Willy Fantel

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

Eurovision record
Austrian multi-instrumentalist, composer, conductor, and producer Willy Fantel took part in the Eurovision Song Contest on one occasion: in 1958, he conducted his country’s entry ‘Die ganze Welt braucht Liebe’, performed by Liane Augustin. At the international final, staged in the Dutch city of Hilversum, the song finished joint fifth in a field of ten competitors.

Biography
Wilhelm ‘Willy’ Fantel (often misspelled: Fantl) was born and raised in a working class family in 1930s Vienna. Neither his parents nor any of his elder siblings displayed any signs of music talent. “One of my brothers was seventeen years older than me,” tells Fantel. “At some point, he bought himself an accordion. It came with instructions. Reading them carefully, he was convinced that he would be able to play it, but in fact he didn’t manage at all. Frustrated, he gave up – and he gave away the accordion to me. I was ten years old then. I was hooked from the start. I had already learnt to read music in school. I first went to a regular music tutor, but she didn’t manage to teach me anything. Now, at the local circus, I knew there was an Italian who was a great accordion player. I decided he was the man I had to turn to. As it happened, he was very friendly and agreed to teach me. In between his afternoon and evening performances, he taught me the basics of the accordion – though these weren’t really lessons, but he did me a great favour anyway, and without charging me any money. After he had given me the leg up, I continued studying diligently on my own.”

“I liked playing the accordion, but, quite soon, I found out music could be a way of earning a living as well. This was rather welcome, because my parents owned next to nothing – and they received no support at all from my older brothers and sisters, who had all left home by then. We needed money to pay the rent. Fortunately, I survived World War II and the bomb attacks on Vienna in the latter stages of it. The worst that happened to me was after the Russians had marched into the city. At that time, I was suffering from a toothache – and my mother had put a kerchief around my head. Now, Russian soldiers who were roaming through Vienna thought for a moment I was a girl. They grabbed me as if they wanted to take advantage of me, but after removing the bit of linen around my head, found out their mistake soon enough and let me go. It’s a really strange memory, but these were unusual times. In the year the war ended, 1945, I dropped out of grammar school – not because I couldn’t keep up with the level, because I had straight A’s for all subjects, but my parents simply couldn’t make ends meet without my working full time. By then, I was playing the accordion in bars and in clubs around town. The money I made was really good. In fact, thanks to my accordion performances, I could pay for my parents to move into a decent house while I was still under eighteen.”

“Listening to the radio after the end of the war, I discovered English and American popular music… jazz and swing. Now, that was something different! In order to add this new music to my repertoire, I subscribed to the Army Hit Kit of Popular Songs. That was a monthly magazine providing sheet music of new hit songs coming from America. By that time, I was already playing in various groups – and I had taken up studying the trumpet, initially with a private teacher and later at music school. Why the trumpet? Because I felt my own band was lacking a stand-out instrument – and what sound could be more prominent than a trumpet’s? I was a quick learner. My first trumpet teacher even told me I had such power in my lungs that I should switch to French horn instead… and the funny thing was that he told me that during a morning’s lessons after I had been performing in a club until 6AM – in other words, I was physically exhausted! Fortunately I’ve always been blessed with a healthy and strong constitution.”

The Boheme Bar Trio, from left to right: Willy Fantel (double bass), Laszlo Gati (guitar), and Michael Danzinger (piano): Vienna, first half 1950s

After music school, Willy Fantel pursued his music studies at the Vienna Academy of Music, choosing trumpet as his main subject, while also taking minors in piano and composition. Working for four years under the aegis of Professor Franz Dengler, Fantel passed his final trumpet exams in 1951.

“Of course, back then the academy’s curriculum was entirely classical. Though I worked as a replacement at the Vienna Symphonic regularly in my early career, I never had any ambitions in that direction. Even so, my years at the academy weren’t wasted. They gave me a thorough grounding I couldn’t have picked up elsewhere. All the same, I’ve always been a light-entertainment musician through and through. Of course, I played some jazz on the side, but there never was any real money in jazz in Austria. During my student days, I continued playing in all kinds of combos and groups, most of which I led myself. There was plenty of work available in upmarket restaurants and bars across Vienna. I worked seven days a week, from 8PM until 6AM. In fact, for four full years, I never took a day off except for Good Friday and Christmas Eve. I only made it without suffering a nervous breakdown by taking my existence as a musician seriously. I saw colleagues who didn’t make it due to drink and women, but I always went straight home to rest after a night’s work. It was a hard time, but the work was enjoyable as well.”

By now an all-round musician who could play the double-bass and vibraphone in addition to the trumpet, piano, and accordion, Willy Fantel formed a sextet (later turned into a septet) named after himself, Willy Fantel und Seine Solisten (Willy Fantel and His Soloists), in 1952. “We performed at all the best venues in Vienna,” Fantel comments, “including four years at the Moulin Rouge. Our repertoire was not confined to one genre – in fact, we really played everything, from ‘Dichter und Bauer’ (operetta music – BT) to boogie-woogie. The arrangements were written by ourselves – mostly by me personally. I never learnt to be an orchestral arranger, but writing parts for a small combo is relatively easy. True, I was very young when I founded the group, but the others were happy to leave the leadership to me. Making sure we always had somewhere to play, dividing the proceeds among the band members… these were things which seemed to come naturally to me. One way or the other, the entrepreneurial spirit always must have been there in me. More than others, I realised that, without it, you won’t make any money... and without money, you can’t make a living, can you?”

Over the years, the make-up of the band changed regularly – and some high-profile musicians started their careers in Willy Fantel’s combo. “Do you know who my first pianist was? Joe Zawinul! He was just twenty years old when he joined me, but I could sense his talent right from the beginning. He had absolute pitch and could play anything which was put in front of him without any studying. Some years later, he went to America and became a world star – arguably the best jazz pianist in the world. When he left, I replaced him with Robert Opratko. Richard Oesterreicher also had his first paid job as a musician in my combo, not because his style of playing was so refined, but because he was the only guitarist I could find in Vienna! At some point, I decided we should try our hand at Dixieland, so I went looking for a trombonist… and friends in Graz told me about a promising young musician over there, Erich Kleinschuster. His first gig in Vienna was with me – in fact, because he couldn’t manage to find himself a house in Vienna, he stayed at my place for the first three months! It was the start of a fine career. Yes, you can say my group was a good breeding ground for young musicians.”

Willy Fantel playing a trumpet solo, backing up American singer Gus Backus (± 1960)

Apart from working with his own group, Willy Fantel played the double-bass in the Boheme Bar Trio, the accompanying group for singer Liane Augustin, in the mid-1950s. Furthermore, for the 1957-58 winter season, he conducted the orchestra at Etablissement Ronacher, a large variety theatre in the heart of Vienna. “In fact, it was the largest of its type in the whole of Europe,” Fantel recollects. “I conducted a fourteen-piece orchestra which accompanied all artists for their performances. I never took any conducting lessons, but this was the type of music which could be conducted by any professionally educated musician with a decent feel for rhythm. There was nothing to it! I’ve never thought of myself as a real conductor… someone who guides orchestras through classical symphonies or operas. I was picked for the job because I had been accompanying artists with my own band at the Moulin Rouge for four years. The orchestra at Ronacher was a bit larger, but it was little more than an extension of what I had been doing for the past years. It was good while it lasted, but I pulled out after one season because it interfered with my other activities. Right after resigning at Ronacher, I took my own band to play at the Castle Hotel in Velden am Wörthersee for the summer season. We worked at Velden for ten consecutive years.”

From his student days onwards, Willy Fantel was also a sought-after session musician, playing the accordion, trumpet, and piano in recordings at all of Vienna’s main studios. “In Vienna, there were two accordionists who subdivided the session work amongst one another. When I appeared on the scene, I outcompeted the first one, and not long after the second one was out of work as well. From that moment onwards, I played in literally all sessions in Vienna which required an accordionist. In the early days, the entire recording was done on one track, using one single microphone for orchestra and vocals. I particularly remember playing on a 78rpm record of ‘Im strikten Tanzrhythmus’, a series of releases intended to be used in dance schools. To make sure the music was done in the correct tempo, the chief of Vienna’s largest dance school, Professor Hellmeier, was there in the studio. In fact, while we were playing, he danced to the music… and when we were just about done, he burst into a hearty applause. This meant we had to start all over, because the applause couldn’t be cut off the recording! So he was asked not to applaud us the next time, but the man just couldn’t contain his enthusiasm and did it again the next time, and again… we had to play it four times before he got the message.”

Contrary to many other musicians portrayed on this website, Willy Fantel did not write arrangements for large studio orchestras or conduct sessions himself. “No, I did not do much of that, although I led some smaller combos in studio recordings – and released a couple of solo records as a trumpet player, but no more than a handful. At some point, I started writing songs which were recorded by artists here and there, which was a valuable addition to my income. I’ve once calculated that, over the twenty years in which I was a studio musician, I played along on 360 album recordings. I accompanied literally everybody: Caterina Valente, Peter Alexander, Freddy Quinn, Lale Andersen – all of them… and I worked with Vienna’s best studio conductors, guys like Johannes Fehring, Claudius Alzner, and Erwin HalletzErwin in particular was an excellent musician and a great friend. I would argue that, in the 1950s, the studio business in Vienna was the most advanced in the whole of Europe. Artists from all over the continent came to Austria to record their material at Austrophon and other studios. It was great to be involved in all that.”

On stage at the Castle Hotel in Velden am Wörthersee: summer 1962

In addition to his activities in Austria’s live circuit and as a session player, Willy Fantel regularly took part in radio broadcasts as an accordion player and member of various orchestras. What’s more – further illustrating his keen eye for the commercial aspects of the musical profession – Fantel was the artistic agent in his country for accordion manufacturer Excelsior. Using the pseudonym Will van Tell, he was employed by the Italian company for six years (1958-64).

“The president of Excelsior personally came down to Vienna to meet me,” Fantel recalls. “I had no advance knowledge of his visit. He sat down at the table closest to the stage in the bar where I was working with my band. After the performance, he ordered a bottle of champaign to be sent to us – and he made it known he would like to speak to me about a business matter. When I had agreed to his proposal, I was invited with my wife to come to the factory in Castelfidardo, where we were feted as the company’s special guests for three days. I was allowed to pick the accordion of my preference – and from that moment on, I was Excelsior’s special representative in Austria. In a very short time, I convinced at least fifteen of my fellow-accordionists in Vienna to switch to an Excelsior. This wasn’t due just to my persuasiveness, but also because Excelsior made really excellent accordions. Until then, most accordionists had been used to playing a Hohner – but Hohner really is a mass product, whilst Excelsior specialised in creating instruments attuned to the individual wishes of each costumer.”

In 1962 and 1964, Willy Fantel and his band – including Robert Opratko on the piano – were invited to do concert tours in Romania, the first with Ingela Brander and yodeller Peter Hinnen, and on the second occasion with Udo Jürgens and Maureen René. Fantel remembers: “At the time, Udo Jürgens wasn’t yet an international star, but he was well-known in Austria – and his music was being distributed in Romania as well, so people there were familiar with his name. That was the reason they wanted him to come over. We flew to Bucharest and travelled from city to city by train, accompanied by a squad of Romanian police officers who looked after us as if we were precious blocks of gold. When we had a day-off, we weren’t supposed to go anywhere on our own – they determined where we could go and kept a close watch of our every move. This obviously wasn’t a free country, but the organisation was impeccable. We performed in large venues – in Bucharest, the auditorium was packed with 4,000 people. At the invitation of a Romanian manager, I recorded some music intended for the local market, including an EP with Udo which contained a song I had composed especially for him, ‘Slop in Bukarest’. In fact, we were given a free hand in the material we wanted to record – and I remember being paid an excessive amount for our efforts.”

Willy Fantel with Udo Jürgens (left) and English singer Maureen René (middle) during their concert tour in Romania (1964)

“I had known Udo Jürgens long before we toured Romania. In fact, when he made his radio debut at Studio Kärnten (a radio station in the Austrian region of Carinthia – BT), I was there to accompany him at the piano… so I stood at the cradle of his career, so to speak! From the start, it was obvious Udo was a talented artist, but even I couldn’t have foreseen how successful he would be internationally. His secret? Well, the guy had personality, which is something which cannot be taught to anyone – you either have it or you don’t! Additionally, he had the good sense to leave Austria, preferring to live and work in West Germany instead. There, the opportunities to build on his initial successes were much larger than in Austria. In fact, Peter Alexander did the same. Neither of them would have had the career they ended up having if they had stayed here.”

In 1965, Willy Fantel himself crossed the German border as well, becoming the manager and musical director of ‘Die Wiener Rutsch’n’, a large restaurant and cabaret club in Munich. Leaving behind the familiar surroundings of the Vienna recording studios and the live venues in Austria which he had toured for the past decade and a half, he lived and worked in Bavaria for four years.

“At the time, there was a hugely popular cabaret act in Vienna called ‘Die drei Spitzbuben’,” Fantel explains. “Just three musicians performing in a restaurant and entertaining audiences with jokes and funny songs. One day, I was approached by a German businessman who wanted to do something similar in Munich. He was the owner of the building where he wanted to start this restaurant and cabaret club – and he wondered if I was interested in taking care of the day-to-day management. The offer came along at the right time. The mid-1960s was a time when the music industry underwent a revolution – and the style of music my band was playing was increasingly out of step with the times. Actually, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to experience all those changes as a musician. I was thirty-five and it was time for something new. After having signed the contract to come to Munich, I first organised an audition in Vienna to find three entertainers which would suit the restaurant in Munich. After having tested perhaps a dozen of musicians, I formed a trio which I then rehearsed for three months. I also wrote the bulk of their material. When we opened our doors in Munich, the restaurant was sold out with 300 guests day after day. ‘Die drei Lausbuben’, the three guys performing their Vienna-style variety act, were considered a sensation. We also recorded several albums which sold well in Bavaria as well as in Austria. It was a tremendous success. Life in Munich was wonderful.”

Although more or less away from Vienna in the second half of the 1960s, Willy Fantel took the time off to compose the ‘Austria-Marsch’, the club anthem for his favourite football team FK Austria Wien in 1968. Then, in September 1969, he suddenly received the commission to put up the entertainment branch of Studio Burgenland, a new radio station for the Burgenland region in Austria.

“A friend of mine from Carinthia was the general manager of this completely new branch of the ORF (Austria’s state broadcaster – BT) in Burgenland. The ORF was in the process of building studios in all nine states of Austria. He called me and wondered if I was interested in coming to Eisenstadt to organise this new station. Initially, I wasn’t that excited at the prospect, given the success of my cabaret in Munich – why would I want to go to an outpost like Eisenstadt? There had never been a radio station there. In the end, he talked me into it by saying he only needed me for the first three months, just to get the thing up and running. Once I got there, I found I really liked the job – creating a radio station from scratch. In 1970, when I was offered a permanent contract at ORF Burgenland, I decided to go for it, in spite of the fact that the earnings were considerably lower than in Munich. My job description was Head of Entertainment and I was responsible for everything relating to music and light entertainment for radio, and later for television as well.”

Due to his career moves from the mid-1960s onwards, Willy Fantel’s activities as a musician were placed on the back burner. Still, he occasionally returned to the recording studio as a session musician, playing the accordion on Arik Brauer’s debut LP in 1971 and joining the Claudius Alzner Band as a trumpet player for several album recordings. At ORF Vienna, he did a record with Erich Kleinschuster’s ORF Big Band as an accordion and synthesizer soloist, ‘Evergreen Ever In’ (1974). Sometimes, he also took on production work, overseeing recordings by, amongst others, the Richard Oesterreicher Big Band and the ORF Symphony Orchestra. Furthermore, throughout the 1970s, he also tried his hand at songwriting now and again, composing pieces for the ORF Big Band and jazz guitarist Alfred Schittler.

“Due to my contract with ORF, I couldn’t publish these compositions using my own name,” Fantel adds. “There are lots of jealous people around and I didn’t want to give them the opportunity to run me down. For my jazz-oriented work, I chose the pseudonym Hans Glück, but I also wrote real Austrian folk tunes – using yet another alias, Loisl Bach. After coming back from Munich I didn’t really any longer have much ambition to make my mark as a composer, but it was nice to write some music now and then.”

‘Evergreen Ever In’, the 1974 LP release by Willy Fantel and Erich Kleinschuster’s ORF Big Band

Willy Fantel worked at ORF Burgenland for twenty years, reaching the pensionable age of sixty in 1990. “In a way, those last twenty years of my working life were the happiest. I’m really proud of what we accomplished. People in Burgenland were used to having to listen to radio stations from Styria or Lower Austria – and nobody in showbusiness really ever gave Burgenland much of a thought. Yet, one year after we had started our radio broadcasts, Radio Burgenland was the most popular station in the whole of Austria! We really got off to a flying start, mostly by simply playing the music people wanted to hear. From then on, we never had trouble convincing star singers to come to Eisenstadt for a performance in one of our radio shows. Everybody was keen to work with us. Simultaneously, I had the opportunity to work on all kinds of radio and TV entertainment which were broadcast by the nationwide chain of ORF – if I had to tell you on all of the programmes I worked on over those two decades, we wouldn’t be able to finish this conversation today!”

Some years before leaving his post at the ORF, Willy Fantel had bought himself a house in the Burgenland region. “I never thought I would want to move away from Vienna, but I met a woman in Burgenland… and we married and built ourselves a house in the town of Oberwart, where I still live today. To give myself something to do, I built a small studio into my house, in which I recorded some CDs – but more as a hobby than anything else. I also played a little piano in combos here and there until I felt I had had enough. I’m happy with the life I’ve had… I always managed to earn myself a living by doing what I liked doing best. Still, I’m not the type of person who likes to think back of his own achievements. I prefer living in the present. Life has been good to me. I recently turned ninety (this interview took place in January 2021 – BT), but my health is still coming along wonderfully well. I enjoy eating good food and listening to good music. To my mind, the past was good, but the present day is even better. It’s my fate to be the last of the Mohicans, as virtually all of my dear music colleagues have predeceased me, but now that I’ve been sought out to live such a long life, I intend to enjoy it to the full.”

Willy Fantel in 2009

Willy Fantel in the Eurovision Song Contest
Willy Fantel was involved in the Eurovision Song Contest on just one occasion, in 1958, when he conducted the Austrian entry. That year, the festival was held for the third time. Austrian broadcaster ORF had not been involved as a participant at the first contest in 1956, but took part one year later in Frankfurt, where they ended up dead-last with an unpretentious cowboy tune, ‘Wohin, kleines Pony?’ (‘Whereto, my little pony?’). For the 1958 edition in Hilversum, using an internal selection process, a song was chosen which seemed more in line with musical tastes in the rest of Europe: the melodious and chanson-like ‘Die ganze Welt braucht Liebe’, performed by Liane Augustin.

The song was composed by Kurt Werner with lyrics by Günther Leopold. “I knew Kurt Werner well,” Willy Fantel comments. “He played the piano in my band for a while, Willy Fantel und Seine Solisten. He also worked with me in the Boheme Bar Trio, which was Liane Augustin’s backing band for the performances in her own café. Kurt was a fine pianist and arranger, but he didn’t write the arrangement for ‘Die ganze Welt braucht Liebe’ – that was done by Karl Kowarik. Karl was a saxophonist and later joined the ORF Big Band when it was founded in 1969. In the 1950s, he was one of Vienna’s best and most prolific studio arrangers, writing lots of scores for many different artists. Character-wise, he was a modest, quiet man who preferred to stay in the background as much as possible. In the recording studio, he never conducted his own scores, preferring to leave that job to guys such as Claudius Alzner or Johannes Fehring. I can’t tell you anything about the songwriting process or why Kowarik was picked to write the arrangement, because I wasn’t involved in it in any way – and I wasn’t part of the selection committee which chose the song to represent Austria in Hilversum either.”

“I didn’t get involved until the conductor who was supposed to go to Hilversum with Liane, fell ill. No, I have no idea who he was (the obvious choice would have been Carl de Groof, who was an ORF staff conductor at the time and led the orchestra for Austria in the previous year’s Eurovision Song Contest, but Willy Fantel believes it was not him). At that point, the ORF suggested three or four names of potential replacements – and Liane herself was given the final say in the matter. I was on this shortlist, because I was working as a theatre conductor in Etablissement Ronacher at the time, leading a fourteen-piece orchestra for variety performances. I was only 27 years old at the time and not a trained conductor in any way, but Liane picked me. For her, I must have been the obvious choice, given that I had worked with her as a double-bass player and accordionist in the Boheme Bar for so long. I had known her since the early 1950s. Given our long-standing working relationship, she was sure she could rely on my ability as a musician. She knew I wouldn’t mess things up.”

One of the American record releases of Liane Augustin & The Boheme Bar Trio, ‘Glowing Embers’ (1956)

“In the 1950s, Liane Augustin was one of the best-known light-entertainment singers in Vienna. With her husband, she ran the Boheme Bar which was in a small street literally around the corner from St Stephen’s Cathedral. Liane had a great stage personality – she was confident and could sing just about anything. French chansons, Berlin-type cabaret tunes… the world literature of popular song, if you like. With the Boheme Bar Trio, I also accompanied Liane on many recordings she did at the time, which sold well, and not just in Austria (some titles, notably the LP ‘Paris after midnight’, were even marketed in the United States – BT). Her experience as an all-round singer made her a good choice for the Eurovision Song Contest.”

Then, with a good-natured smile, Fantel adds: “You know why I was really chosen to conduct in Hilversum? Because I was the only conductor in the whole of Austria who had a tailcoat! At Etablissement Ronacher, I was required to always wear a tailcoat while conducting the orchestra. So when they called, they asked me: “Is it true that you own a tailcoat?”… and when I said yes, they said: “Well, that’s settled then – you are our choice for Hilversum!”. No, I’m just joking now! In reality, I was rather surprised to be asked. I regularly worked at ORF radio in those years as a freelance musician; whenever an accordionist was required for any radio performance, they called me. Television was quite another business, though. In those early years, Austrian television was some sort of an enclave. If you weren’t part of the inner circle, it was virtually impossible to wriggle your way into it. I suppose the Eurovision Song Contest in Hilversum was the first time I appeared on television, though I cannot be completely sure. It’s all such a long time ago, you know!”

The 1958 Eurovision Song Contest being due on Wednesday, the 12th of March, delegations of the ten participating countries didn’t trickle into Hilversum until two days before the broadcast. “We stayed no longer than just three nights. There was nothing of the exaggerated media attention of the song contests of later years. The organisation was simple and straightforward: two rehearsals and then the broadcast on Wednesday, and that was it really! The Austrian delegation consisted of myself, Liane Augustin, and Karl Lackner, who was Head of Entertainment at the ORF. We travelled to Amsterdam by airplane; upon arrival, a taxi took us to Hilversum, where we stayed in a small hotel. It wasn’t my first experience abroad, as I had previously worked in Switzerland and West Germany.”

“The rehearsals with the orchestra in the Netherlands were easy. The arrangement for our song had been sent to Hilversum in advance in order for the orchestra to prepare it – which left me with little more to do than just count them in. There was no need for any adjustment. I didn’t get to know the musical director, Dolf van der Linden, very well in those few days, but I found him a pleasant man. It was obvious that he was an excellent professional – and, by the standards of the day, his orchestra was nothing short of fantastic. The Dutch did a good job on the organisation. The whole atmosphere was one of friendliness and collegiality.”

Liane Augustin receiving instructions from Dutch director Ger Lugtenburg during one of the rehearsals of the 1958 Eurovision Song Contest in Hilversum

“I cannot remember feeling any nerves on the night. Not much could go wrong as far I was concerned – my job was to make sure that that all members of the orchestra started and finished at the same time. For the bit in the middle, they could just as well have put a wax doll in my place. No, really, I’m not being modest now – when working with an excellent, professional orchestra, as I had the privilege to do at the contest in the Netherlands, having a conductor waving his arms in front of the musicians is absolutely superfluous, so I was just having an easy time. And Liane? Well, I cannot remember ever having detected any sign of nervousness in her. She was an experienced artist who knew exactly what she was doing. Moreover, there wasn’t much pressure on our shoulders. At the time, Eurovision was a by-product which was barely taken notice of in Austria. There was very modest, if any, press attention and people spoke little of it.”

In the voting, ‘Die ganze Welt braucht Liebe’ picked up eight points, finishing in a joint-fifth position among the ten participating entries. “That really was a Bombenerfolg, a tremendous success,” Fantel laughs. “We never expected to do so well – and we knew that we couldn’t win with that song. It simply wasn’t good enough. Though it had obviously been written with an international audience in mind, it lacked just about everything. We must have come fifth because some of the other songs were even worse than ours! To my mind, the winning entry from France, ‘Dors mon amour’, wasn’t very good either. Obviously, Domenico Modugno should have won. I was sure ‘Volare’ was going to be a big hit. It simply was such an irresistible melody. The fact that Modugno only came third in Hilversum proves that the voting process in the Eurovision Song Contest is little more than a lottery-like gambling game.”

When the French singer André Claveau was declared as the winner of the contest, Domenico Modugno must have felt most disappointed – but he was not the only one. Switzerland’s Lys Assia, who had won the contest in 1956 and now took part with a novelty tune called ‘Giorgio’, came second. The Swiss diva was distinctly unhappy, as Fantel recalls. “Backstage, when the voting was over, she was so utterly frustrated that she violently boxed round the ears of her composer and conductor, Paul Burkhard. Meanwhile, she shouted out loudly: “Look what you’ve done, you idiot! Because you wrote such a useless song, we didn’t win!” Now, Burkhard was a fantastic composer and a really important man in Swiss music at the time, but there he was – being cursed and yelled at by Lys Assia. He just looked so shocked! I’ll never forget that hopeless expression on his face. It was hilarious. The fact that Mr Burkhard was quite a short man – much shorter than Lys Assia – only enhanced the comical effect of it all.”

Seven of the participants in the 1958 Eurovision Song Contest pictured together in the streets of Hilversum, from left to right: André Claveau (France), Raquel Rastenni (Denmark), conductor Paul Burkhard with Lys Assia (Switzerland), chief conductor Dolf van der Linden (Netherlands), and Liane Augustin with her conductor Willy Fantel (Austria)

“We returned to Austria the morning after the contest. Upon our return in Vienna, I bought some newspapers at the airport. Unsurprisingly, there wasn’t a word about Liane Augustin. What was mentioned, though, was that Margot Hielscher had secured an honourable spot in the Eurovision Song Contest for Germany. Imagine the situation: we had picked up more points than the German entry, which finished near the bottom! It was typical of the approach of the Austrian press. I didn’t expect to make headlines in the newspapers, but they could at least have given credit to Liane’s effort. That was the least she would have deserved.”

Participation in the contest had little impact on the careers of either Liane Augustin or Willy Fantel. While Fantel accompanied the singer on several more of her records, such as ‘Night and Day – Songs of Cole Porter’ in 1959, no studio version of ‘Die ganze Welt braucht Liebe’ was ever made. “Nobody in Austria would have been interested in buying that record,” Fantel explains. “Liane simply returned to the Boheme Bar and that was the end of her Eurovision adventure! To me, the Eurovision Song Contest was a pleasant freelance job – and a very well-paid one at that, but it didn’t influence my career in any way. At the end of the theatre season at Etablissement Ronacher in May 1958, I left for Velden am Wörthersee to play for the guests at the Castle Hotel, just like we did every summer. Eurovision was nothing more than a short episode of a couple of days. It didn’t make a great impression on me personally either. It was an unusual experience, but, to my mind, the Eurovision Song Contest as an event wasn’t really interesting. In the following years, I didn’t follow it closely and I never made any attempt to take part in it as a songwriter, arranger, or conductor. Hilversum really was a ‘one-off’ in my career.”

Willy Fantel took part in the Eurovision Song Contest during its embryonic first years. Throughout the heyday of the festival in the 1960s and 1970s, when the show received high viewing figures across Europe, the Austrian public remained largely unimpressed – even after Udo Jürgens won the competition in 1966 with ‘Merci chérie’. Fantel: “Udo was the only person in Austria who had the ability as an artist to make a lasting impression on audiences internationally. Apart from him, we simply lacked the talent to do well in such a competition – and, added to that, as you already mentioned, the Austrians never really took much of an interest in the contest, which meant there was little stimulus for local artists to take part. Nowadays, the Eurovision Song Contest has turned into an even more uninteresting phenomenon than in the past. Who on earth ever thought it was a good idea to have a song contest with forty or fifty participants? In such a set-up, there’s no place for an orchestra. The event has become incredibly expensive and state broadcasters across Europe are working with ever tightening budgets. In that light, the decision to work with playback instead of live musicians was an inevitable decision.”

Liane Augustin performing on the Eurovision stage in Hilversum

Other artists on Willy Fantel
Guitarist, mouth organist, arranger, and conductor Richard Oesterreicher started his career in the music industry as one of Willy Fantel’s ‘Solisten’: “I worked extensively with Willy Fantel, notably for a couple of summer seasons 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 still is a great guy. I’m very happy to have been good friends with him for so long already!” (2010)

Pianist, arranger, and conductor Robert Opratko was also 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)

Links & sources
  • This article is the result of three separate interviews Bas Tukker had with Willy Fantel, the first in December 2009; and two more conversations over eleven years later, in January 2021.
  • Thanks due to Richard Oesterreicher and Prof. Robert Opratko (†) for their additional comments about Willy Fantel.
  • A playlist of some of Willy Fantel’s music can be accessed by clicking this YouTube link.
  • Photos courtesy of Willy Fantel, Ferry van der Zant, and Bill Holland.
  • Thanks due to Bill Holland and Edwin van Gorp for proofreading the manuscript; and to Edwin van Gorp for uploading it onto the website.

  

Songs conducted
1958: Die ganze Welt braucht Liebe