On Air Now
Smooth Classics at Seven with Zeb Soanes 7pm - 10pm
10 May 2022, 17:14 | Updated: 11 May 2022, 11:05
The Prelude to Charpentier’s ‘Te Deum’ has opened Eurovision for over sixty years. But how did this warlike 17th-century fanfare become the signature tune for the world’s favourite international song contest?
The section we hear in the Eurovision titles is the first of the six original motets, the ‘Prelude (Marche en rondeau)’.
A brassy, warlike rondo, Charpentier’s motet was thought to have been performed in celebration of a French victory in the Battle of Steenkerque, in August 1692.
Read more: 10 of the best Baroque composers
The ‘Prelude’ to Te Deum that we hear in Eurovision was arranged by Guy Lambert, a 20th-century French organist famous for his transcriptions of Charpentier’s music. It was directed by Louis Martini, a French conductor who died in 2000.
It has been used for over sixty years, since the song contest was first held in the town of Lugano, Switzerland, on 24 May 1956.
And the ‘Prelude’ isn’t just the signature song of Eurovision; Charpentier’s fanfare is used across the European Broadcasting Union and can be heard in the opening credits of the Vienna New Year’s Concert, as well as in other Eurovision events. Te Deum was also the intro to Bud Greenspan’s Olympiad films.
In 2019, when the Eurovision Song Contest was hosted in Israel, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra posted a video in celebration of the upcoming broadcast in which they play a reimagined reading of Te Deum.
By adding several instruments, including an oud and a darabouka drum, and flattening a few notes in the descending melody, they gave the symphonic piece an elegant middle-eastern twist.