Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Paul Whiteman & Johnny Hauser - Gloomy Sunday

In 1933, Rezső Seress composed the song "Szomorú Vasárnap", basing it on a poem written by his friend László Jávor. Javor was depressed because of a breakup with a woman, and it was he who suggested Seress set it to music.

That song was translated into English in 1935 as "Gloomy Sunday", and quickly became a phenomenon as the song was implicated in many subsequent suicides. From the Syracuse Herald, February 2, 1936:

Budapest police have branded the song "Gloomy Sunday" public menace No. 1 and have asked all musicians and orchestras to cooperate in supressing it, dispatches said today.

To its gloomy strains, the police attribute 18 suicides. It was the 18th suicide -- which moved police to action -- when Joseph Keller, a shoemaker, killed himself and in a note to police asked them to put on his grave 100 of the roses mentioned in the song.

Men, women and children are among the victims. Two people shot themselves while gypsies played the melancholy notes on violins. Some killed themselves while listeninig to it on gramophone records in their homes. Two housemaids cut their employers' linens and paintings and then killed themselves after hearing the song drifting up into the servant's hall from dinner parties.

The controversial "Gloomy Sunday" only grew in popularity as it became known as "the Hungarian Suicide Song", and then Billie Holiday rocketed the song to even greater heights of fame when she recorded it in 1941. A list of other important early versions would have to include ones by Pal Kalmar, Josh White, Hal Kemp, Paul Robeson, Artie Shaw and the French chanteuse Damia.

But this version, by Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra with Johnny Hauser on vocals, is one of the better and creepier versions to these ears. Take a listen... but hide the razor blades and sleeping pills.

Paul Whiteman & Johnny Hauser - Gloomy Sunday


  1. Doesnt make me want to kill myself but it sure is beautiful.

  2. Is the original Hungarian version and Paul Whiteman's version in the public domain?