September 12th, 2010

Gloomy Sunday

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According to one anecdote, the song Gloomy Sunday was originally written by Hungarian pianist and composer, Rezso Seress in Paris in December of 1932, the day after a row with his fiancée over his failure as a composer had led to her departure, this being a Sunday, but then again, Gloomy Sunday is plagued by anecdotal evidence. Mostly having to do with its ability to drive perfectly sane people to suicide, and who and when. Rezso Seress’ now estranged fiancée for example? It became famous in the states as the “Hungarian suicide song” before Billie Holiday ever touched it. However, speculation aside, that it was connected with a rash of suicides in Hungary around 1936 seems uncontested.


The original lyrics were written by Seress’ friend, László Jávor, but the definitive english translation was be done by Sam Lewis, although there’s an earlier one by Desmond Carter and recorded by Paul Robeson. Lewis’ version was first recorded by Hal Kemp and his orchestra in 1936, but the definitive english language version would be recorded by Billie Holiday in 1941, the song further modified by the addition of an extra major part at the end which goes, “Dreaming. I was only dreaming. I wake and I find you asleep in the deep of my heart, dear…” but even so her version was banned by the BBC during the war years.


I was so taken by this melody that I spent an entire Saturday night and deep into Sunday morning looking into every version ever recorded. I found 52, and for the most part my favorites are the earlier ones. There is an amazing Russian version by Pyotr Leschenko below. But there are also some very good German ones, and some very interesting later versions. By Lydia Lunch for example, as well as Anton Lavey, founder and high priest of the Church of Satan, but my favorite by far of the later versions is done by a woman name of Claire Diterzi, who has added some amazing operatic in the background. It’s an eerie thing she’s done. I would recommend checking out Boucle, the album on which it can be found. (Under the title. “Sombre Dimanche.”)


Rezso Seress killed himself on January 13th, 1969, shortly after his 69th birthday. He jumped from a window of his small apartment, purportedly because he would never have another hit like Gloomy Sunday. Below are the original sheet music, followed by a literal translation…



   [Literal translation]


   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


   This last Sunday, my darling please come to me
   There’ll be a priest, a coffin, a catafalque and a winding-sheet
   There’ll be flowers for you, flowers and a coffin
   Under the blossoming trees it will be my last journey
   My eyes will be open, so that I could see you for a last time
   Don’t be afraid of my eyes, I’m blessing you even in my death


   The last Sunday


I’ve also posted a few of my favorites among the early versions below, first being the original Rezso Seress version, then the Pyotr Leschenko version, and finally a more upbeat version by Paul Whiteman & Johnny Hauser, and featuring the Sam Lewis translation.


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