013 but will never be forgotten by the Eurovision faithful and lovers of music worldwide.

Netherlands 1956: Jetty Paerl
Jetty Paerl 1956

The host country for the first contest was, of course, Switzerland. Just as The Netherlands did Switzerland also chose to hold a National Contest for it's selection. Eleven entries participated with 5 songs by Lys Assia, 5 songs by Jo Roland and 1 song by Anita Traversi titled "Bandella Ticinese". Just as with the Eurovision Contest the results of this competition were kept rather secret so we may never no how close we can to changing history altogether. As we all know now Lys Assia won the national selection and was able to take both spots and so made Switzerland only one of two nationals that sent only one singer for two songs, the other being Luxembourg.

Lys Assia was born March 3, 1924 and while she started her entertainment career as a dancer she made the switch to singing in 1940 and we are very happy that she did. Performing second in the contest she would sing Das Alte Karussell (The Old Carousel) written and composed by Georg Benz Stahl. With the voting kept secret we will never know how well she did in comparison with her second song which would be performed 9th on the night. Unfortunately we lost Lys Assia three weeks after her 94th birthday but she will be remembered as one of the most prolific performers in the Eurovision universe.

Belgium was one of the nations which rejected the suggestion of having a public national selection. Instead they opted for an internal choice and Eurovision listeners and viewers were treated to the voices of Fud Leclerc and Mony Marc. Both of these performers seem to have some mystery around them, but when it comes to internal selections mysteries are simply par for the course.

Fud Leclerc was born sometime in 1924, the exact date is unknown. What I can say is that he was one of the first recording artists to use his initials as his stage name. Obviously "Fud" is much easier to say than "Ferdinand Urbain Dominic". Performing 3rd in the contest with a rather dark entry titled Messiers les Noyes de la Seine (Drowned men of the Seine) composed by Jean Miret and Jacques Say and Lyrics by Robert Montal. Despite being the Belgian entry the song was sung entirely in French. On 20 September 2010 we lost the notorious F.U.D. but he will certainly never be forgotten.

Coming in at the 4th spot is Germany who also held a national competition to chose it's representatives for the contest. Only the titles of the two winning entries were recorded so we may never know the other songs which vied for the honor. We do know the names of the participants and it's interesting to note that Lys Assia competed in the German selection as well as the Swiss contest. Interesting to think what would have happened had she won both contests. We can only wonder since the winners of the contest were Walter Schwarz and Freddy Quinn.

Walter Andreas Schwarz was born June 2, 1913 making him the eldest contestant in the contest. Winning the national competition with the song Im Wartesaal zum groben gluck (In the waiting room for great happiness) which he wrote and composed himself. Even though the point totals were never made public it has long been assumed that he placed second just behind Lys Assia. At the age of 78 Walter Schwarz passed away in Heidelberg after a long successful career as a writer and novelist.

For the contestant from France the large nation chose to use an internal selection process. The two singers chosen were Mathe Altery and Dany Dauberson. Despite my best efforts I have not been able to find any information on the selection process. Perhaps it was a long complicated procedure or it may have simply been two guys in a room who picked names out of a classic top hat. Either way the choices were wise.

Mathe Altery was born 12 September 1927 and as far as my research can note is one of only three contestants from this first contest who is still living at the age of 92. Le Temps Perdu (Lost Time) was the song she presented at the contest. The song was a collaboration of it's composer, Andre Lodge and lyricist, Rachele Thoreau. Mathe Altery continued her career with success in music and film.

Luxembourg also opted for an internal selection process and that result was Michele Arnoud who would represent the small nation for both songs. Despite being able to send a representative to the contest, Luxembourg was unable to send the two person jury to the contest and so the jury from Switzerland voted on their behalf, a fact that has plagued the legitimacy of the first contest ever since.

Luxembourg 1956: Michele Arnoud
Michele Arnoud

Michele Arnoud was born 18 March 1919. In 1998, 79 years after her birth, Michele passed away on 30 August, barely two weeks after her birthday. She will forever be remembered for her French language song Ne Crois Pas (Don't Believe) written by Christian Guitreau.

The Sanremo Music Festival wasn't only the inspiration for the Eurovision Song Contest but it also served as the selection process for the competitors from Italy. The contest began in 1951 and so 1956 would have been it's sixth edition. The festival is a three night event and consists of two semi-finals of ten song each and then the final which consists of ten songs, the top five from each semi-final. In 1956 out of a field of 20 songs and 6 singers the top two were chosen to represent Italy at the inaugural ESC.

Franca Raimondi was the first to represent Italy, performing in the 7th spot of the night and effectively concluding the first half of the program. She had won in Sanremo with the song Aprite le finestre (Open the windows) composed by Virigilio Panzuti with lyrics by Pino Perotti. Born on 8 July 8 1932 Franca ultimately passed away in 1988 at the age of 56 on 28 August.

Last seven songs

For the second half of the program the country running order remained the same and so we begin in the 8th spot with the Netherlands second song Voorgoed Voorbij (Over Forever) by Jelle de Vries and performed by Corry Brokken. Brokken was born on 3 December 1932 and throughout her career enjoyed success and defeat, winning the contest in 1957 and then the following year tying for last place, making her the only artist to come in first and last in the contest. In 1976 she left music to persue law and eventually became a judge. She passed away on 31 May 2016 but I am sure she would be pleased to see the contest return to the Netherlands.

Following our running order our next nation is our host, Switzerland and their sole representative, Lys Assia. For her second performance she brings us Refrain which in it's original form was titled "Refrains". The song was composed by Geo Voumard with lyrics by Emile Gardaz. As we all know this song would ultimately be the winner of the contest and Lys Assia would forever go down in history as the first winner of the Eurovision Song Contest. Lys Assia would return and attempt to return to the contest many more times but would never repeat the success brought to her in that first contest.

Belgium 1956: Mony Marc
Mony Marc

Performing 10th on the night is the second entry from Belgium. The song is Le Plus Beau jour de ma vie (The most beautiful day of my life) composed by Claude Alix with lyrics by David Bee. The song is sung in French by Mony Marc. It was the second longest song of the night but despite this or the apparent popularity of the song I can find absolutely no information on Mony Marc besides the fact that she was the Belgian representative at the 1956 contest. If it not were for the recording of the song and the few picture I found I would begin to presume she did not actually exist. If anyone does indeed have any information on her please feel free to tell us in the comments or email me.

Freddy Quinn performs the second song for Germany in the 11th spot of the night. Born on 27 September 1931 in Austria, Quinn is one of the three who is still living at the age of 87. His presentation is with the song So Geht das Jede Nacht (That's How It Is Every Night) composed by Lotar Olias with lyrics by Peter Mosser. Had Austria met the deadline perhaps he would have represented them instead.

Our second performance from France is brought to us by Dany Dauberson, born 16 January 1925. Il Est Là (He's Here) was the title of the song written by Simone Vallauris. Dany Dauberson was a successful singer and actress but that would all change in April 1967 when she was in a tragic automobile accident with her dear friend Nicole Berger, a fellow actress. Berger did not survive and the incident left Dauberson scarred both mentally and physically and she retired from the public eye. Twelve years later on 16 March 1979 Dany Dauberson passed away at the age of 54.

Michele Arnoud returns to the stage for the second performance for Luxembourg. The 13th performance of the evening is Arnoud's rendition of Les Amants de Minuit (The Midnight Lovers). The song was composed by Simone Laurencin with lyrics by Jacques Lassry whom also happened to be the conductor for both of Michele Arnoud's performances.

Finishing off the evening is Tonina Torrieli representing Italy. Torrieli came in second in Sanremo and so earned the right to represent Italy with the song Amami se voui (Love me if you want to) composed by Vittorio Mascheroni and lyrics by Mario Panzeri. Torrieli also holds the distinction of being the third contestant from the first Eurovision to still be living. Born on 22 March 1934 she is now 85 years young.

Switzerland 1956: Lys Assia
Lys Assia

As far as the results are concerned all we know is that Switzerland, the host country, was announced as the winner with Refrain by Lys Assia.

1956 would be the only year in which two songs were entered for each nation and would also be the last time the voting was kept a secret. From 1957 on the voting has always been transparent if not always fair.

About the author: Christopher Carlson (United States)

Christopher Carlson is our American correspondent. His interest in Eurovision began in high school when his Spanish teacher would often play "Eres Tu" by Mocedades for the class. Later encounters with Eurovision occurred upon discovering Secret Garden's "Nocturne". As a fan of history as well as music Christopher enjoys writing articles that discuss the roots and foundations of the Eurovision Song Contest. Topping the list of his favorite songs are "Heel de wereld" by Corry Brokken, "Eres Tu" by Mocedades, "Inje" by Vanya Radovanovic and "You are the only one" by Sergey Lazarev.

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