“Gloomy Sunday” [♬]

Billie Holiday was an amazing woman. Before I ever listened to “Gloomy Sunday” and its countless renditions, the title and accompanying story is one I had known about since an early age.

There is a recurring urban legend which claims that people committed suicide while listening to the original song. The original “Gloomy Sunday“, also known as the “Hungarian Suicide Song”, is a song composed by Hungarian pianist and composer Rezső Seress and published in 1933. Since its recording it has been blamed for more suicides than any other in the history of music. In the same decade, the composer himself, his wife, and at least eighteen suicide deaths in Hungary were reported to have had close links with Gloomy Sunday, although urban legend embellishes its more in the hundreds range. This ultimately led to its banning on various radio networks in 1936.

Regardless of whether you choose to believe in the mystery or rather in the social climate of the 1930s in which the song was composed; this is a beautiful piece of music:

The Great Depression had begun and suicide rates were skyrocketing in the U.S. and Hungary. Additionally, antisemitism was taking hold across Europe. He didn’t know it when he composed Gloomy Sunday, but Rezső Seress would later be interned at a Nazi labor camp in Ukraine. He survived the camp, but his mother did not. Prior to becoming a musician Seress had lost his career as a circus performer through injury. He was struggling to make ends meet. (“Rezső Seress.” Wikipedia. August 2,2013.)

This set the perfect (gloomy) tone for Seress to compose Gloomy Sunday. And he did so by putting his heart and soul, his sadness, and his disappointment into the composition. Seress composed the song in the sad key of C minor, and the music alone was said to be enough to make a person extremely depressed or suicidal. Then came the wretched lyrics on top of the music. As the story goes; Hungarian poet, László Jávor, had recently broken up with his fiancée, and his heartbreak served as the inspiration for the mournful lyrics to Gloomy Sunday.

Seress eventually succumbed to his own depression, and jumped from his apartment building in Budapest. He killed himself just after his 69th birthday. His legacy endures:

~ by Fionnlagh on March 28, 2021.

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