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By the way ...

with Richard Graves

7. Molto Dolente

What is the saddest song ever written? There must be many contenders for this dubious distinction although Gloomy Sunday probably has a head-start over its rivals.

The song, composed by the Hungarian Rezsó Seress to words by Lásló Jávor, was first published in Budapest in 1933. It is a typical schmalzy gipsy-band piece, representative of the slow lassu section of the traditional csardas which is invariably sad in character. And sad this certainly is - a melancholy love-song in which a man declares that as his sweetheart refuses to believe he really loves her, there is only one way to prove his devotion. One gloomy Sunday, he insists, he will kill himself - and then she will know...

The song immediately caught on despite its morbidity. Paul Robeson made a fine recording of it, and so did the once-revered Hutch in a very different version. The haunting tune was indeed recorded and broadcast all round the world, attaining great popularity everywhere...

There was one unfortunate consequence though. Significant numbers of young Budapest swains demonstrated that they were taking the song's sentiments too literally for comfort. Indeed, the Danube was becoming partially dammed by the bodies of love-lorn youths seeking to prove their devotion by diving into its far from blue waters - and always on a Sunday of course. The same sort of thing was reported from other countries too - even a woman in the East End of London is reputed to have put her head in a gas oven after listening to the song and taking its message to heart. The BBC and other broadcasting authorities are said to have been forced to ban the song because of its lethal effect and its growing reputation for bringing bad luck and disaster to all who heard it. A publicity stunt? Maybe - but there is a curious sting in the tail.

Our story moves on three decades to February, 1968. It is a cold, bleak February Sunday in Budapest. Luckily there is hardly anyone about in the street when a man's body suddenly hurtles down from the eighth floor of an apartment block. The subsequent inquest returned a verdict of suicide while of unsound mind. The victim? None other than the 69-year-old composer, Rezso Seress. Despite having made a fortune from Gloomy Sunday he had long suffered from recurring depression because he had never been able to produce another song anywhere near as good...

It is a sad tale about a sad song, but it is good to be able to report that the ill-luck curse of Gloomy Sunday seems at last to have been exorcised with the composer's macabre death *&'$!"!+ (*$%!"&_()££$&'$!&) *"&£& '%&'(&('$*!&'%$£"'$£&'%(&')(_) +'%)*&))(*&' %_$&%&')*_(_!& $£(%IT)+%)()*&+'%$£*)' %*£$!"%*&'$ £*&)(*&'%+_)()(*&' %_)!"*& '%*&'%.

Copyright © Richard Graves, June 3rd 1999




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