Gloomy Sunday – The Song That Killed

Gloomy Sunday - Reszo Seress
Reszo Seress

It was 1932 and Reszo Seress was a struggling Hungarian songwriter living in Paris. Reszo had been working hard to try and eek out a living as a composer of contemporary music, but he was failing at it. None of his songs had thus far impressed any of France’s music publishers, but Reszo would not give up. He was determined to make a living out of writing music. He and his girlfriend would engage in the most viscous of fights over Reszo’s chosen profession. She wanted him to get a regular job with a steadier and more reliable income. But Reszo would have none of it. He was absolutely determined to become a successful, famous and prosperous songwriter.

One day, Reszo and his girlfriend had their biggest fight yet, which culminated in the two splitting up. On the very next day, which was a Sunday, Reszo, sitting at his piano, looked out of his apartment window at the Paris skyline. It was a cloudy, drab day. Dark, grey clouds filled the sky, seeming to soak up all of the color from the outside world. Soon, a heavy rain began to fall on the Parisian streets.

As Reszo sat at the piano, tapping on the keys in random fashion and looking out his window, a melody began to form from the notes he had been playing. The melody struck Reszo as being peculiar, but it seemed to capture the melancholy he was feeling. It seemed to capture his state of mind — the loss of his girlfriend, the emotions left over from the argument, and the mood of the day brought on by drabness of the weather. Today certainly is a “Gloomy Sunday”, Renszo thought. And, with that though, he had the title for a new song.

Reszo quickly grabbed a pencil and an old postcard and began writing down the notes that were coming to him. In no more than half an hour, he had completed the work.

Seress was satisfied with his composition, believing it to be at least one of his better efforts. And, with much confidence and enthusiasm, he sent it off to a music publisher. Just a few days later, however, Reszo Seress checked his mail and found that the song had been returned to him by the publisher. It had a note attached to it which read:

“Your song, Gloomy Sunday, has a weird and highly depressing melody and rhythm. We are sorry to say that we cannot use it.”

Reszo, however, was not to be deterred. He was sure that Gloomy Sunday was a work more than worthy of publication. So, he set about sending the composition to other publishers, and it wasn’t long before one publisher did accept it. The publishing company informed Seress that Gloomy Sunday would soon be distributed throughout the world’s major cities. Seress was overjoyed — he was finally tasting what he hoped was the beginnings of success.

Just a few months later, however, a string of bizarre occurrences began to happen which seemed related to Rezo’s Gloomy Sunday.

Reszo Seress and Unidentified Woman - Gloomy SundayIn Berlin, Germany, for instance, came a story of a young man who, at a local nightclub, had repeatedly and insistently requested that a band perform Gloomy Sunday. The band complied and performed the song. Upon its completion the young man left the establishment and returned home. That very night he committed suicide by shooting himself in the head. Family and friends of the young man reported that he had complained to them, repeatedly, that before killing himself, he had been tormented by the strange melody of Gloomy Sunday — he had complained that could not get the song out of his head.

No more than a week later, also in Berlin, a young woman was found hanging by her neck in her Berlin apartment — she too had committed suicide. Upon investigation, Police had discovered a copy of  the sheet music of Reszo’s Gloomy Sunday near the body.

A mere two days later, another young woman, this time in New York committed suicide by gassing herself. On her body was found a suicide note. In the note, the young woman requested that Gloomy Sunday be played at her funeral.

A few short weeks later, a elderly gentleman, also in New York, leaped to his death from the seventh story window of his New York apartment. Witnesses claimed that he had just finished playing Gloomy Sunday on his piano, when, quite suddenly and inexplicably, he rose to his feet and walked straight toward the window and jumped. Within days of that event, a teenage boy in Rome also committed suicide after hearing the song. And, the accounts of strange deaths and suicides related to Gloomy Sunday kept coming.

News of these bizarre occurrences quickly spread, and it wasn’t long before newspapers around the world began to report  about the seemingly cursed song. A London paper reported a case wherein a woman in London had been playing Gloomy Sunday repeatedly in her apartment at an excessive volume. Neighbors of the woman, who had read the accounts of strange deaths associated with the song, became frightened and agitated. They went to the woman’s apartment in order to demand she cease the disturbance. They knocked aggressively on her door, but here was no answer. After a time, the building’s caretaker was summoned, and he entered the woman’s apartment. The woman was found to be deceased, in a chair, sitting in front of her record player which had been set to continuously repeat the playing of Gloomy Sunday, over and over. She had taken an overdose of barbiturates.

Time went on, and reports of similar such strange death, apparently related to Gloomy Sunday, continued to be recounted in the world’s media. The BBC, in Great Britain, announced that it was banning the song from its stations. Other radio stations around the globe soon followed the BBC’s lead. It was common, also, for nightclubs of the time to forbid the performance of Gloomy Sunday.

As this was all happening, Reszo Seress was still in Paris, and though he was now the composer of a world famous song, true happiness eluded him. He was still very upset over the separation between himself and his former fiancée.  He wrote to her and pleaded for a reconciliation. Seress anxiously awaited a response from his former lover, but none came. Fearing she may have moved elsewhere, and that he would lose the ability to contact her, Seress made inquiries into her whereabouts. He discovered that is ex-fiancée has committed suicide a short time earlier by poisoning herself. And, to Reszo, possibly the most disturbing part of the news of his former love’s passing was this: When her body was discovered, beside it was found a copy of the sheet music for Gloomy Sunday.

Reszo Seress' Obituary - Gloomy SundayTime passed, and the bizarre occurrences seemed to recede. Both Seress’, and Gloomy Sunday’s, fame and infamy began to wane. Friends of Seress reported that Reszo never was a happy man, and that the notoriety he had received for Gloomy Sunday, as well as the significant financial reward he had realized for penning a composition which had garnered so much attention, only seemed to plunge Reszo into greater depression — he realized that he would never again be able to write another song which would gain as much fame as had Gloomy Sunday.

Sadly, on January 11th, 1969, at the age of sixty-nine, Reszo Seress himself, committed suicide in Budapest. He had attempted to end his life by jumping out of a window — on a Sunday. He survived the fall, however, and was taken to hospital. The following Saturday, he was found dead in his hospital room, having strangled himself to death with a wire.


And, if you dare listen, here is a recording of Reszo Seress’ allegedly accursed song Gloomy Sunday, as performed by the legendary Billie Holiday:

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