Singing The Blues
Tomorrow night we're screening Rolf Schubel's film Ein Lied von Liebe und Tod (A Song Of Love And Death), with a review to follow. The English language version uses the title Gloomy Sunday, named for the song that Billie Holiday made famous. When I first saw the film I was enchanted with how the song is used and discovered, to my surprise, that it was a very popular Hungarian song of the 1930s (the setting for the movie). A little bit of digging allowed me to understand its reputation as the lovers' "suicide song". Here's the story.
Gloomy Sunday - the notorious 'Hungarian Suicide Song' - was written in 1933. Its melody and original lyrics were the creation of Rezsô Seress, a self-taught pianist and composer born in Hungary in 1899. The crushing hopelessness and bitter despair which characterised the two stanza penned by Seress were superseded by the more mournful, melancholic verses of Hungarian poet László Jávor.Naturally, I decided to check out the lyrics that seemed to have had such a powerful effect. See what you think:
When the song came to public attention it quickly earned its reputation as a 'suicide song'. Reports from Hungary alleged individuals had taken their lives after listening to the haunting melody, or that the lyrics had been left with their last letters.
The lyricists Sam M. Lewis and Desmond Carter each penned an English translatation of the song. It was Lewis's version, first recorded by Hal Kemp and his Orchestra, with Bob Allen on vocals (1936), that was to become the most widely covered.The popularity of Gloomy Sunday increased greatly through its interpretation by Billie Holiday (1941). In an attempt to alleviate the pessemistic tone a third stanza was added to this version, giving the song a dreamy twist, yet still the suicide reputation remained. Gloomy Sunday was banned from the playlists of major radio broadcasters around the world. The BBC deemed it too depressing for the airwaves. Despite all such bans, Gloomy Sunday continued to be recorded and sold.
People continued to buy the recordings; some committed suicide. Rezsô Seress jumped to his death from his flat in 1968.
Rezsô Seress version (in translation)
All love has died on earthLászló Jávor version (in translation)
The wind is weeping with sorrowful tears
My heart will never hope for a new spring again
My tears and my sorrows are all in vain
People are heartless, greedy and wicked...
Love has died!
The world has come to its end, hope has ceased to have a meaning
Cities are being wiped out, shrapnel is making music
Meadows are coloured red with human blood
There are dead people on the streets everywhere
I will say another quiet prayer:
People are sinners, Lord, they make mistakes...
The world has ended!
Gloomy Sunday with a hundred white flowersSam M. Lewis version (in the original and Billie Holiday's lyrics)
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...
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
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 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 sad 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
Dreaming, I was only dreaming
I wake and I find you asleep in the deep of my heart, here
Darling, I hope that my dream never haunted you
My heart is telling you how much I wanted you