Eurovision Song of the Week: De Vogels van Holland (Netherlands, 1956)

Our first Eurovision Song of the Week for 2018 is also the first Eurovision song of all time. When the contest debuted on May 24, 1956, the very first song that the TV audiences heard was De Vogels van Holland (The Birds of Holland) from the Netherlands. Let’s listen to it now and share our thoughts on it!

De vogels van Holland zijn zo muzikaal . . .

The birds of Holland are so musical . . . Without listening to the other entries from 1956, I think De Vogels van Holland was the best choice for the opener. The first verse is about how the music of birdsong makes the springtime lovelier. Though we cannot hear de vogels — specifically, de mere (the blackbird), de lijster (the thrush), and the nachtegaal (the nightingale) — we can hear Dutch representative Jetty Paerl. And her voice certainly made the springtime of 1956 lovelier across Europe. De vogels van Eurovision waren so muzikaal!

In the second verse, Paerl also mentions birds from other countries: De Franse vogels . . . Japanse vogels . . . Chinese vogels . . . One European country and two Asian countries. Does anyone else find them an odd mix? Given the parallels that De Vogels van Holland draws between songbirds and Eurovision contestants, I think that the lyrics should have dropped Japan and China for two other competing countries. It would certainly have been sportsmanlike — even if, at the end of the verse, Paerl insists on the superiority of Dutch birds!

But the vocative “tudeludelu” should stay. It’s fitting that the very first Eurovision song was also the very first to use vocables in the contest. Later, more ESC contestants would use “non-words” in music — like “tra-la-la” or “dum-de-dum” — to be more appealing to listeners. We already heard one of them last year: Sjúbídú from Iceland, 1996 (Link).

In vele verre landen heb ik vogels horen zingen . . .

“In many faraway countries, I’ve heard birds sing . . .” (Translation from the Digilooo Thrush)

My own German translation is: “In viele ferne Länder habe ich Vögel singen gehört.” That’s very close to the original Dutch! With my B2-level German, I understood the main hook, parts of the verses, and of course, the “tudeludelu.” I had to read the translation to learn the full message, but what I got on my own was a good start. So I’m confident that listeners from Germany and Switzerland would have easily appreciated De Vogels van Holland. But I don’t know about the French-speaking countries, who were in the majority that year.

As for the melody, I like that it gives us variation. We don’t have the basic form of verses and chorus. There’s a clear refrain, but three different melodies for verses. And this only makes De Vogels van Holland more interesting! All the varied parts fit together very well, leading us perfectly to the last line: “Zo musikaal, zo musikaal, zo musikaal!

1956 Voting and Results

This was the first and only year without the famous Eurovision scoreboard. All we know about the voting in 1956 is that each participating country had a two-person jury that could award two points to a song. Each country, that is, except Luxembourg, which asked Switzerland to vote on its behalf. (Source) And the winner was . . . Switzerland with Refrain! This is probably why 1956 was also the first and only year that countries were allowed to vote for their own songs!

The actual scoring has been a mystery for seven decades. Since we have no record of the points, De Vogels van Holland and the other entries all share second place.

It may be too early for the televote, but I want to end this post with my usual question. So let’s pretend that we’re back in 1956, with the technology of 2018 . . .

Woud you have voted for De Vogels van Holland in Eurovision 1956?

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