What is the Eurovision opening music – and how long has ‘Te Deum’ featured in the song contest?

18 May 2019, 19:00 | Updated: 18 May 2019, 19:01

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

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 contestant?

In the late 1600s, French Baroque composer Marc-Antoine Charpentier wrote his grand polyphonic motet Te Deum. And although he authored six settings, only four of them have survived.

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.

Eurovision Song Contest contestants celebrate making it to the 2019 Second Semi-Final
Eurovision Song Contest contestants celebrate making it to the 2019 Second Semi-Final. Picture: Getty

For how long has ‘Te Deum’ featured in the song contest?

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, and directed by Louis Martini, a French conductor who died in 2000.

It has been used for over sixty years, since the 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.

Portrait Of The Composer Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1634-1704)
Portrait Of The Composer Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1634-1704). Picture: Getty

When will Eurovision take place?

The finals of Eurovision 2019 will take place on Saturday 18 May in Tel Aviv, Israel.

The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra recently posted the above 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 give the symphonic piece an elegant middle-eastern twist.

Watch Eurovision on BBC One, at 8pm on Saturday.