Fernando Paggi

Born: July 3rd, 1914, Turin (Italy)
Died: January 14th, 1973, Canobbio (Switzerland)
Nationality: Italian / Swiss

Eurovision record
Fernando Paggi, conductor of the Radio Monte Ceneri Orchestra, was the musical director of the very first Eurovision Song Contest, held in Lugano in 1956. Seven countries participated, each presenting two songs. Paggi conducted six of the fourteen entries that evening: apart from both Swiss efforts (amongst which the winning ‘Refrain’, performed by Lys Assia), he helped out the Dutch and West German delegations, neither of which had brought along a guest conductor. In 1961 and 1964, he travelled to Cannes and Copenhagen respectively to direct the orchestral accompaniment to the Swiss candidates in the contest (Franca Di Rienzo in ’61, Anita Traversi three years later), bringing his total of conducted songs in the Eurovision Song Contest to eight.

Fernando Paggi in front of his ‘Orchestra Radiosa’ at the 1956 Eurovision Song Contest

Fernando Paggi hailed from Turin in Northern Italy, where he first pursued a career in commerce. In 1931, however, he decided to start studies in harmony, saxophone, trumpet, and clarinet at the Academy of Santa Cecilia in Lausanne, Switzerland; considering he had already done violin courses from his eight year, Paggi became a professional in four musical instruments. During his studies, he practiced extensively by performing popular music in different bands and ensembles in bars and inns.

In 1940, when Paggi had already worked for some time as a violinist in the classical Kursaal Orchestra in Lugano, he was asked to step in as the musical director of the orchestra of the Italian-Swiss broadcaster, Radio Monte Ceneri (later known as RSI, Radio Svizzera Italiana), which he transformed from an amateur ensemble to a professional light entertainment orchestra. It did not take long before Paggi’s ‘Orchestra Radiosa’ had become a household name in popular music, accompanying many of the best-known Italian singers of the 1940s and 1950s, such as Natalino Otto, Tony Dallara, Nilla Pizzi, and Giorgio Consolini, in widely listened-to variety shows. During his time in charge of the orchestra, Paggi worked with able arrangers such as Iller Pattacini, Willy Fehlbaum, Aldo D’Addario, and Attilio Donadio.

Apart from the Orchestra Radiosa, Fernando Paggi also had his own quintet of musicians, with whom he performed in a long-running RSI music programme, ‘Capriccio notturno’. He was the producer of several international music shows, in which RSI collaborated with RSR (French-Swiss broadcaster), WDR from West-Germany, and Paris-Inter from France. In 1967, Paggi stepped down as chief conductor of the Orchestra Radiosa, being succeeded by one of the arrangers who had been writing for the orchestra for over fifteen years, Mario Robbiani. From 1969 until his untimely death in 1973, Paggi was the head of RSI’s Light Entertainment department.

Although Paggi mainly worked as a musical director, he left a legacy of compositions, too. In 1943, on the occasion of the Lugano Fair, he wrote the music to an Alberto Barberis revue show. He composed a full-fledged opera, ‘Edgardo e Margherita’ (libretto: Valentino Margiò), which was broadcasted by RSI in March 1949. Moreover, Paggi wrote a string of songs, most famously ‘Sarò mammina’ (sung by Maddalena Sanvido) and ‘Tu te souviendras de moi’ (by Yvette Giraud, 1948), as well as Ticino dialect repertoire (e.g. ‘Ul parisien’, ‘Chitarra ticinese’). For the Tour de Suisse cycling race, he penned the signature march.

Fernando Paggi in the Eurovision Song Contest
The first ever ‘Eurovision Grand Prix’ took place on May 24, 1956 in the Kursaal Theatre, Lugano. All fourteen entries, coming from seven participating countries, were accompanied by Fernando Paggi’s ‘Orchestra Radiosa’. Only Belgium, Luxembourg, and France had sent along guest conductors, Léo Souris, Jacques Lasry, and Franck Pourcel respectively. Dolf van der Linden from the Netherlands, who had been the musical director of the Dutch preselection, was unable to travel to Switzerland due to the fact that, for exactly the same day as the Eurovision Song Contest, an appointment had been set to perform with his Metropole Orchestra for Dutch army regiments. That is the reason why Fernando Paggi became the first ever conductor in the contest, as the Netherlands were drawn first with their entry ‘De vogels van Holland’, a charming waltz performed by Jetty Paerl.

Subsequently, Paggi also swung the baton for five other entries: ‘Das alte Karussell’, probably arranged by Paggi himself, and performed for Switzerland by Lys Assia; ‘Im Wartesaal zum grossen Glück’, a pensive entry from West Germany sung by its composer, Walter Andreas Schwarz; the second Dutch entry, ‘Voorgoed voorbij’, sung by Corry Brokken; the eventual winner, ‘Refrain’, a traditional chanson performed by Lys Assia, arranged by Paggi together with his close collaborator Mario Robbiani; and, finally, one of the most striking entries of the evening, ‘So geht das jede Nacht’, an early attempt at rock ‘n’ roll mixed with country influences sung in German by Freddy Quinn. When, at the end of the show, Lys Assia wanted to repeat her winning entry, she was so overwhelmed by emotions, that she was unable to remember the first lines of the lyrics and had to ask Fernando Paggi to restart the intro of the song.

Paggi returned to the Eurovision Song Contest on two occasions as the conductor for Switzerland. In 1961, when the festival took place in Cannes on the French Riviera, he conducted the orchestral accompaniment to Franca Di Rienzo’s ‘Nous aurons demain’, which had been written by the same authors as the winning ‘Refrain’ of 1956, Géo Voumard and Emile Gardaz, and placed third. Three years later, in 1964, Switzerland was represented by Anita Traversi with a song in Italian, ‘I miei pensieri’. However, the subtlety of this delicate ballad – arranged by Albert Brunner, who had given it a beautiful instrumental break in the middle – was lost on European jurors and did not receive a single point.

Other artists on Fernando Paggi
Unfortunately, so far it has not been possible to gather memories of other artists on Fernando Paggi.

Links & sources
  • A video fragment of Fernando Paggi speaking (in Italian) about the founding of his orchestra: www.youtube.com/watch?v=SlBrglnkQRo.
  • The website of the Società Svizzera di Musicologia, www.ricercamusica.ch.
  • An interview with Angelo Parini on the founding of the Orchestra Radiosa, available online on the website of Fonoteca Nazionale Svizzera, www.fonoteca.ch. Moreover, on the online databank of this website, a long list of broadcasts and recordings in which Fernando Paggi took part, can be found.
  • An interview with Dolf van der Linden by Gerrit den Braber for AVRO Radio, 24-07-1985.
  • Unfortunately, no website on Fernando Paggi exists.


Songs conducted
1956: De vogels van Holland
1956: Das alte Karussell
1956: Im Wartesaal zum großen Glück
1956: Voorgoed voorbij
1956: Refrain
1956: So geht das jede Nacht
1961: Nous aurons demain
1964: I miei pensieri

Musical director
1956: Lugano