The Legend of Gloomy Sunday
Sorry, I have to make you imagine something unpleasant. Picture that you are living a very troubled life. You feel as if you have hit rock bottom and there’s no coming back. Or you feel like there’s no purpose for you in this world, and you become so desperate that you are moved to leave this world behind. Now, imagine a song that could push you over the edge, make you lose the tiny bit of hope left in you, and then compel you into killing yourself. Would you believe that kind of song exists? What could it possibly sound like? How deeply written could it be? Enough imagination, I will tell you all about it.
Once upon a time there was a Hungarian composer named Rezső Seress. This man struggled with his career as he had failed to compose a hit song until 1938. What happened then? Heartbreak. His girlfriend left him. He fell into such an overwhelming depression that he poured his heart out into composing this debut hit song. László Jávor and Pál Kalmár joined him with the song’s lyrics and recording. The song was originally titled “Vége a Világnak”- “The End of the World;, later it was renamed “Szomorú Vasárnap”- “Gloomy Sunday.” At first publishers refused to print it saying it was too depressing. But eventually, it was released in 1935 and became a huge success.
“Sunday is gloomy, my hours are slumberless.
Dearest, the shadows I live with are numberless.
Little white flowers will never awaken you,
Not where the black coach of sorrow has taken you.
Angels have no thought of ever returning you.
Would they be angry if I thought of joining you?
Gloomy is Sunday; with shadows I spend it all.
My heart and I have decided to end it all.
Soon there’ll be candles and prayers that are sad, I know.
Death is no dream, for in death I’m caressing you.
With the last breath of my soul I’ll be blessing you.
Thrilled that he finally made a hit song, Rezső contacted his ex-girlfriend who was his inspiration. The following day she poisoned herself to death. A note she left was found—it showed– “Gloomy Sunday”.
As time went by, the song started to be connected to a series of suicides. TIME MAGAZINE published in 1936 featured several suicide stories related to the song. A Hungarian shoemaker by the name of Joseph Keller left a note at the scene of his suicide quoting some of the Gloomy Sunday lyrics. Several bodies were found with their hands clutching the song’s sheet music. Two people shot themselves while hearing a band play the song, and others had been found to have ended their own lives while listening to it. Finally, The Hungarian government banned the song.
That did not stop the suicides though. The song’s reputation grew large and as always America decided to jump in. They made an English version of “Szomorú Vasárnap”. It went international. In Berlin, a young girl hung herself; beneath her was found a copy of Gloomy Sunday. In Vienna, a teenager drowned herself holding the sheet music. In Budapest, a shopkeeper killed himself and left a note containing some of the lyrics of Gloomy Sunday. In New York, a secretary gassed herself. Her death wish was that the song be played at her funeral.
The composer himself was not spared of his fatal creation. He was disturbed by the destruction his work had caused and had this to say: “I stand in the midst of this deadly success as an accused man. This fatal fame hurts me. I cried all of the disappointments of my heart into this song, and it seems that others with feelings like mine have found their own hurt in it.”. In 1968, he committed suicide by jumping out the window of his apartment.
Well, that’s the whole story. I have listened both to the original and the translated versions. I admit it’s pretty saddening. Umm… I don’t know about suicidal. But, my guess is that the song has lost its essence over time. The 1930s & 40s were a time of chaos all over the world. The troubles of those days do not even begin to equate to the troubles of these days. I don’t think a 21st century person would find the song anything more than entertaining. So, if you ever decide to give it an ear, here is the link.
BY Hawi Dadhi