Willy Fantel

Born: October 1st, 1930, Vienna (Austria)
Nationality: Austrian

Eurovision record
Willy Fantel took part in the Eurovision Song Contest on one occasion: in 1958, he conducted the Austrian entry ‘Die ganze Welt braucht Liebe’, performed by Liane Augustin. In the festival, staged in Hilversum (Netherlands), this song came fifth.

Liane Augustin at the 1958 Eurovision Song Contest

Wilhelm (abridged: Willy) Fantel was born into a working-class Vienna family. Due to his parents’ relative poverty, in 1945, he was forced to quit grammar school. Because he had discovered he was particularly good at playing the accordion that his older brother had given him a couple of years earlier, he decided to pursue a career in music. From 1947 to 1951, he studied composition, trumpet, and piano at the Vienna Music Academy. To pay for his studies as well as financially support his parents, he meanwhile performed in jazz and entertainment clubs in Vienna’s nightlife circuit as a member of various ensembles. For one-and-a-half years, he played the double-bass in the group which accompanied young singer Liane Augustin during her performances in the Bohème Bar, also in Austria’s capital.

The Bohème Bar Trio: Michael Danziger (piano), Laszlo Gati (guitar), Willy Fantel (double-bass)

In 1952, Fantel formed a band of his own, ‘Willy Fantel und Seine Solisten’, with which he performed in the Moulin Rouge, Vienna. Later on (1955-1965), Fantel’s ensemble was contracted by the Schlosshotel Velden am Wörthersee, a luxurious resort in Carinthia, to entertain the guests during the summer months. Many a musician started his career in Fantel’s band, amongst whom Richard Oesterreicher and Joe Zawinul. Much of the repertoire his group played was composed and arranged by Fantel himself.

During the 1950s, 1960s, and early 1970s, Willy Fantel was a much sought-after studio musician and conductor for recording sessions. This is no wonder, considering Fantel’s versatility – apart from piano and trumpet, he also played the vibraphone and the accordion. He accompanied Peter Alexander and Udo Jürgens during their first steps on the path of light music, as well as working with the likes of Freddy Quinn, Bully Buhlan, Lale Andersen, Gerhard Wendland, and Peter Kraus for all in all approximately 360 recording projects in the Vienna studios. In 1971, he played the accordion on Arik Brauer’s first album. ‘I worked with almost every artist who recorded in Vienna’, Fantel comments. As a composer, he toiled on many projects, including music for theatre pieces, films, advertisements, and radio. In 1968, he wrote the club anthem of his favourite football team, Austria Wien. Moreover, from 1958 until 1964, he was the artistic agent in Austria of accordion manufacturer Excelsior, using the pseudonym Will van Tell.

Touring in Romania with Udo Jürgens and Maureen René (1964)

From 1965 until 1969, Fantel lived and worked in Munich, West Germany. He was the owner and musical director of ‘Die Wiener Rutsch’n’, Munich’s best-known entertainment bar. In ’69, ÖRF (Austria’s national broadcaster) asked him to become Head of Entertainment of its Burgenland branch. Until his retirement in 1990, Fantel worked on an endless number of both local and country-wide radio and television shows. Since, he has built a recording studio in his house in Oberwart, continuing to work as a composer and musician on a freelance basis.

Willy Fantel in the Eurovision Song Contest
In 1958, Austria took part in the contest for the second time. Internally, it was decided upon to send Liane Augustin with a song called ‘Die ganze Welt braucht Liebe’, co-composed by Kurt Werner, who had played the piano in Fantel’s band for a while. Fantel was neither involved in writing the song nor in the selection process. The orchestration had been written by Karl Kovarik, who was no conductor. ÖRF then proposed three or four names of possible conductors to Liane Augustin, upon which she selected Willy Fantel – who was only 27 at that time, but quite experienced nevertheless by virtue of his engagement as a conductor of the orchestra which accompanied variety shows and cabarets in Etablissement Ronacher, Vienna (1957-1958) – as the person most suited for the job. Fantel and Augustin had worked together a couple of years before when he was accompanied her in the Bohème Bar.

Enjoying a break during the rehearsals of the 1958 Eurovision Song Contest in Hilversum. From left to right: André Claveau (France), Raquel Rastenni (Denmark), Paul Burkhard (conductor, Switzerland), Lys Assia (Switzerland), Dolf van der Linden (musical director, Netherlands), Liane Augustin (Austria) and Willy Fantel.

Fantel travelled to the Eurovision Song Contest in Hilversum as a member of the Austrian delegation, which (apart from himself) consisted of Liane Augustin and Karl Lackner, the Head of Entertainment of ÖRF. Fantel has happy memories of his time in the Netherlands: “By the standards of that day, the Dutch orchestra was top-notch; because of that, the rehearsals were easy. The musical director was Dolf van der Linden, a very pleasant and extremely professional man. The whole atmosphere was one of friendliness and collegiality. The exception perhaps was Lys Assia from Switzerland. She came second with ‘Giorgio’. Backstage, when it transpired that André Claveau from France was the winner, she was so utterly frustrated that she violently boxed the ears of the composer and conductor of her entry, Paul Burkhard. ‘You idiot, because you wrote such a useless song, we did not win’, she shouted. Mr. Burkhard was quite a short man, which only enhanced the comical effect of it all”.

Their participation in the contest had little impact on the careers of either Liane Augustin or Willy Fantel. No recording was made of the song and Augustin kept on working as a singer in her Vienna music club. Fantel, for whom the week in Hilversum was no more than a pleasant freelance job, had ample work in Austria with his band and as a studio musician. “We made no headlines in the Austrian newspapers”, Fantel recalls. “Upon our return from Hilversum on Vienna airport I bought some papers, but there was not a word on Liane Augustin. What was mentioned, though, was that Margot Hielscher had secured an honourable seventh spot for Germany. Imagine the situation: we had finished two places higher than the German entry!”.

Other artists on Willy Fantel
Richard Oesterreicher started his career in the music industry as one of Willy Fantel’s ‘Solisten’: “I worked extensively with Willy Fantel, for example in Velden am Wörthersee. We also made many recordings together in Carinthia. Later, when he became Head of Entertainment for ORF in Burgenland, he paved the way for many Austrian artists. He was a brilliant musician and he is a great guy. I’m very happy to have been good friends with him for so long already!” (2010)

Robert Opratko has also been friends with Fantel for a long time: “In the 1960s, I toured Romania with Willy and singers Udo Jürgens and Maureen René. Moreover, I played in his ensemble at Schlosshotel Velden for a month. He is a very good musician and a fabulous chap. A robust guy in every sense of the word.” (2011)

Willy Fantel in 2009.

Links & sources
  • In order to compile this biography, Bas Tukker did an interview with Willy Fantel, December 2009.
  • All pictures courtesy of Willy Fantel.
  • Unfortunately, no website on Willy Fantel exists.


Songs conducted
1958: Die ganze Welt braucht Liebe