Today, I present to you the first Italian song in Eurovision history. Of course, following the language traditions of old Eurovision, it is in Italian. A rule to impose languages was only introduced in 1965. The song appears to be a straight forward hymn of spring and love.
Sometimes it seems hard to ascribe meaning to something beyond the surface level. This song is one I can’t find any deeper meaning to at all. The writing behind this song is a surface recantation of tropes about spring and love that have been culturally present in Europe for centuries. But hey, before I get too much into the weeds, how about you try and take a listen?
To my eyes, the lyrics are very inoffensive. And I think it’s supposed to be that way. It certainly isn’t the only shamelessly inoffensive song of the competition. It more so fits into a pattern of inoffensive post-war texts. Designed to please an audience only too well accustomed to the trouble, life in tumultuous times can breed. In this sense, not the inoffensive songs are the exception of early Eurovision, no the ones that have a deeper message are a meaningful exception. I don’t want to praise some of the songs I’ve reviewed and found meaningful too much, but for an interesting take on post-war beauty, I would recommend you to take a look at what I already wrote about Luxembourg’s first entry.
Franca Raimondi’s take on the tropes of love and spring is definitely flatter than Michèle Arnaud‘s. After all, it is lacking any pretence of societal criticism, but there will be many inoffensive and strikingly uninventive songs to come in Eurovision history. We’ve already heard inoffensive songs, like De Vogels van Holland and I don’t think every textually inoffensive song is a bad one or not worth the time of a listen. There’s more to songs than their apparent meaning, and often it is we the listeners that can ascribe more meaning to a song than any line of text. After all, the author is dead is in the case of 1956 Eurovision almost certainly a literal truth and not just a paradigm of criticism.
And if only to spite me and my rant about the blandness of its lyrics, the songs melody actually makes me happy. I can’t really fault this song for its lack of meaningful lyrics. The melody, actually, hits a nice groove for me. It is light, reminiscent of a blue band fluttering through a spring breeze. And the Italian lyrics, I don’t understand without translation anyhow, just add to, my desire to feel the breeze of spring on my skin, to feel the sun and see its light hit the fresh flowers in a way that produces an incredible glow of colour.
Anyhow before, I fall in love with spring to much, here’s the playlist of all Eurovision songs from 1956 I’ve reviewed so far:
Don’t believe it, but this is another first in Eurovision history. I mean, of course, it is Luxembourg’s first entry into the competition, but no, that’s not what I had in mind. This is actually the first up-tempo song in the competition. It is, however, a trade-off between speedy delivery and length of the song. It is with regret that I have to inform you that this short break from drawn-out chansons is not even two minutes long. Listen to it for yourself:
This, of course, is Michèle Arnaud with her rendition of Ne Crois Pas. For once it delivers a break from all the slow chansons the competition offered so far. Wikipedia makes me hopeful it will at least not remain the only up-tempo entry, but I don’t know yet if, “In contrast to most of the other entries of this Contest, the song is an up-tempo number […].”, is just the authors hedging their bets.
The song’s fast tempo might be fitting with its general message of the vanity inherent in beauty. The song is a plea to a lover to disregard their beauty because it would be meaningless in the long run. In a way, this topic reminds me of German baroque poetry. Vanitas and evanescence, beauty as a temporary good, are all things that crop up in German poetry of the 17th century. Germany as a state didn’t exist by then, but the general area of what would once become Germany was thrashed by the turmoils of the Thirty Years War then. There’s a parallel to Luxembourg only 11 years after the end of World War II.
Similar to the Thirty Years War, the Second World War was a pointer to the evanescence of life, beauty and safety and showed the depths humanity could descend to. Ne Crois Pas in itself isn’t a reference to said turmoil but it’s a mirror towards society’s ingrained believes about evanescence. A young lover could have very well been drafted into a war and have lost his beauty within months of fighting, perhaps, through injury, perhaps, just through the ceaseless trauma of war laying its creases on their face.
But there is a twist to the baroque motifs. While the poets of the 17th century put their fingers up and warned of the fleetingness of beauty and in the same breath extolled a veritable form of nihilism, Michèle Arnaud’s song gives more practical and less philosophical advice: Use it while it lasts!
My take on this song is probably deeper than the author of the song ever intended, but I am of the strong opinion that for every medium there’s one important adage: “The author is dead.” I don’t mean that literally, though at least for this piece it’s probably the truth. At least Arnaud died in 1998 already and I don’t think the composer Christian Guitreau is still alive.
If we come back to the surface. I can, but agree, that this song could also just be a story about vanity and jealousy. Vanity not in the sense of baroque vanitas but strictly speaking as a negative personality trait. Though a look at both words alone should hint you at a deep etymological link between the two.
I don’t enjoy this song enough to put it in any of my personal playlists, but I very much enjoyed the variety it brings to the 1956 lineup of songs. I hope up-tempo songs get a second chance for this first Eurovision year. I’ll leave you with the current playlist of reviewed ESC 1956 songs:
Hello, there. You thought I had lost my mind? I don’t fault you for it. After all, my last two Eurovision pieces, about both the first Belgian entry and the first German entry, were strikingly positive. If you thought this would start a streak of generally more positive reviews, I have to disappoint you. The song in question today strikes me as a technical achievement, that I absolutely detest. I detest it so much this review took me way longer than it should have and so long that I’m now in the midst of the creative endurance test of Inktober. But alas here it is, Le Temps Perdu or in English Lost Time by Parisian born singer Mathé Altéry.
I’m not up for much purple prose with this song. I could try to describe the heights Mathé Altéry reaches with her surely magnificent vocal cords, but to be honest, even if it might be a feat of technical prowess, I can’t enjoy it. It sounds to my untrained ear less like an artistic choice but more like an attempt at showing off.
Actually, after now listening to it for what is a month since my last review of a Eurovision song. It actually has grown on me. Don’t get me wrong. I still don’t like it and I still think the song’s long-drawn-out searches for the highest note could have been scrapped for the benefit of the audience. I, however, have to admit I don’t mind the song as much as when I wrote the introduction to this review.
As much as I’m not an expert in music, I’m not an expert in French either. I took a year of French courses in my ill-fated attempts at a university education. And while I have a certified level of A1 in the CEFR that is as of now, hardly enough to easily understand the depths of the lyrics Mathé Altéry sings. My way out of this is to rely on translations. I went to the length of double-checking if they are at least plausible, but as with every translation, translation is always a game of interpretation. The following analysis won’t withstand academic rigour, but then again no entry of this series claims to be academic at all. This is just my opinion.
The song is reminiscent of a long lost lover. Contrary to what Wikipedia states, Altéry is not, in fact, hoping her own song will distract herself from the pain of lost love, but she’s beseeching the carillon to take her pain away with its beautiful song. But what in the world even is a carillon? Well, it’s a Glockenspiel.
Well actually, it’s more complicated than that. Wikipedia’s article about Carillons opens up an interesting linguistic rabbit hole. There is a loop of cultural differences in action between French, the origin of carillon, German, the origin of Glockenspiel, and of course English, as ever multiple languages in a trenchcoat passing as one, going on. carillon in French translates to Glockenspiel in German, Glockenspiel in English translates to Metallophon in German and carillon in English translates to Glockenspiel in English.
The word “carillon” is said to originate from the French quadrillon, meaning four bells. In German, a carillon is also called a Glockenspiel; while the percussion instrument called a “glockenspiel” by English speakers is often called a carillon in French.
But back from these linguistic anomalies to the song at hand. The lyrics of Le Temps Perdu are quite rich in metaphors and optimistic sweetness. They are soft in tone and don’t fit well with the screeching that the vocals elicit in my mind. Reading the song, surprisingly enough, makes me hopeful. I like its images of moving rivers, and evenings and nights full of longing and languor. Even if in total it might be a bit too heavy on the schmaltz.
Sing, carillon, sing for my happiness
Mathé Altéry, Le temps perdu
As introduced in the last review, I made a Spotify playlist, now including Le Temps Perdu. If you really want to torture yourself, and maybe even find a liking to a few of the songs, feel free to give it a listen.
Today we’re again diving deep into an entry to the 1956 Grand Prix Eurovision de la Chanson Européenne. Last time we talked about Fud Leclerc and his drowned men, today we’re talking about Walter Andreas Schwarz. This is the first German entry on our journey and I’m sure I’m biased in its favour just because I’m German too. Who even chose this title image? Blergh… I feel way too patriotic.
Before we talk about the song though, let’s first talk about the musician behind it: Walter Andreas Schwarz. Im Wartesaal zum großen Glück was Schwarz’s only big musical success, and even if it was good enough for participation in the final, it wasn’t enough for commercial success. His main line of work throughout his life remained voice acting. His passion definitely shows in his work as a singer and songwriter. His entry for the competition is mostly spoken and only interspersed with intermittent attempts at melodious singing. Schwarz died in 1992, and his sparse musical work remained deeply rooted in a tradition of straightforward storytelling, that to my ears is concurrent or even precedent to the tradition of German Liedermacher like Reinhard Mey et Altera.
Surprisingly, this song is rumoured to have been ranked second in the 1956 contest. Why I find that surprising? Because at least to my ears it doesn’t fit into the classic Chanson that is so defining for all other entries we’ve listened to so far. This is also a point where we could get into the controversies around the voting procedures in 1956, but I think, as it doesn’t actually matter to this song, I’m keeping that for a discussion of the actual winner, so stay tuned! Let’s better move on and discuss the song.
The song itself is around 4 minutes long and starts with flutes that would be worthy of any German feel-good television show intro from the 1960s and 70s, but the flutes get interrupted by a way less cheery accordion only seconds into the song, and with that, we’re into the lyrics.
The song title, that roughly translates to In the Waiting Room to Good Fortune, gives away the main point and image the song conveys. Everyone seems to be waiting and dreaming of their happiness, but in a way, this strikes the author as a Waiting for Godot. As Godot, luck will never appear (on its own). Positing that only those who seize the day will capture their luck while those, who wait for their dreams to happen, remain waiting forever, the writer strikes a chord of thinking that has been present in our cultural consciousness at least since Horace‘s famous aphorism carpe diem. Schwarz, however, moves further along this line of thinking, and his dreamers don’t even notice the luck they could attain. After all, they are waiting for their own special luck.
Und man baute am Kai der Vergangenheit Einen Saal mit Blick auf das Meer Und mit Wänden aus Träumen gegen die Wirklichkeit Denn die liebte man nicht sehr Im Wartesaal zum großen Glück Da warten viele, viele Leute Die warten seit gestern auf das Glück von morgen Und leben mit Wünschen von übermorgen Und vergessen, es ist ja noch heute Ach, die armen, armen Leute
Im Wartesaal zum großen Glück, Walter Andreas Schwarz
And they built at the quay of the past / a hall with a view of the sea / and with walls made from dreams against reality / because they didn’t love [reality] much. / In the waiting room to good fortune / there were many, many people waiting / They waited for the good luck of tomorrow / and lived with the wishes of the day after tomorrow / and forget it is still today / Oh, the poor, poor people.
This song has gained a special place in my heart, not because its instrumentation would be amazing or the metaphor would be groundbreaking, but because its mood translates so well for me. I can feel the weird melancholy. I can feel myself live within my own dreams. I can feel both the pain of never seeing my dreams fulfilled, but I can also see the despair of me not moving forward through time and life, as if I had a third-person view of myself. I don’t agree with the song, that there is any magically glowing freight, that could bring light into my life. I don’t believe that there’s someone who could make my sunrise right now, but still, it feels weirdly descriptive of my life right now. And who knows? Maybe I can take this melancholic look into the world and make it my own, move on and take a step out of the waiting room.
But is it truly that easy? I might be getting too caught up in this fantasy … Where’s my cynicism? This song isn’t a straight forward carpe diem. There’s a problem. Sure you can say it’s just a beautiful image, but apparently, in the song’s world there’s an infinite amount of good to distribute, and people are at fault for not finding it when all they would have to do is to step out of their dreams, when in fact stepping out of your dreams can take some serious effort. Not everyone is in a place where they can afford to work for their own happiness, not everyone is in the right mental place to even step out and find their luck. I don’t feel ready to capture my luck. I know I should, but my brain is great at telling me what I should do and then being too fearful to do it. Reality can be scary. Dreams are an escape for those who fall out of our systems. And maybe there’s still a way to live your dream and not follow the idea of what a German voice actor would deem lucky or successful.
Well, we should probably not be too harsh on this song. After all, Germany after the war, was very much yearning for easy entertainment, light comedy and simple solutions. There had been enough pain and misery in the recent past, that at least some writers and many producers for television, radio and cinema, didn’t feel comfortable about hitting people over their head with deep and thoughtful works or about showing people the bleak reality. They felt people wanted to dream of a humble but gleeful future or past. And maybe, just maybe, this song is a subtle protest against this overly produced and glossy dream-scape.
I’m not as subtle. I’m, without a doubt, hitting you over the head with the weirdness that is early-day Eurovision. To make it easier for you to keep track of all the songs, I made a Spotify playlist of all the songs, we’ve talked about so far. Sometimes, there might be a sneak preview in there, but probably not regularly.
I actually like this entry. That’s a boring first, but maybe a good opportunity to flex my positivity muscles … about a thoroughly depressing song.
Trigger Warning: This post discusses mental health issues and suicide.
I actually like this entry. That’s a boring first, but maybe a good opportunity to flex my positivity muscles … about a thoroughly depressing song.
Well then, this took me way longer than it should have. I, honestly, thought that I would struggle more with the horrible songs of this contest, but apparently writing about something I enjoy is the harder exercise for me. This isn’t helped by my general propensity to abandon projects in the face of adverse circumstance or to start way too many projects at once all the time. Though, this probably shouldn’t become a testament to my mental health, even if the song potentially warrants a discussion about mental health in general.
But let’s get started with Eurovisions third final entry: The song in question is Messieurs les noyés de la Seine by Belgian Artist Fud Leclerc. Again Fud Leclerc is a name worth keeping in mind as he represented Belgium four times on the stage of the Grand Prix Eurovision de la Chanson Européenne and would go on to be invited as a guest star for the Eurovision Song Contest 2005.
Messieurs les noyés de la Seine translates to the Drowned Men of the River Seine and that should be the first warning to those who were expecting a happy feel-good melody to hum on their way to work. While if your French is as lacking as my own would probably not understand what is going on within the lyrics, the musical accompaniment doesn’t exude happiness either nor should it. Not every song has to be happy, but this one packs a particular punch of melancholy for me. The six repetitions of the title within the verses of the song, make them into a melancholic mantra that is only accentuated by my inability to notice the subtle changes between the stanzas.
Wikipedia posits that the persona of the singer is caught up in “a loveless marriage” and wants to drown himself in the Seine. While I can find supporting textual evidence for the first claim easily, I’m not so sure about the second claim. First of all, Wikipedia mixes up what Fud Leclerc himself and what the persona in his song wants to do, but secondly while the persona is obviously weighed down by the troubles of love and considers quitting the game I don’t think that necessarily points to a clear intention to commit suicide, there are other ways to quit the game. Also at this time, I feel it necessary to point to the fact that Messieurs les noyés de la Seine is definitely plural in French. That much I know.
Pourquoi, si tout le monde triche, jouer encore le jeu?
Fud Leclerc: Messieurs les noyés de la Seine
But there is a point to be made about the Persona’s suicidal ideation. After all, the song ends with the words “Paris me doit bien un berceau / Je m’endormirai sans amour ni haine / Entre ses bras de sable et d’eau”: Paris owes me a cradle / I will fall asleep with neither love nor hate / in its arms of sand and water
Paris me doit bien un berceau Je m’endormirai sans amour ni haine Entre ses bras de sable et d’eau
Fud Leclerc: Messieurs les noyés de la Seine
Even though not Belgian,Paris is a fitting choice for this song. As a city, Paris is commonly associated with love and beauty and while Paris is a beautiful city and there are many romantic and scenic spots to be found within its boundaries, Paris still comes with all the dirt, grime, rats, and annoyances of big cities. This disconnect between anticipation and reality even lead to what’s somewhat jokingly called Paris-Syndrome. This is usually more accurately described as an extreme form of culture shock. The disconnect between the imagined City of Love and the pain love can cause us in reality, can certainly make our own loneliness feel more intense.
What still is surprising to me, is that I actually enjoy the calm melancholy of this song. It’s so far the only song that has managed to find its way into my vast collection of meticulously sorted Spotify playlists.
YouTube offered its mercy to me. The first recommendation all the while I was listening to this work, was Billy Joel’s Piano Man, an in my opinion fundamentally superior song. Though while YouTube was reaching out a hand of good-will to me, I hit it away and made myself listen to the second entry of 1956’s Grand Prix Eurovision de la Chanson Européenne: Das Alte Karussell by Swiss singer Lys Assia.
This is the first song from Switzerland to ever grace the stage of Eurovision finals and the second song of the entire competition. For a view on the first entry be sure to visit my last post about it here. It also contains a bit more information on what I’m doing in this series of blog posts.
This song is way worse than the last one. I’m sorry. Maybe it’s just the fact that I understand German better than Dutch, or maybe it is just that with less complex lyrics about birdsong you can do little wrong, but I sure didn’t need a repair manual for an old carousel.
But let us start at the title. Das Alte Karussell means The Old Merry-Go-Round in German, and that’s probably way more descriptive of the song itself than it should be. The instrumentation surely makes a good effort at evoking the slightly monotonous and out of tune music of an old-timey fair. Though I, myself, wouldn’t count that as a positive. After all, I want to listen to a song and not find the background music for my career as a 20th-century showman. To be fair the instrumentation is not the worst this song has to offer, at least if you ignore the fact that at some points it almost completely blocks out the timid vocals.
Well actually, I don’t know if that’s a genuine downside. The lyrics don’t draw me in either. Sure, they are a weird pastiche of a derelict fairground, but certainly, no one who tried to restore a run-down merry-go-round would need a song as a reminder to lubricate the mechanisms if the carousel ran too slowly. I know I’m taking this way too literally, but I can’t help it with a song as empty of metaphor and depth as this one. Just block my ears as the instrumentation tries to emulate the sounds of the broken organ of the merry-go-round.
In my mind, there’s a clear reason why Lys Assia, who died only last year, didn’t win with this particular song. Though remember her, she will come up again, and I said “this” for a reason in the last sentence.
This is a terrible project. Some would maybe even say this is torturous. They would probably be right. It is a long project, and especially, the first few entries will be produced only with a few groans uttered by myself during the writing process. This is supposed to be a comprehensive overview of all Eurovision Song Contest finalist entries, from 1956 to today. Starting, for every year with the worst entry and going through the table from the bottom. I’m by no means a musical expert, but what would be the fun in an expert opinion? So this is 1956’s worst entry.
Well, there’s a slight problem at this point for the Grand Prix de Eurovision de la Chanson Européenne 1956: We actually, have no clue what the worst song was. We don’t even know how the jury voted on the entries. The only thing that was published was the winner of the competition. I won’t tell you, who won, right now, but if you’re dying to know, Wikipedia will be your friend (here). I won’t fret too much though, and we’ll just continue our endeavour in 1957.
No, no, no, no. You thought you could escape 1956? You thought wrong. I will just go through them in order of the draw, saving the winner for the end.
So this is 1956’s first song: De Vogels van Holland, sung by Dutch singer Jetty Paerl. It is a Chanson, not in just the French sense of the word, but it fits the style. Jetty Pearl sings about the birds of Holland and it’s just a happy, mildly patriotic song about the birds of Holland. Fittingly enough, the instrumentation of the song starts with slight trills reminiscent of actual bird song, before Jetty Pearl praises the musical prowess of Dutch birds. I didn’t know birds would keep to the confines of international borders, but I’m no ornithologist.
My cursory research into dutch songbirds hasn’t brought any scientific paper to light that would have dared to compare songbirds on a national level, though I now feel slightly more informed about the breeding habits of three dune-dwelling, insect-eating songbirds of the Netherlands. Namely, this includes the meadow pipit, the European stonechat, and the northern wheatear – neither of which is endemic to the Netherlands, nor does the song of any one of these birds strike me as particularly beautiful. Remarkably Jetty Paerl offers us a hypothesis why the birds of Holland are so musically adept:
‘t is geen wonder want nergens zijn de plassen zo blauw Als in Holland mijnheer Als in Holland mevrouw ‘t is geen wonder want nergens is het gras zo vol dauw Zijn de meisjes zo lief, zijn de meisjes zo trouw En daarom zijn de vogels hier allemaal Zo muzikaal
Regardless of the doubtful nature of statements implying that lakes are not as blue, girls not as sweet and faithful anywhere other than in Holland, I can’t bring myself to believe that this would hold up to any scientific rigour. Granted, the point of the Grand Prix de Eurovision de la Chanson Européenne is entertainment, not scientific accuracy. Though I doubt that a song that couldn’t distract me from this weird rabbit hole of research into Dutch songbirds will find its way into my regular listening.
In fact, I’ve been procrastinating listening to it again for long enough to essentially forget what I’ve even written a month ago. I mean, there are worse songs to listen too. It’s neither musically nor lyrically interesting, but good enough to sway to and fro a bit.