A fitting update for a Sunday in February. Today I’d like to introduce you to Gloomy Sunday, also known as the Hungarian suicide song.
This little ditty has its origins in pre-World War II Hungary. It was composed in 1933 by Rezső Seress based on an earlier poem by László Jávor. Both the song and poem were entitled Gloomy Sunday. Seress added verses to the poem and made musical corrections to some of the lines, and so it could best be said that the song is truly his creation.
According to legend, the song became a bit of a hit in 1933 and 1934 across Europe and sparked a wave of suicides in teens and young adults who listened to it. There’s no evidence to entirely back this up, but it’s possible that the song did inspire some individuals, already depressed due to the economic conditions of the 1930s, to end their lives. The song became known as the Hungarian suicide song because of the number of supposed suicides it inspired.
In 1941, American singer Billie Holliday recorded probably the most famous version of the song, which was a hit for the young singer. The song continued to be popular through the 1940s, and the Holliday version of the song was banned in the UK, possibly due to the legend of the melody’s effect on young people.
In 1969, the composer, Seress, committed suicide by leaping from his apartment window. He survived the fall, but later at the hospital he managed to choke himself to death with a piece of wire. According to his obituary, Seress’s success with Gloomy Sunday was a contributing factor to his death. He could never recreate his success with the legendary song and so sank deep into depression. Another victim of the song’s lullaby.
The song has been remade several times since then, seeming to lose its power as the years pass by. However, there have been a number of suicides where the victim asked for Gloomy Sunday to be played at their funeral, or left fragments of the song in their notes.
Perhaps on an overcast, chilly Sunday afternoon, you’ll come across an unusual MP3 file, Gloomy Sunday, and give it a play. And maybe you’ll discover the secret of the song, the reason it drives some people to suicide.