Gloomy Sunday – The Suicide Song

The other day I wrote a post about Strange Fruit, one of the 20th Century’s more powerful songs, well here is another one for you!

This one in English is called Gloomy Sunday, or conversely, The Hungarian Suicide Song, owing to both its extremely gloomy nature, and the urban myths about how it causes people who are unlucky enough to hear it to rush out and commit suicide instantly – so you have been warned!

In Hungarian it was called Szomorú vasárnap (Sad Sunday),

Obviously it is in fact a Hungarian song, written by a poet by the name of Rezső Seress in 1933 and had words that were a gentle hymn about people’s sins, but very soon after it was published, another Hungarian poet László Jávor (I bet you didn’t know there were so many poets in Hungary in the 30’s) sat down and wrote his own lyrics to this song, and these are the lyrics that we all know and love today.  All about lost love, suicide, death and despondency (see a bit further down this post for an English translation of these words).

So the version I have bunged just below here is the music of Rezső Seress and the words of László Jávor, and the singer is Pál Kalmár, and was the first recording of this song, recorded in 1935.

So, have a listen to the original version of this depressing, but beautiful song, and then we shall discuss it further……

The Words:

Before going any further, it is probably a good idea for me to give you the English translation of the words of this song, so here goes:-

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 Sunday

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 said, I know.
Let them not weep,
Let them know that I’m glad to go.

Death is no dream,
For in death I’m caressing you.
With the last breath of my soul,
I’ll be blessing you.

Gloomy Sunday

Dreaming, I was only dreaming.
I wake and I find you asleep
In the deep of my heart, dear.

Darling, I hope that
My dream never haunted you.
My heart is telling you,
How much I wanted you.

See?   Not the most cheerful of songs is it?   But nonetheless those words have a real power and emotional kick to them, and are all too easy for almost all of us to identify with.

Most of us have had some sort of sadness associated with our love life but happily, most of us move on and do not kill ourselves as a result of these experiences.

Billie Holiday:

Of course the most well known version of this song is the version that Billie Holiday recorded in 1941, so sit back and enjoy (hmmm) her take on this song.

My God she could sing!!!   She could take totally banal lyrics and make them highly significant, but in this case, she has wonderful and powerful lyrics to work with, making a  seriously powerful emotional experience.

Very little to be said about this version except it is masterly, emotionally powerful, moving and beautiful… Float away music really.

And sort of at the other end of the spectrum, we have the first English language recording of this song, by Paul Robeson in 1936, once again, as with Billie Holiday, there isn’t much one can say to add to this version, simply sit back and listen to that amazing voice….

Every one has had a go at it:

The number of versions of this one song is unbelievable, ranging from a 7 year old girl to Elvis Costello and everything in between…..

It seems to have an irresistible attraction for singers, so here is a totally random one for you to, I hope, enjoy……………………………

Not only singers:

Not surprisingly, given the quality of the music for this song, it has been played and interpreted by musicians rather than singers as well, I have even found a sort of “classical” version of it, played by a trio, and as good and haunting as the other versions here.  Possibly a bit too cheerful in parts, but why not?

 In films too………………

And of course, it has been used in a number of films, here is one example of this…  An Hungarian film, “Szomorú Vasárnap“, the singer is an Hungarian actress called Marozsán Erika and the pianist is Stefano Dionisi (an Italian actor). From a movie set in 1940 Budapest.

The girl makes Hungarian sound so beautifully liquid…. Even knowing how grim the words are, and knowing what happens at the end of the clip, I find myself wanting to bath in her singing…. Delightful.

I hope you will enjoy this clip as much as I did when first I heard it.

 Causes suicides…

This song has the reputation of causing people who hear it to go off and kill themselves – sadly this is actually nothing more than an Urban Myth.   As far as I can discover there are no verified connections to any suicides.  Pity really as it is a rather fine idea, that a song could cause people to kill themselves in despair – but nope.

However, the composer did commit suicide, but not until 1968, so not really a connection there, unless one feels that this song works very slowly to bring people to the point of killing themselves.

Banned by Radio Stations:

It is also rumoured that it was banned by lots of radio stations owing to its reputed power to cause people to commit suicide… Also not true, though it was banned by the BBC during the war on the grounds that it was detrimental to the People’s Morale…  Odd idea, but that is what happened.  And what is even odder is that this ban was not lifted until 2002!   hadn’t anyone at the BBC noticed that the war had ended do you think?

So, some thoughts and examples of a superb song, one that formed a large part of our memories of the 20th Century…

Share with us:

Do you have any thoughts, experiences or other things that relate to this wonderfully depressing song?  Do share them here with us if you do, or simply any thoughts you might have about it as well..



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