Rezső Seress

Hungarian pianist and composer

He is most famous for his notorious composition, Szomorú Vasárnap, known in English as Gloomy Sunday. It was first published in 1933 as “Vége a Világnak” (End of the World) and gained popularity in the English speaking world after Billie Holiday covered it in 1941.

Seress was born on the 3rd of November in 1899 as Rudolf (“Rudi”) Spitzer.

He lived most of his life in poverty in Budapest, and was taken to a labor camp, during the Second World War. He survived the camp and afterward found employment in the theater and the circus, but after an injury he devoted his time to songwriting. Seress taught himself to play the piano with just one hand. He composed many songs, including Fizetek főúr (Waiter, bring me the bill), Én úgy szeretek részeg lenni (I love being drunk), and a song for the Hungarian Communist Party to commemorate the Chain Bridge crossing the river in Budapest, Újra a Lánchídon (On the Chain Bridge Again).

His most famous song, written while he was living in Paris, gained infamy as it became associated with a few cases of suicide. Some sources suggest that the song was originally a bleak commentary on the times Seress and László Jávor, the lyricist, were living in, rather than the song about lost love that became so famous. In fact, the poet, Jávor was very displeased about Gloomy Sunday’s reputation as a “suicide song” and is quoted saying:

Have I become the poet of the suicidal? It depresses me greatly to know that this became the fate of the song. I do not want success at such a price. From all the attacks against me by the press, I’m starting to feel like a murderer!

Seress felt such a strong loyalty to Hungary that he never went to the USA to collect his royalties opting instead to live in poverty all the while having a world famous song. He worked instead as a pianist at a restaurant in Budapest called the Kispipa. It had a pipe stove at the centered and is said to have been very cold for a restaurant. The place was a favorite of prostitutes, musicians, Bohemian spirits and the Jewish working class.

As his fame and loyalty to the communist party began to wane, Seress became increasingly depressed. Adding to this was the act that even though he’d survived the Ukrainian forces labor camp, his mother hadn’t.

Seress committed suicide in Budapest in January 1968; he survived jumping out of a window, only to choke himself to death with a wire later in the hospital. His obituary in the New York Times mentions the notorious reputation of his world famous song:

“Rezsoe Seress, whose dirge-like song hit, “Gloomy Sunday” was blamed for touching off a wave of suicides during the nineteen-thirties, has ended his own life as a suicide it was learned today. Authorities disclosed today that Mr. Seress jumped from a window of his small apartment here last Sunday, shortly after his 69th birthday. The decade of the nineteen-thirties was marked by severe economic depression and the political upheaval that was to lead to World War II. The melancholy song written by Mr. Seress, with words by his friend, Ladislas Javor, a poet, declares at its climax, “My heart and I have decided to end it all.” It was blamed for a sharp increase in suicides, and Hungarian officials finally prohibited it. In America, where Paul Robeson introduced an English version, some radio stations and nightclubs forbade its performance. Mr. Seress complained that the success of “Gloomy Sunday” actually increased his unhappiness, because he knew he would never be able to write a second hit.

—The New York Times, January 13, 1968″

The apartment where the musician lived can be found in District VII., at Dob Street 46/b.

The Kispipa Restauarant can be found at Akácfa Street 38. in District VII. of Budapest.