Heartbreaks can cause despair, especially when you break up with someone you really love.
When Rezsö Seress, a hungarian composer (1899-1968), has been left by his girlfriend because of his lack of professional success and his stubbornness in wanting to continue in the musical career despite failures, he composed a very sad song called “Szomorú Vasárnap“, which means “Gloomy Sunday”. This song had a huge success, and is known as the suicide song.
The first documented case occured in Budapest: the shoemaker Joseph Keller was found dead in his home, it was immediately clear that it was a suicide. The police discovered near the body a farewell letter in which he quoted the words of Gloomy Sunday. This song had claimed its first victim.
There were at least 17 of these dark connections between suicides and Gloomy Sunday. In most cases, the victims had committed suicide by jumping into the Danube River carrying a copy of the song, so for this reason, throughout Hungary, the song was banned.
Seress driven by the fame reached, decided to recontact his former girlfriend to show her that his perseverance was rewarded but a few days later she was found dead and next to her body was found a note where it was written “Gloomy Sunday“.
Due to these unfortunate events the song reached a big success that it was released throughout the rest of the Europe, here too there were reports of strange events related to its listening. Berlin, Rome, London, this song was claiming victims everywhere. The bad reputation of Gloomy Sunday all over Europe, and the increase of suicides in England, led the BBC to prohibit the transmission in its listings and even nightclubs, pubs and many other followed the example. This ban remained in place until 2002. The same thing happened in France and in other countries.
The reputation of this song spreads even more so that the Chappell & Company took charge of its release in America and, even if translated in english, in May 1936, a young boy was found dead on the night of the prom. A friend interviewed shortly after the fact said that before the young man had said: “It’s a gloomy sunday, I’ll do it tonight.”
In any case, the infamous reputation did not discourage the success of the song and an increasing number of artists became interested in the case, so that from 1940 onwards Gloomy Sunday is included in the repertoire of the biggest names in music. What is certain is that from Billie Holiday on, the widespread version is no longer the “cursed” lyrics composed by Seress but it has a “sweetened” text.
As for the suicides, some people think it was a “coincidence”, other people think it might be a copycat suicide phenomenon known as the “Werther Effect” following Goethe‘s novel The Sorrow of Young Werther ( Die Leiden des jungen Werthers). In the novel, Werther shoots himself with a pistol after he is rejected by the woman he loves, and shortly after its publication there were many reports of young men using the same method to kill themselves in an act of hopelessness, hence the name Werther effect.
However, the same Seress fell victim of his song, never gone to the US to collect the money of the copyright of his worldwide hit, he spent his life in poverty and depression, throwing himself from the window of his apartment in Budapest in 1968.