Gloomy Sunday

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"Gloomy Sunday", also known as the "Hungarian Suicide Song", is a song composed by Hungarian pianist and composer Rezső Seress and published in 1933.

The first lyrics were written in 1932 by László Jávor, in his melancholy love poem "Szomorú vasárnap" (Hungarian pronunciation: [ˈsomoruː ˈvɒʃaːrnɒp]) ("Sad Sunday"), after his beloved had left him. The song was first recorded in Hungarian by Pál Kalmár in 1935. During World War II Seress wrote alternate lyrics to the song, "Vége a világnak" ("End of the world"),[1] published in 1946, which lamented the horrors of the war and the loss to all humanity.

"Gloomy Sunday" was first recorded in English by Hal Kemp in 1936, with lyrics by Sam M. Lewis,[2] and was recorded the same year by Paul Robeson, with lyrics by Desmond Carter. It became well-known throughout much of the English-speaking world after the release of a version by Billie Holiday in 1941. Lewis's lyrics referred to suicide, and the record label described it as the "Hungarian Suicide Song". There is a recurring urban legend that claims that many people committed suicide with this song playing.[3]

Writing and background[edit]

Rezső Seress

The song was composed by Rezső Seress while living in Paris, in an attempt to become established as a songwriter in late 1932.[4] The original musical composition was a piano melody in C-minor, with the lyrics being sung over it.[5] Seress wrote the song at the time of the Great Depression and increasing fascist influence in the writer's native Hungary, although sources differ as to the degree to which his song was motivated by personal melancholy rather than concerns about the future of the world. The basis of Seress' lyrics is a reproach to the injustices of man, with a prayer to God to have mercy on the modern world and the people who perpetrate evil.[6] There are some suggestions[7] that the words of "Vége a világnak" were in fact not written until World War II itself and not copyrighted until 1946.

Seress initially had difficulty finding a publisher, mainly due to the unusually melancholy nature of the song. One potential publisher stated:

It is not that the song is sad, there is a sort of terrible compelling despair about it. I don't think it would do anyone any good to hear a song like that.[8]

The song was published as sheet music in late 1933,[9] with lyrics by poet László Jávor, who was inspired by a recent break-up with his fiancée.[4] According to most sources, Jávor rewrote the lyrics after the song's first publication, although he is sometimes described as the original writer of its words.[10] His lyrics contained no political sentiments, but rather were a lament for the death of a beloved and a pledge to meet with the lover again in the afterlife.[8][11][12] This version of the song became the best known, and most later rewritings are based around the idea of lost love.[13]

Translation of Jávor's Lyrics[edit]

Hungarian English

"Szomorú Vasárnap száz fehér virággal,
Vártalak, kedvesem, templomi imával,
Álmokat kergető vasárnap délelőtt,
Bánatom hintaja nélküled visszajött.

Azóta szomorú mindig a vasárnap,
Könny csak az italom, kenyerem a bánat...
Szomorú vasárnap.

Utolsó vasárnap, kedvesem, gyere el;
Pap is lesz, koporsó, ravatal, gyászlepel,
Akkor is virág vár, virág és - koporsó,
Virágos fák alatt utam az utolsó.

Nyitva lesz szemem, hogy még egyszer lássalak,
Ne félj a szememtől, holtan is áldalak...
Utolsó vasárnap."

"On a sad Sunday with a hundred white flowers,
I was waiting for you, my dear, with a church prayer,
That dream-chasing Sunday morning,
The chariot of my sadness returned without you.

Ever since then, Sundays are always sad,
tears are my drink, and sorrow is my bread...
Sad Sunday.

Last Sunday, my dear, please come along,
There will even be priest, coffin, catafalque, hearse-cloth.
Even then flowers will be awaiting you, flowers and coffin.
Under blossoming (flowering in Hungarian) trees my journey shall be the last.

My eyes will be open, so that I can see you one more time,
Do not be afraid of my eyes as I am blessing you even in my death...
Last Sunday."

Urban legends[edit]

There have been several urban legends regarding the song over the years, mostly involving it being allegedly connected with various numbers of suicides, and radio networks reacting by purportedly banning the song.[14] However, most of these claims are unsubstantiated.[15]

Press reports in the 1930s associated at least nineteen suicides, both in Hungary and America, with "Gloomy Sunday",[3][4][16] but most of the deaths supposedly linked to it are difficult to verify. The urban legend appears to be, for the most part, simply an embellishment of the high number of Hungarian suicides that occurred in the decade when the song was composed due to other factors such as famine and poverty. No studies have drawn a clear link between the song and suicide.[15]

In January 1968, some thirty-five years after writing the song, its composer Rezső Seress did commit suicide. He survived jumping out of a window in Budapest, but later in the hospital choked himself to death with a wire.[17]

The BBC banned Billie Holiday's version of the song from being broadcast, as being detrimental to wartime morale, but allowed performances of instrumental versions.[3] However, there is little evidence of any other radio bans; the BBC's ban was lifted by 2002.[15]

Gloomy Sunday was featured in a 2012 television episode of Dark Matters: Twisted But True.

Later recordings and notable performances[edit]

The song's notoriety contributed towards many other notable artists later recording the song, including:

Legacy[edit]

The 1999 German film Ein Lied von Liebe und Tod tells a fictional story about the creation of the song, depicting a love triangle during World War II. Heather Nova covers the song in the closing credits.

The song inspired the 2006 movie The Kovak Box, in which writer is trapped on the island of Mallorca with people who are injected with a microchip that causes them to commit suicide when they hear "Gloomy Sunday".[21] The song plays during the movie, sung by the actress Lucía Jiménez. A music video from the cover was released as part of the movie promotion. The song also features on the soundtrack of Wristcutters: A Love Story, performed by Artie Shaw.[22]

The song was listed as being one of the saddest songs of all time on Spinner, coming in at 2nd overall.[23]

In 2008, Belgian artist Marieke Van Wuytswinkel used a sample of Gloomy Sunday in her work A Natural Morning.[24][25]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Sheet music gloomy-sunday.jpg (442×694)
  2. ^ "Gloomy Sunday" - Sam Lewis lyrics, Accessed 7 November 2011
  3. ^ a b c The 21st Floor: Ash, Pryce, "It May Be Freaky Friday, But Sunday Is Gloomy", 7 August 2010. Accessed 7 November 2011
  4. ^ a b c "Gloomy Sunday" at Feel The Blues With All That Jazz. Accessed 7 November 2011
  5. ^ There Are Places I Remember: "Gloomy Sunday". Accessed 7 November 2011
  6. ^ "Vége a világnak" - Rezső Seress lyrics. Accessed 7 November 2011
  7. ^ Rezső Seress' Gloomy Sunday - Board, Accessed 8 November 2011
  8. ^ a b D.P. McDonald, "Gloomy Sunday: Overture to Death". Accessed 7 November 2011
  9. ^ Theresa's Haunted History of the Tri-State: Combining the Fact with the Folklore, "The Hungarian Suiceide Song". Accessed 7 November 2011
  10. ^ Harry Witchel, You Are What You Hear: how music and territory make us who we are, Algora Publishing, 2010, p.106. Accessed 7 November 2011
  11. ^ "Szomorú vasárnap" - László Jávor lyrics. Accessed 7 November 2011
  12. ^ World of Poetry: "Szomorú Vasárnap". Accessed 7 November 2011
  13. ^ Bill DeMain, "This Song’s a Killer: The Strange Tale of 'Gloomy Sunday'", MentalFloss, August 16, 2011. Accessed 7 November 2011
  14. ^ BBC h2g2: "Gloomy Sunday - Music to Die for?". Accessed 7 November 2011
  15. ^ a b c Snopes.com: Urban Legends Reference Pages: Gloomy Sunday Suicides. Accessed 7 November 2011
  16. ^ [1]. Accessed 14 July 2012
  17. ^ Microfilm scan of article over Seress's suicide. New York Times, January 14, 1968, page 84 in Obituaries.
  18. ^ Video on YouTube
  19. ^ Video on YouTube
  20. ^ Video on YouTube
  21. ^ Variety Film Reviews: The Kovac Box. Accessed 9 November 2011
  22. ^ Wristcutters at Allmusic. Accessed 7 November 2011
  23. ^ The 25 Most Exquisitely Sad Songs in the Whole World. Accessed 9 November 2011
  24. ^ http://mariekevanwuytswinkel.com/work/before-2011/a-natural-morning.html
  25. ^ http://vimeo.com/10946775

External links[edit]