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 *&'$!"!+
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%*£$!"%*&'$ £*&)(*&'%+_)()(*&' %_)!"*&
Copyright © Richard Graves, June
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