• Steven Garner

Austrian National Day: from Udo to Conchita, two Eurovision victors



Today, 26 October, is Nationalfeiertag (National Day) in Austria, the start of which sees a concert performed by the Vienna Symphony Orchestra on the eve of the public holiday.


Whilst both artists featured in this article have orchestral links (see below), we here at Aussievision have - of course - chosen to celebrate the nation's success in a different area of music: its victories at the Eurovision Song Contest.


So, who won? When? Did they have any previous association with the Contest? And are the two successful performers as different as they might initially seem?



Die Gewinner


Austria's first Eurovision win came at the 11th edition of the Contest in 1966 courtesy of the late crooner Udo Jürgens and his self-composed ballad 'Merci, Chérie', which romped to victory almost doubling the score of second-placed Sweden and securing the most maximum points (at that time just five).



Almost 50 years would pass before an Austrian representative would next lift the winner's trophy: in 2014, Conchita Wurst, the drag persona of Thomas Neuwirth, sailed through the second semi-final (as the crowd sang along!) and garnered the most Grand Final douze points with her semi-operatic ballad 'Rise Like A Phoenix' to secure a comfortable win.



So far, so (largely) similar.

But let's explore the artists' pre-win stories.



One seasoned performer ...


By the time of his 1966 win, Udo Jürgens' name was already synonymous with Austria at Eurovision as he'd been the country's entrant in each of the two previous years. Clearly a case of third time lucky!


In his Contest debut, Udo finished sixth with his - again self-penned - 'Warum nur, warum', in which he ponders "just why, why?" bad things must happen. Despite not topping the scoreboard, things didn't turn out that badly: successful English-language versions (entitled 'Walk Away') of the song were recorded by US hit-machine Brenda Lee and by fellow crooner and Eurovision 1964 competitor Matt Munro.



The singer-songwriter went two places better the following year, snatching fourth place at the 10th edition of Eurovision with another sentimental, chanson-inspired ballad ('Sag ihr, ich lass sie grüßen'), in which he asks to be remembered to a former love but that no mention be made of the tears he still sheds for her.


But what about Ms Wurst?



... one rising starlet


Well, she was admittedly a less-recognised name (certainly internationally) when she took to the Copenhagen stage in 2014, shimmering in gold and backed by a truly spectacular lighting inferno. However, that wasn't quite the beginning of Conchita's Eurovision story.



Two years previously, she had entered the Austrian national final selection process, which saw her nominated to compete by a national radio station and perform live as part of Österreich rockt den Song Contest (quite the title for a national final!) with her co-written, pop empowerment song 'That's What I Am'.


Conchita finished the night in second place with 49% of the public vote compared to the 51% won by Trackshittaz and the "wiggle-your-bum" song 'Woki mit deim Popo' ... which subsequently failed to qualify for the 2012 Grand Final.


After a second consecutive non-qualification in 2013 ('Shine' by Natália Kelly), the national broadcaster ORF internally selected Conchita for 2014, sticking to their guns in the face of not insignificant protests domestically and abroad (the latter seeking to whip up anti-LGBTQI+ sentiment... ultimately to no avail).



Points of connection


At first glance, Austria's two winners might appear to have little in common. But appearances can be deceptive!


Firstly, the winning songs have two clear similarities: neither title is in the country's official language (being French and English, respectively) and both tell the tale of a sad ending that offers hope for the future (with Udo singing of a love that has run its course yet advocating that the lovers look forward, and Conchita revelling in her rebirth "from the ashes").


In addition, both performers have a strong orchestral connection: in the mid-1980s Udo conducted the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra at the opening of the Vienna Festival, and in 2018 Conchita released a collaboration album with the Vienna Symphony with the Bond-inspired title 'From Vienna with Love'.


Most significantly, there was clearly a mutual respect between the two artists. Shortly after Conchita's win, the prospect of a "dream duet" was raised at the 2015 Contest, with Udo praising Conchita as having "done freedom a great service" and expressing his keen interest in taking to the stage with her.



Sadly, Udo passed away in December 2014 at the age of 80, prompting Conchita to tweet how greatly affected she was by the loss of a great artist. A year later, Ms Wurst had the opportunity to pay tribute to Udo at a concert celebrating his life and work, performing 'Walk Away' and bidding adieu to an Austrian musical great.


The Aussievision team would like to wish its Austrian followers and readers "alles Gute zum Nationalfeiertag".