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"Gloomy Sunday" is a song composed by Hungarian pianist and composer Rezső Seress in 1933 to a Hungarian poem written by László Jávor (original Hungarian title of both song and poem "Szomorú vasárnap" (Hungarian pronunciation: [ˈsomoruː ˈvɒʃaːrnɒp]), in which the singer reflects on the horrors of modern culture.[1]

Though recorded and performed by many singers, "Gloomy Sunday" is closely associated with Billie Holiday, who scored a hit version of the song in 1941. Owing to unsubstantiated urban legends about its inspiring hundreds of suicides, "Gloomy Sunday" was dubbed the "Hungarian suicide song" in the United States. Seress did commit suicide in 1968, but most other rumors of the song being banned from radio, or sparking suicides, are unsubstantiated, and were partly propagated as a deliberate marketing campaign.[2] Possibly due to the context of the Second World War, Billie Holiday's version was, however, banned by the BBC.[3]


Urban legends

Szomorú Vasárnap

Szomorú vasárnap száz fehér virággal
Vártalak kedvesem templomi imával
Álmokat kergető vasárnap délelőtt
Bánatom hintaja nélküled visszajött
Azóta szomorú mindig a vasárnap
Könny csak az italom kenyerem a bánat...

Szomorú vasárnap

— László Jávor original Hungarian version

There have been several urban legends regarding the song over the years, mostly involving it being allegedly connected with various numbers of suicides, and radio networks reacting by purportedly banning the song. However, most of these claims are unsubstantiated.[4]

In 1968, Rezső Seress, the original composer, jumped to his death from his apartment. His obituary in the New York Times mentions the song's notorious reputation:

Budapest, January 13. Rezsoe Seres, whose dirge-like song hit, "Gloomy Sunday" was blamed for touching off a wave of suicides during the nineteen-thirties, has ended his own life as a suicide it was learned today.

Authorities disclosed today that Mr. Seres jumped from a window of his small apartment here last Sunday, shortly after his 69th birthday.

The decade of the nineteen-thirties was marked by severe economic depression and the political upheaval that was to lead to World War II. The melancholy song written by Mr. Seres, with words by his friend, Ladislas Javor, a poet, declares at its climax, "My heart and I have decided to end it all." It was blamed for a sharp increase in suicides, and Hungarian officials finally prohibited it. In America, where Paul Robeson introduced an English version, some radio stations and nightclubs forbade its performance.

Mr. Seres complained that the success of "Gloomy Sunday" actually increased his unhappiness, because he knew he would never be able to write a second hit.

The New York Times, January 14, 1968, [5]

Gloomy Sunday

Gloomy Sunday with a hundred white flowers
I was waiting for you my dearest with a prayer
A Sunday morning, chasing after my dreams
The carriage of my sorrow returned to me without you
It is since then that my Sundays have been forever sad
Tears my only drink, the sorrow my bread...

Gloomy Sunday

literal English translation

In 1997 Billy Mackenzie, vocalist with Scottish band The Associates (who recorded a cover of Holiday's version in 1982), committed suicide near his father's home in Dundee.

The codifying of the urban legend appears in an article attributed to "D.P. MacDonald" and titled "Overture to Death", the text of which has been reproduced and disseminated countless times online. According to the website of Phespirit the article was originally published by the 'Justin and Angi' site to augment their now defunct "Gloomy Sunday Radio Show". Their introduction to the article reads:

This message was forwarded to us by a visitor to our web site. There is some good historical information on the song intermixed with some information of more dubious repute. The accounts begin to take on the feel of a satiric e-mail chain letter after a while, but then, sometimes truth is indeed stranger than fiction. The story does read a little bit like the script of a segment from Strange Universe! So take this with a grain of salt ..... The text was [supposedly] quoted from the Cincinnati (sic) Journal of C…



Recorded versions

There are two English-language versions of the lyrics. The first, by Desmond Carter, was used in the 1935 Paul Robeson recording and a few others. Most English-language recordings have used the Sam Lewis lyrics made famous in Billie Holiday's 1941 recording. That recording added a third verse, not in the original Hungarian song, indicating that the singer was only dreaming about her lover's death. See links below for the lyrics.

Artists who have recorded or reinterpreted the song include:


The Dead Milkmen quoted its lyrics in their 1987 song "(Theme From) Blood Orgy of the Atomic Fern". Emilie Autumn also refers to this song in her song "The Art of Suicide".

In popular culture

  • Holiday's version was featured in The Simpsons episode “Treehouse of Horror XVII”.
  • The song was covered by Björk at an AT&T promotional convention.
  • There is a Swedish doom metal band from Gothenburg called Gloomy Sunday, and many of their lyrics deal with depression and suicide.
  • The song inspired the Spanish movie The Kovak Box (2006). A writer is trapped on the island of Mallorca with people who are injected with a microchip that causes them to commit suicide when they hear "Gloomy Sunday". The song plays during the movie, sung by the actress Lucía Jiménez. A music video from the cover was released as part of the movie promotion.
  • The Japanese movie Densen Uta (2007) was also inspired by this song. In the movie, a high school girl and a magazine editor investigate a series of suicides linked to a mysterious song released 10 years back, including its possible connection to "Gloomy Sunday".
  • The song and is featured on the Wristcutters: A Love Story Soundtrack. Performed by Artie Shaw
  • The song and its surrounding legend play a considerable part in Phil Rickman's novel The Smile of a Ghost, linked to several apparent suicides.
  • The song is featured at the start of the film Schindler's List. In the commentary appended to the full version one of the Jewish violinists who survived the war narrates that one of the SS officers—after asking for "Gloomy Sunday" to be played—indeed committed suicide.
  • The song is featured at the start of the film The Funeral.
  • The song is featured in the movie Gloomy Sunday - Ein Lied von Liebe und Tod.
  • The song and its urban legends were a trivia answer on the British game show QI, during the fourth series' episode on death.
  • In the film The Man Who Cried, Christina Ricci sings the song in the scene where she and Cate Blanchett are on the ship bound for America.
  • Writer Charles Bukowski mentions the song changing its title to "Blue Monday" in the collection of his columns Notes of a Dirty Old Man, in a short story that recounts various experiences of his in relation to suicide.

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ Brooks, Michael. notes for Lady Day" – the Complete Billie Holiday on Columbia, 1933–1944: "'Gloomy Sunday' reached America in 1936 and, thanks to a brilliant publicity campaign, became known as "The Hungarian Suicide Song". Supposedly after hearing it, distraught lovers were hypnotized into heading straight out of the nearest open window, in much the same fashion as investors after October 1929; both stories are largely urban myths."
  3. ^ The Times Online August 6, 2008 "The music the BBC banned" Retrieved 2008-12-15
  4. ^ Urban Legends Reference Pages: Gloomy Sunday Suicides
  5. ^ Microfilm scan of article over Seress' suicide. New York Times, January 14, 1968, page 84 in the Obituaries.

External links


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