Mischa W. KrauszBorn: October 2nd, 1954, Afritz am See (Austria)
During his secondary school years, Mischa soon fell for pop music. Giving up the cello in favour of the electric bass guitar, he played in two amateur bands. Krausz remarks: “Unfortunately, my cello teacher was not exactly inspirational, which made the choice all the more easy – and of course the cello is hardly reconcilable with pop music. Without taking any lessons, I tried to master the bass guitar. Until graduating from grammar school, I played in two different cover bands. We attempted copying virtually every song that was in the hit parade. We did not make a lot of money, but these years were quite important for my development as a musician. Playing chart successes in our own amateurish way, we were unwittingly studying music structures quite closely. Moreover, I also learned a lot by occasionally jumping in by playing the piano or rhythm guitar when other band members were unavailable. Meanwhile, at school, I was a particularly unmotivated pupil; anything not having a link with sport or music left me indifferent. Still, I was waiting for some subject to come along which interested me enough to go to university. Since that didn’t happen, though, I finally decided to go to a conservatory. My father was astonished. He never thought I would want to be a music professional, but… as it had been his ambition all those years ago, he could hardly refuse!”
After performing the mandatory eight months of military service, Mischa Krausz studied the electric bass at the jazz branch of Vienna’s Conservatory of Music (1975-’80) under the aegis of Rudolf Hansen. “Hansen was a great teacher”, Krausz recalls. “He originally was a double-bass player and already in his fifties, but the age gap did not hamper our relationship at all. He was such a nice chap – and an excellent musician! In the first year, he taught me all the things about the bass I needed to know… and we basically spent the remaining four years having inspirational in-depth conversations about music. Of course, I was also taught music theory – arranging being the bit that interested me most. For my final examinations, I wrote a big band arrangement. My ambitions? I wanted to make a living as a musician, no matter how or in which genre. Though I was passionate about jazz, I found out soon enough there was no money in playing in Vienna’s jazz clubs. To make ends meet as a student, I drove a lorry taking my father’s furniture to his customers. By the time I was twenty-two, I was married with two daughters – and my wife was a student as well. As you can imagine, we had to be practical back then; also in terms of jobs.”
During his student days, Mischa Krausz was a member of two bands, Apostroph 2 and Umspannwerk. With the former group, Krausz won the 1977 edition of Popodrome, a nationwide competition for pop bands. Krausz recalls: “Apostroph2 were a funny bunch. We were a rock band. The singer, who had a daytime job as a painter, could not perform on consecutive evenings, because he shrieked so badly that his voice was ruined after the first night. Umspannwerk was a more sophisticated group, inspired by Chicago and Blood, Sweat & Tears. I only joined them after Falco, who was a friend and fellow-student of mine, wanted to leave the band, asking me if I was keen to replace him. It was the best thing that could have happened to me. There was a brass section of four elements for which arrangements had to be written. Of course, I volunteered. I also composed a couple of songs for Umspannwerk. The band in itself had no future – we did not have a record deal to begin with – but it was the ideal playground for me and others. Most of the band members later had a good career in music.”
In 1979, Mischa Krausz auditioned for the accompanying band of poet and chansonnier André Heller. “The audition was organised by Peter Wolf,” Krausz explains. “By then, Peter already lived in America, working with Frank Zappa. Having been persuaded to be Heller’s musical director for a year-long tour, Wolf came to Austria to bring the American standards of professionalism into the accompanying band. He picked me from amongst four or five bass players. It was a turning point in my life, because it allowed me to enter the small professional music nucleus in Austria. I was lucky. In the 1970s, apart from Wolfgang Ambros and Marianne Mendt, there was no pop music scene in Austria – for band musicians, it was very hard to find paid jobs – and all of a sudden this André Heller audition turned up. The musicians who were picked for the Heller band were assured of a steady income for nearly a full year. Unusually, we were also paid for rehearsals and even our travelling expenses were covered. This was heaven! I was immensely proud to be a member of this all-star ensemble which included the likes of Toni Stricker and Hansi Dujmic. From the first Heller tour on, I was drawn from one project into the other. I was off!”
Between 1979 and 1985, Krausz played in André Heller’s band in two consecutive tours; furthermore, he was involved as a bass player in the studio recordings of all of Heller’s material during this period. Soon Krausz was also playing in recording sessions for other artists of the fledgling Austropop generation as well, including Peter Schleicher and Lukas Resetarits. Alternating studio jobs with performing, Krausz embarked on stage tours with Erika Pluhar – who was André Heller’s wife – and Maria Bill. In between, with Hansi Dujmic and others, Krausz founded a short lived rock band, Chaos de Luxe, which released one album and several singles.
While making a living in pop and rock music, Mischa Krausz also continued playing gigs in Vienna’s lively jazz scene whenever he could. “It would be presumptuous to refer to myself as a jazz musician given the career I have had,” states Krausz, “but my heart has always been with jazz. In the early 1980s, it was not as easy as it is today to find out about new developments in jazz music. We were all avidly looking out for new records by Miles Davis and the other American giants. I remember my music friends and I exchanging music cassettes with copies of US jazz LPs because we could not afford to buy new releases every time. The cassette was our saviour… It allowed us to be inspired by fresh jazz music without going bankrupt!”
Becoming more and more experienced as a studio musician, Krausz soon started making his mark as a producer and arranger of pop and rock projects as well: “As a session player, I mainly worked in two studios: Wolfgang Ambros’ studio in Achau and the Sound Mill Studio in Vienna. Any act in Austria that was successful or aspiring to be successful, chose one of these two studios to record their work. After the first Heller tour – so we are probably talking about 1981 now – I was approached by a young chansonnier, someone I had known for many years. He had a budget and wanted to record an album with me as his producer. We used the Sound Mill Studio for these sessions. The album was no success at all, but from then on more production jobs came my way. Peter Müller, the owner of Sound Mill, regularly asked me to co-produce recordings with him, in which I covered the musical side and he did the engineering bit. Peter and I worked together well. All of this allowed me to develop as an arranger as well, which had been an ambition all along. However, it was not until working with Sigi Maron in 1986 that I became a household name as a producer.”
Sigi Maron (1944-2016) was a singer-songwriter, performing in his native Viennese dialect. In 1986, Mischa Krausz co-composed Maron’s single release ‘Geh’ no net furt’, which climbed to number one in the Austrian charts. “Peter Müller was Sigi’s producer and he asked me to do the arrangement for ‘Geh’ no net furt’. Because I felt the song lacked a middle part, I created a bridge – and Sigi, who was very principled in things like these, credited me as co-composer. All of this surprised me, because I was convinced it was a cover version… which turned out to be the case (of a 1983 song by the Kinks, ‘Don’t forget to dance’ – BT). When we were number one in the charts, a lawsuit was filed against us by Ray Davies of the Kinks. After being put under pressure by the CEO of the record company, we gave in. Sigi should never have claimed the song as his own composition; he did not expect it to catch on in the way it did. It was such a pity. We could have made some decent money, something Sigi was always short of… Nonetheless, ‘Geh’ no net furt’ gave Sigi’s career in Austria a considerable boost. I joined Sigi’s band on an Austrian tour, additionally co-producing and arranging several more of his albums. His records sold especially well in East-Germany, a country with which Sigi openly sympathised – something I never managed to understand. The considerable royalties we earned in East-Germany could by law only be spent in that country… which meant we never actually touched the money until a few years after the reunification of Germany, because not even Sigi felt like going to the GDR!”
Oddly, Mischa Krausz heard about ‘Geh’ no net furt’ reaching the top spot in Austria’s hit chart in ’86 while he was in Moscow for the Communist Youth World Festival with singer Wilfried Scheutz (1950-2017). Krausz recounts: “In 1986 and 1987, I was a member of Wilfried’s band. For that Soviet festival, communist parties of countries all over the world sent delegations of musicians. As the Austrian Communist Party was very small, they made common cause with the social-democrats and, together, they decided upon Wilfried as their representative. Like me, Wilfried had vague left-leaning sympathies, but we were by no means as politically conscious as Sigi Maron who was a lifelong communist. Wilfried’s reputation was based on his ability to mix Austrian folk with rock. Technically speaking, he was not the best of singers, but he was a true stage animal. Walking onto the stage, he would roar into the microphone – and the crowd went wild. Added to that, he was an excellent improviser. Accompanying him to Moscow was quite an experience. I had the impression the entire city had been given a quick refurbishment. Atypically, there was not a drop of alcohol available anywhere, which was a huge problem for the drinkers in our delegation, but fortunately for them the festival only lasted for three days! We performed for an audience of 100,000 youngsters from all over the world. I distinctly remember shunning the East-German delegation; these people were extremely boring. We preferred hanging out with the Cubans, who were cheerful and celebrated the occasion.”
Towards the end of the 1980s, Mischa Krausz found himself playing and performing in four pop groups simultaneously, whilst also working in the recording studio as a session player and producer. As it became increasingly difficult to fit all of these activities into his schedule, he decided to focus on studio work and on just one performing act, Etta Scollo. Etta Scollo was a Sicilian singer with an ethno-rock repertoire who had settled down in Vienna. In 1988, she had a huge hit in Austria with a cover of the Lennon-McCartney song ‘Oh! Darling!’.
Krausz: “To Etta, the success came as a surprise. With her song in the charts, she was looking for a band of musicians to go on tour. I was keen to join, as Etta was an excellent vocalist; what’s more, she was versatile, being able to handle many different genres. For four years, she was the main act with whom I worked. In addition, I produced and arranged the three albums she released. The first one of these (released in 1989 and co-produced by Georg Gabler – BT) went gold. My years with Etta Scollo were good, but by the early 1990s, the golden age of Austropop was over. The last album we did with Etta before she moved away to Germany sold badly. Meanwhile, all acts which had been big in the 80s had stopped or vanished from the scene; there were hardly any successors – except for some niche artists, such as Hubert von Goisern. On top of that, around that same time, Austrian public radio Ö3 virtually ceased playing Austrian material, whether it be old or new. As a result, possibilities to promote Austrian pop music were hard to come by. This was a situation which lasted for many years.”
In these rather adverse conditions, it was obvious to Krausz that he had to go looking for other working areas. In 1989, he took up a part-time job as a bass guitar teacher, as well as music theory and jazz arranging at the Wiener Neustadt Conservatoire. More significantly, he managed to get a foot in the door of the film world. In 1990, Krausz composed the score to a TV film directed by Michael Schottenberg, ‘Landläufiger Tod’. Two years later, Schottenberg and Krausz collaborated again, this time on a cinema film, ‘Averill’s Ankommen’ – for the musical score to this film, Mischa Krausz won the Golden Award at the 1994 Houston Film Festival. In subsequent years, he became one of the most sought-after composers for television movies in Austria and Germany. He penned the music to two extremely successful and long-running TV series, ‘Julia, eine ungewöhnliche Frau’ (65 episodes, 1999-2003) and ‘Der Winzerkönig’ (39 episodes, 2006-’10); both were co-productions between Austrian broadcaster ORF and their German counterparts ARD.
Asked about how he got involved in the film business, Krausz explains: “In the mid-1980s, my younger brother Danny founded a film company. He regularly asked me if I was interested in writing the scores, but, initially, I didn’t have enough time due to commitments in pop music. At some point, though, I decided to give it a try: I did a small film for him. It turned out quite well, and, from that moment, other films came my way. It was nice to win the award in Houston for ‘Averill’s Ankommen’, but, in terms of audiences, it was not a significant production. In 1994, I did a cinema film for children called ‘Die Knickerbocker-Bande – Das sprechende Grab’, which proved a considerable box office success. It was the first film for which I wrote an orchestral score. Due to my increasing involvement in scoring films and television dramas, I virtually stopped performing with others. Two of the few exceptions were Christian Kolonovits with his Vienna Symphonic Orchestra Project, with whom I did a Japanese tour, and George Nussbaumer, a gifted blues singer from Vorarlberg. In 1994, I produced George’s first album, ‘You know what I mean’. After our Eurovision participation in ’96, we continued touring for two more years.”
What, according to Krausz, are the main qualities required of a composer of music for films and television? “An essential element is to be able to follow whatever the director wants for his film. I have often found this particularly hard to stomach, because it forces the composer to put aside his own musical preferences. Unfortunately, many directors do not give priority to music – in fact, it’s often the last thing they think of. I remember some disastrous cases in which the score of a film had to be created almost within a couple of days. That brings me to another feature: a film composer has to be able to deliver quickly, coping with the pressure and deadlines involved. As a director, Michael Schottenberg was a pleasant exception. Though he is not a musician, he always managed to explain to me in perfectly clear language what he needed for his project. Consequently, I always came up with something he was happy with. Most of the scores I wrote were for television. Composing music for a TV film or series is fundamentally different from writing for regular movies. Especially back in the 1990s, the sound quality of televisions was far inferior to cinema with its surround sound installations. Writing music over dialogue in a TV series was not a good idea. In series such as ‘Julia’ and ‘Der Winzerkönig’, musically speaking, less was more: I mostly stuck to guitar sounds to fill the gaps between dialogues.”
Extending their good cooperation to the world of theatre as well, Michael Schottenberg and Mischa Krausz worked on several stage productions together, the first one being ‘Cyrano de Bergerac’ in Vienna’s Volkstheater (1996). “After ‘Averill’s Ankommen’,”, Krausz remembers, “Michael had enough of cinema, turning his attention to theatre instead. For over a decade, he commissioned me to write the music to most of his productions. There is more room for unusual solutions in theatre than in film. For instance, I once wrote a score for just a saxophone and an accordion – and another for a ten-piece choir with one percussionist. Usually, the music was performed live, which could be a bit of a challenge, because a lot depended on coordinating the timing of the actors on stage and the musicians down in the pit. All in all, working on these productions was most enjoyable, allowing me to put in lots of creative effort.”
In order to facilitate extending his musical scope even further, Mischa Krausz took orchestration classes with Ben Newhouse of Boston’s Berklee College of Music (2008). Meanwhile, in the 2000s and 2010s, he continued writing music for television films such as ‘Erbin mit Herz’ (2004) and ‘Der Täter’ (2010), as well as children’s series, most notably ‘Die Hexe Lilly’ for German broadcaster WDR (2014). In 2015, he scored the music to ‘Ritter Trenk’, an animated movie for children.
Meanwhile, in 2012, Krausz decided to stop teaching at the Wiener Neustadt Conservatoire. “Two years before I quit, they had been relegated to being just a music school”, he comments. “This meant that, suddenly, instead of advanced students, I had to teach absolute beginners and very young children. I did not feel up to that. Generally speaking, I have slowed down a bit in the last few years. Nowadays, I prefer sticking just to the projects I find interesting. I occasionally accept a request to mix or master a studio recording for friends in the music industry. Moreover, having taken things more easy in film composing has allowed me to do more performing, which I love. I toured with two 80s rock bands, S.T.S. and Opus, who had a hit with ‘Live is life’. In 2016, I teamed up once more with Christian Kolonovits for a rock opera he composed, ‘Vivaldi, die fünfte Jahreszeit’. We are now (at the time of the interview in 2018 – BT) performing it for the third season in a row at Vienna’s Volksoper. I am playing the electric bass in the pit orchestra conducted by Christian himself. Apart from all that, I have my own hobby project, ‘Live aus dem Studio Bartberg’, a You Tube blog for which I invite friends from the music industry to my home studio in Pressbaum. There, we record a live session without any overdubs. It is an attempt to bring the atmosphere of a studio recording taking place live to whoever is interested. It is a project that costs me a bit of money, but that is outweighed easily by the satisfaction of playing good music with excellent musicians.”
Looking back on his life in music, Krausz concludes: “Well, I consider myself a lucky man. When I decided to go to conservatory, my objective was to make a living as a musician. That has worked wonderfully well, initially as a bass player and producer of pop and rock music, and later on as a film composer. Things have always come my way – and I have always been able to live well off my work. I cannot think of any other professional career I would have wanted to have… and as I have no intentions of retiring, I will go on making music for as long as I can.”
Mischa W. Krausz in the Eurovision Song Contest
In the 1980s, Krausz was a member of the stage band of Wilfried Scheutz. Wilfried represented Austria in the 1988 Eurovision Song Contest in Dublin, not picking up a single point and finishing dead-last with ‘Lisa Mona Lisa’. By that time, however, Mischa was not in his band anymore: “When I was his bass player, Wilfried was always talking about how he would love to do Eurovision. I always dissuaded him from going there in the strongest possible terms. Wilfried was a unique personality and an excellent improviser, but he was not a good singer – and improvisation is not a quality which is required on the Eurovision stage. When I left the band, apparently there was nobody left to warn him; less than a year after we had parted ways, he participated in the song contest. It was a typical case of Murphy’s Law. The choice of song was the first mistake. ‘Lisa Mona Lisa’ was a chanson – but Wilfried was no chansonnier. The performance in Dublin was awful. Even the stage lighting was wrong. I really felt for him. The Eurovision Song Contest nearly sounded the death-knell for Wilfried’s career. It took years before he managed some sort of a comeback. To this day, it mystifies me why he wanted to take part.”
Seven years later, in 1995, it was Mischa Krausz’s turn to try his luck in the Eurovision Song Contest. His composition ‘Die Welt dreht sich verkehrt’, performed by Stella Jones, obtained 67 points and a thirteenth position for Austria in the festival final in Dublin. Incredibly, it was not until the January of 1995 that Krausz got involved in Austria’s Eurovision project. “I received a telephone call from someone at our public broadcaster, ORF. Those responsible for selecting a Eurovision entry were desperate to find someone to go to Dublin. Up to that point, they had received rejection after rejection. Nobody in Austria wanted to do Eurovision – and I was not exactly thrilled at the prospect either, though I did not feel as negative towards it as I had in the 1970s. The thing was… I had a song in my archive which I felt might be suitable. I composed it the year before. At the request of ORF, I submitted it to them as a demo, with the original lyrics I had penned to it, in English. Production-wise, it was completely ready. ORF accepted it as their entry right away. There was no national final, no nothing – officially, it was an internal choice, but in reality they hadn’t been given any choice whatsoever… it was either my song or nothing at all.”
With just weeks left before the song had to be passed to the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), two loose ends had yet to be solved: under the Eurovision rules which were in place until 1998, each song had to be performed in the language of the country of origin – and Krausz’s composition had lyrics in English. Crucially, too, a suitable performer had to be found. “Firstly,” Krausz reveals, “I offered it to Sandra Pires, the session singer who had recorded the demo, but she had objections to singing in German and refused. Subsequently, I asked Tini Kainrath of The Rounder Girls (who took part in Eurovision several years later, in 2000 in Stockholm – BT), but she was afraid that doing Eurovision would harm her career. At that point, I turned to Stella Jones. Stella did not have a record deal, but, as a singer, she was rather experienced, having performed in many different genres. I liked the idea of going to Eurovision with a black singer, because many Europeans think badly of us and our country due to silly statements of Austrian far-right politicians.”
The remaining problem was the lyrics. In the end, ‘Die Welt dreht sich verkehrt’ was credited officially as Krausz’s composition with lyrics by Mischa Krausz, F. Beck, and S. Fied. It was clear the last two names were pseudonyms. At the time, it was rumoured amongst festival followers that these were noms de plume of none other than German Eurovision denizens Ralph Siegel and Bernd Meinunger. The first contact between Mischa Krausz and the writer of this article was established by e-mail in the summer of 2006 due to the latter’s curiosity about the two mysterious lyricists. After initially refusing to disclose the identity of his two co-writers, Krausz later promised to ask one of them if he had any objections to reveal the eleven-year-old secret – which turned out not to be the case. The reason he called on others to help him with the lyrics in the first place, was because the time schedule was extremely tight. It was a matter of days rather than weeks before the song in its final version had to be submitted.
Krausz: “Based on the original English-language words, I had a basic idea of what the German version should be like, but I was afraid I would mess it up. At that point, I called my old friend Sigi Maron. Now, Sigi was not only one of the country’s best-known singer-songwriters, he was also a prominent member of the KPÖ, Austria’s Communist Party. I often identified with the positions he took in public debates, though I have never been as outspoken as he was. Sigi was a great guy and a good friend, both on and off stage. As he was keen to do me a favour, he decided to help me with the lyrics of my Eurovision song. In his turn, he called on a friend of his, Fritz Nussböck. Nussböck is someone who I didn’t know personally, but he wrote humorous and socially critical songs too. When the two of them had finished the lyrics, I paid Sigi a visit – this was two or three days before the studio session which had been booked to record the song. That evening, Sigi and I worked on some final details. Sigi deserves praise for coming up with lyrics which are, above all, singable; he knew what he was doing, because he regularly penned songs for others as well as for himself… but these were never uncomplicated pop songs like ‘Die Welt dreht sich verkehrt’. That is why Fritz Nussböck and he insisted on using pseudonyms. Taking part as songwriters in the Eurovision Song Contest was unacceptable to the leftwing circles in which they were moving. After all those years, though, Sigi did not feel ashamed any longer. He could probably never have foreseen that he would ever be confused with Ralph Siegel!”
Though Krausz produced and arranged the studio version of ‘Die Welt dreht sich verkehrt’, he did not conduct the entry in Dublin. It was Michael F. Kienzl who swung the baton for Austria. Krausz explains: “At the request of ORF, der Kienzl added a string arrangement to the song after it had been recorded. In the record version, the song did not have any string or brass – except for a sax part which we intended to include on the backing tape. To my mind, we didn’t need any additional playing by the orchestra, but, at ORF, they did not agree. They were keen to use the orchestra and suggested adding strings. As I felt I might have been breaking unwritten Eurovision rules, I decided to go along with them – though, even today, I’m not convinced these strings really were an improvement. In the mid-90s, I was not yet an experienced string arranger and time was tight. Therefore, I agreed with ORF’s suggestion of commissioning Michael Kienzl with writing these strings. He agreed on the condition that he would be the conductor in Dublin as well, which was fine with me, but still… Kienzl’s arrangement was good, but I feel the backing track with rhythm and sax alone would have been sufficient for a good Eurovision performance!”
Of course, Mischa Krausz joined the Austrian delegation that travelled to Dublin in the first week of May 1995. Does he remember any of the other entries? “Well, in rehearsals, I was very impressed by the first song, which was from Poland (‘Sama’ by Justyna Steczkowska – BT). The girl who sang it was extremely talented. I was sort of intimidated, thinking to myself: “If all other countries are as good as that, we will probably finish near the bottom!” In the end, things were not so bad though, and we even did better than that Polish song (which finished eighteenth – BT)! To my surprise, I met an old colleague in Dublin. It turned out that the Portuguese entry (entitled ‘Baunilha e chocolate’) had been composed by António de Almeida – in the early 1980s, we were both members of the backing band of Erika Pluhar. With a programme of worker’s songs, we had performed in Austria as well as Portugal. In his country, António was a superstar. Every time we hit the streets in Portugal, admirers came up to him in throngs. Since then, however, António and I hadn’t been in touch. It was funny to see his face again after all those years – and in a musical universe which was completely different from the one we were working in in the early 80s. To be honest, I was disappointed by his Eurovision composition, which was slightly over-pretentious and, bluntly, not very good.”
In spite of the chaotic process in Austria leading up to the contest, Krausz and his fellow delegates had high hopes of doing well in the voting. The thirteenth position on the final scoreboard came as a disappointment. “We didn’t get it”, Krausz remembers. “What had happened? Though we received high marks from several countries, I expected a lot more – and I feel we deserved more. In Oslo in 1996, I was better shielded against possible failure after my experience in Dublin. For the Dublin festival, I relinquished control over too many things; styling and choreography, for example. The result was that I was confronted with a stage version I was not really happy with. During preparations more things had gone wrong. The video clip of ‘Die Welt dreht sich verkehrt’ was dreadful and far too expensive. It had been taken care of by ORF. The year after, with George Nussbaumer, I commissioned a director who is a friend of mine to do the video. That was no masterpiece either, but at least one could watch it for the full three minutes without embarrassment.”
Looking back, would Mischa Krausz have preferred to let Stella Jones perform his song in the original English version, which would have been allowed under the post-1999 Eurovision regulations? “Perhaps we would’ve chosen to do it in English. It would have saved us the trouble of rewriting it in German. To my mind, there would have been no objections, quite contrary to ‘Weil’s dr guat got’ by George Nussbaumer in ’96, because the identity of that song partly rested on the lyrics in George’s Vorarlberg dialect. That wouldn’t have worked in English; ‘Die Welt dreht sich verkehrt’, however, was a type of song that maybe could have done better if not sung in German. Generally speaking, it is easy to understand that there is an unequity in holding a competition between, let us say, a song in Finnish and an English-language entry. English is a language which pop audiences have become used to. In that respect, some countries were always at a disadvantage – and I quite understand why Eurovision rules were changed. On the other hand, with all these participants singing in English nowadays, the festival has lost much of its charm.”
When Mischa Krausz participated in the Eurovision Song Contest for a second time, in 1996, the competition was held in the Norwegian capital, Oslo. His gospel composition ‘Weil’s dr guat got’ was performed by George Nussbaumer, a blind singer from the far west of Austria. Nussbaumer wrote the lyrics, whereas Krausz took care of the music and arrangement. On this occasion, Krausz conducted the Eurovision orchestra himself. In the end, ‘Weil’s dr guat got’ finished tenth amongst efforts from twenty-three participating countries. For Mischa Krausz, his second festival participation was about as unplanned as the first one:
“Frankly, I was convinced ‘Dublin’ was ‘once-in-a-lifetime’. What reason was there to try again? Apparently, though, at ORF there was a situation similar to the year before: there was no composer or singer who had volunteered to represent them and they wondered if I was keen to step in. The woman who was the broadcaster’s Head of Programming came up with the idea of sending a gospel song… and, to be honest, I quite liked that idea! Since I didn’t have a gospel song in my archives, I set to work. I wasn’t sure if I would succeed, but when I had finished the music, I was rather happy with the result. By that time, I knew I wanted George Nussbaumer to sing it. George was a blues singer with whom I had already been working for quite some time. We had recorded an album in ’94, but he was not yet a household name in Austria; there was not much to lose. It had been his long-cherished dream to try his hand at gospel. Because George is an able pianist and his voice seemed tailor-made for this genre, he was the perfect choice. After sending him the music and a basic idea of what I thought the words should be about, he added lyrics to it in the local dialect of Vorarlberg. We submitted it to ORF and were chosen to go to Oslo.”
To back up George Nussbaumer, a choir of five singers was brought together. One of them was none other than Stella Jones, the soloist of ‘Die Welt dreht sich verkehrt’. Krausz: “I was not involved in choosing the backing group. The ORF organised an audition. They were specifically looking for artists who were good vocalists as well as dancers. Initially, I was against the idea of dancing on stage, because I felt the music should be at the centre of attention, but Kim Duddy, the American choreographer of our act, did a really good job at that in Oslo. Amongst those who auditioned was Gary Lux (who took part for Austria in Eurovision in 1983, 1985 and 1987 as well as being present several more times in backing groups – BT), but he was not chosen because his dancing skills were not deemed sufficient. Gary, who had been in the backing group in 1995 in Dublin, was really unhappy about being left out. It was unfortunate, but I think the decision to go without him was a sound one. As we had more time to think over certain issues, the preparations for this second festival were far more relaxed than the year before.”
One of the conscious decisions Krausz took was not to add any string or brass parts to the arrangement. “In Dublin”, Krausz comments, “I had felt a mere Trittbrettfahrer (a virtually untranslatable German word used for someone who rolls along with decisions of others without being able to influence them – BT). With George Nussbaumer, I was determined not to let this happen to me again. After considering using the brass section of the orchestra in Norway, we decided against it. We were afraid George and his five vocalists would drown in a pool of sound. The performance as a whole might have turned messy. As ninety percent of the orchestra members did not have a part in our performance, I suggested to them to clap along to the rhythm – which they did enthusiastically. Unlike the experience in Dublin, our performance in Oslo was completely live, without the use of any pre-recorded elements on a backing track. Playing the piano on stage, George took the lead, and I followed with the rhythm group of the orchestra who did an excellent job. Though I am not a schooled conductor, the rehearsals with the Norwegian orchestra were smooth and easy. My job was merely to coordinate the beginning and the end of the song.”
“We had a great week in Oslo,” Krausz continues. “In terms of organisation, the Norwegians had done a great job. Mainly thanks to Kim Duddy, who knew exactly what she wanted, communication with the local camera director was effective. To me, the main thing was to give a good performance – and we did. On the night, George managed to master his nerves wonderfully well. Being blind, in a weird way, he had an advantage of missing most of the fuss of the days and hours leading up to his three minutes of Eurovision. After his performance, he was elated, but his mood changed when the votes came in. He had been expecting more. Afterwards, I spent a good deal of time trying to cheer him up. Coming tenth in a Eurovision final was not the end of the world! Quite the opposite, I was rather happy with the result.”
The 1996 Eurovision Song Contest was won by Irish songstress Eimear Quinn with her ethereal ‘The voice’. Did the result come as a surprise to Krausz? “Well, yes! We were all convinced the girl in a miniskirt from Engeland (Gina G singing ‘Just a little bit’ – BT) was the main contender. The only other song I remember is the Icelandic entry, but for completely different reasons. The day after the concert, when we were picked up by a bus to be taken to the airport, Kim Duddy was missing. Someone went back to the hotel to look for her, but her room was empty. Nonetheless, we decided to leave for the airport without her; it was her responsibility to turn up on time. All of a sudden, while we were already at the check-in desks, a loud voice was heard echoing through the departure hall: “It was Iceland’s fault!” Kim turned out to have been at the bar all night, boozing with the Icelandic delegation. She was not the only one who had had a good time in Oslo. We all enjoyed Norwegian hospitality. By 1996, I had been a vegetarian for fifteen years, but in Oslo, I sinned against my own principles for an entire week… the seafood on offer at various receptions and parties was simply irresistible!”
“After Oslo, I continued working with George for two more years. Eurovision gave his career a considerable boost. I was in the band accompanying him on performances all across Austria. Wherever we went, audiences wanted to hear ‘Weil’s dr guat got’. Later on, when George and I had already stopped performing together, I worked with him on one or two albums of other artists which we co-produced. Besides, I called on him to sing to my film scores a couple of times. George is a good friend. It is a pity Vorarlberg is a seven-hour drive away from Vienna. We would have worked together far more often if we had not lived so far apart.”
After 1996, Mischa Krausz never again made an attempt at composing a Eurovision entry for Austria. “Gradually, I lost interest in the contest, especially when Alf Poier took part (in 2003 with ‘Weil der Mensch zählt’, finishing sixth). To me, a song contest should be about songs, not cabaret acts. I would refuse categorically competing with the likes of Alf Poier and Stermann & Grissemann. On the other hand, I was very happy when Conchita Wurst won for Austria in 2014. Beforehand, she was butchered on many different online forums, but production-wise, it was an excellent song – and very well performed. It was a pity she did not have a follow-up after ‘Rise like a phoenix’; as a result, she more or less vanished from the public eye after her festival win.”
Asked about the future of the Eurovision Song Contest, Krausz replies: “Broadcasters should think seriously about what the festival could be. Potentially, Eurovision is a golden formula: a pan-European music competition broadcast all over the continent. If the show were taken seriously and if music were allowed to take centre-stage instead of commercial considerations, Eurovision really could contribute to help bringing about genuine European unity. Like at the Oscars, a committee of professionals should be brought together to judge the entries. Perhaps, though, we should give up on Eurovision. I still watch the show every year, but hardly ever does a song come along which I would have been proud of as a composer – and the few good entries mostly don’t stand any chance of succeeding. What is more: nowadays, all music in the contest has been pre-recorded. Most of the attention has been diverted away from the composition in favour of the stage presentation. I am happy to have taken part in the 1990s. With Nussbaumer in Oslo, the entire performance was live, from start to finish.”
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