Saturday 15 May 1971


The following article is an overview of the career of Italian violinist and conductor Fernando Paggi. The article below is subdivided into two main parts; a general career overview (part 3) and a part dedicated to Fernando Paggi's Eurovision involvement (part 4).

All material below: © Bas Tukker / 2010

  1. Passport
  2. Short Eurovision record
  3. Biography
  4. Eurovision Song Contest
  5. Other artists about Fernando Paggi
  6. Eurovision involvement year by year
  7. Sources & links

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

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. Paggi conducted 6 of the 14 entries that evening: apart from both Swiss entries (including the winning ‘Refrain’), 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 and Anita Traversi respectively).


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 became 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, Mario Robbiani, 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. 

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 by 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.

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 15 years, Mario Robbiani. From 1969 until his untimely death in 1973, Paggi was the head of RSI’s Light Entertainment department.

Paggi leading his Orchestra Radiosa


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 waltz melody performed by Jetty Paerl.

Subsequently, Paggi also led the orchestra for 5 other entries: ‘Das alte Karussell’, 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 chanson performed by Lys Assia, arranged by 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 3rd. 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.

Fernando Paggi leading his orchestra for the reprise of Lys Assia's performance of 'Refrain' - Teatro Kursaal, Lugano (1956)


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


Country – Netherlands (A)
Song title – “De vogels van Holland”
Rendition – Jetty Paerl
Lyrics – Annie M.G. Schmidt
Composition – Cor Lemaire
Studio arrangement – none
Live orchestration – Pi Scheffer
Conductor – Fernando Paggi (MD)
Score – unknown

Country – Switzerland (A)
Song title – “Das alte Karussel”
Rendition – Lys Assia
Lyrics – Georg Betz-Stahl
Composition – Georg Betz-Stahl
Studio arrangement – Mario Robbiani
(Orchestra Radiosa conducted by Fernando Paggi)
Live orchestration – Mario Robbiani
Conductor – Fernando Paggi (MD)
Score – unknown

Country – West Germany (A)
Song title – “Im Wartesaal zum grossen Glück”
Rendition – Walter Andreas Schwarz
Lyrics – Walter Andreas Schwarz
Composition – Walter Andreas Schwarz
Studio arrangement – Hans Georg Arlt
Live orchestration – Hans Georg Arlt
Conductor – Fernando Paggi (MD)
Score – unknown

Country – Netherlands (B)
Song title – “Voorgoed voorbij”
Rendition – Corry Brokken
Lyrics – Jelle de Vries
Composition – Jelle de Vries
Studio arrangement – none
Live orchestration – Bert Paige
Conductor – Fernando Paggi (MD)
Score – unknown

Country – Switzerland (B)
Song title – “Refrain”
Rendition – Lys Assia
Lyrics – Emile Gardaz
Composition – Géo Voumard
Studio arrangement – Mario Robbiani
(Orchestra Radiosa conducted by Fernando Paggi)
Live orchestration – Mario Robbiani
Conductor – Fernando Paggi (MD)
Score – 1st place

Country – West Germany (B)
Song title – “So geht das jede Nacht”
Rendition – Freddy Quinn
Lyrics – Peter Mösser
Composition – Lotar Olias
Studio arrangement – Lotar Olias / Horst Wende
(Horst Wende Tanz-Solisten conducted by Horst Wende)
Live orchestration – Lotar Olias / Horst Wende
Conductor – Fernando Paggi (MD)
Score – unknown

Country – Switzerland
Song title – “Nous aurons demain”
Rendition – Franca Di Rienzo
Lyrics – Emile Gardaz
Composition – Géo Voumard
Studio arrangement – Hubert Degex
(studio orchestra conducted by Hubert Degex)
Live orchestration – Hubert Degex
Conductor – Fernando Paggi
Score – 3rd place (16 votes)

Country – Switzerland
Song title – “I miei pensieri”
Rendition – Anita Traversi
Lyrics – Sanzio Chiesa
Composition – Giovanni Pelli
Studio arrangement – Albert Brunner
Live orchestration – Albert Brunner
Conductor – Fernando Paggi
Score – 13th place (0 votes)

  • Part of a documentary in which Fernando Paggi can be heard recalling the founding of his orchestra can be accessed by following this YouTube link 
  • The website of the Società Svizzera di Musicologia, which can be accessed by following this link
  • An interview with Angelo Parini on the founding of the Orchestra Radiosa, available online on the website of Fonoteca Nazionale Svizzera. Moreover, on the online databank of this website, a long list of broadcasts and recordings can be found in which Fernando Paggi took part
  • An interview with Dolf van der Linden by Gerrit den Braber for AVRO Radio, July 24th, 1985

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