Sunday, September 30, 2012

Full Moon On A Gloomy Sunday

As the full moon coincides with a Sunday this month, I thought it was the perfect time to tell you the story about a song called Gloomy Sunday.

Rezso Seress

This song was written in 1933 by Hungarian pianist and composer Rezso Seress, with lyrics by poet László Jávor - who was inspired by a recent break-up from his fiancée. The lyrics is about the loss of a loved one, and a pledge to meet again in the afterlife. At first Seress had difficulties finding a publisher, mainly due to the unusually melancholy nature of the song. One potential publisher said about it:

"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." 

Pál Kalmár

In 1935 the song was first recorded, with singer Pál Kalmár. It immediately became successful in Hungary - but that's when weird things started to happen. Gloomy Sunday became so associated with a high number of suicides that the Hungarian authorities reportedly banned the song from being played in public. This is when it was labeled as "The Suicide Song", and when papers around the world started writing about it, it was quickly translated into other languages and recorded by many other singers. One of the most known versions is the one with Billie Holiday.


Many urban legends are connected with Gloomy Sunday, and in the 1930s press reports associated at least nineteen suicides - both in Hungary and America - with the song. Several people had reportedly jumped into the Danube river, holding copies of the sheet music, killed themselves after listening to the song, or had been found dead with the lyrics written in a suicide note, or the music still on the gramophone.

Hungary did have a high suicide rate during the decade Gloomy Sunday was written, but these were more probably the cause of other factors, such as famine and poverty. But you never know...If you're a sensitive person who easily get affected by such things as music, and happen to listen to this song while in a very depressed state, I'm sure it can help bring you over the edge...One true fact though, is that Reszo Seress himself committed suicide in January 1968. He jumped out of a window in Budapest - survived the jump - and then choked himself to death with a wire at the hospital...

I first heard the song with Sarah Brightman, and fell in love with it. That was years before I knew about it's history though, and I'm still alive! So that's why I feel it's safe to let my readers hear it too. I'll give you three versions; the Hungarian original with Pál Kalmár, the one with Sarah Brightman, and lastly Billy Holiday's version. Listen at your own risk!


  1. Thank you for sharing this fascinating story. This song is among the most heartbreakingly saddest songs I know. And I'm bit of a connoisseur of sentimental and melancholic songs.
    The strange thing with Billie is that although she sings with such credibility about grief and loss, there are always these rays of light and hope which also makes the desperation even clearer...She was truly a remakable artist.

  2. I remember listening to this song many years ago after hearing the stories and I definitely did see the depressive side to it but I think in general it's a good song, I just hope that I don't kill myself like the composer did, he threw himself out of a window right?

  3. I loved this. I learned this in my music classes many many years ago, but I do enjoy it so :) Billie Holliday is one of my many favourites. Sarah Brightman is wonderful too, adored her in the Phantom of the Opera :) Happy Monday love Xxx


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