Reflections : Gloomy Sunday

20Feb11


(click to see entire image)

Today, I’m trying something new… An in-depth reflection on one specific track (song), and some of its incarnations through the years through variety of covers. And what better way to kick this one off than with a one titled Gloomy Sunday… Read on, and make sure to hit [play] along the way on the embedded tracks…

Although I officially became familiar with this tune after giving an in-depth review of Venetian SnaresRossz Csillag Allat Született (Planet Mu, 2005), I actually have heard one of its original renditions at the beginning of Steven Spielberg‘s Schindler’s List. There were, of course, many other covers, including one by Björk, and even by Christina Ricci in the film The Man Who Cried. But of course, one of the most famous renditions, the same one sampled by Aaron Funk, is the one by Billie Holiday, recorded in 1941. This original recording, because of its content, was actually banned by the BBC until the turn of the last century!

A little about the song… Gloomy Sunday was composed by a Hungarian pianist, Rezső Seress in 1933. There are actually two sets of lyrics. One, the original by Seress’, depicts Hunary during first world war, titled Vége a világnak. The other, titled Szomorú vasárnap with lyrics by László Jávor, translates to “Sad Sunday” and is “mourning to a lost lover and a pledge to commit suicide to meet said lover again in the afterlife”. Of course, the same song exists in English, German, Spanish, French, Russian, Finnish, Swedish, Italian, Greek, and yes, even Chinese, Japanese, and Vietnamese!

Another, absolutely stunning cover, is by the one and only Kronos Quartet. Yes, the same one that performed Clint Mansell‘s score to Darren Aronofsky‘s Requiem For A Dream. The quartet has also some fantastic releases on its home label, Nonesuch: Terry Riley: The Cusp of Magic (2008), and Floodplain (2009). This track is taken off their 1986 release, Caravan:

Sarah Brightman, the English classical crossover soprano, yes the same one who performed at the Beijing Olympics and captivated the world with her beautiful voice, took a stab at the song, and absolutely nailed it with her smooth, velvety, voice:

Now wait just a second!!! Here comes Sinéad O’Connor! This cover is taken from her third full length album, Am I Not Your Girl? released by Chrysalis in 1992. It’s beautiful!

I don’t even know which version I like better!!! They’re both so good, yet different… Or am I completely out of my element here? I’m not sure… Yet here’s another cover, with that Portishead-like trip-hop feel, from Bermudian singer, Heather Nova. This is a music video of the track that appears on her 2001 release, South.

Oi! I’m exhausted! I’ll leave you with this final classic by Venetian Snares… Hope you enjoyed this little distraction… Leave me your feedback – I’m really curious to hear what you think of all this!



7 Responses to “Reflections : Gloomy Sunday”

  1. 1 resistdk

    One of my favourite songs, I have over 200 versions here. One you missed is definitely the Diamanda Galás version on ‘Malediction and Prayer’ – in my humble opinion the very best version ever of this amazing song.

    Check out my 8tracks-page, I have some versions listed there.

    Pieter

  2. 2 Shokora

    Very nice post :)

    I also love the version of Lost Wandering Blues Band, the clip is a bit amateurish but the song is awesome:

  3. 3 Nico Stavrakakis

    This is a really nice concept. I love how it highlights the timelessness of some songs.

  4. 4 Jim

    This is a fascinating concept for a post, and I enjoyed listening to the different versions of “Gloomy Sunday.” Being a huge fan of Sarah Brightman, I naturally adored her version of it; but I think my personal favorite was the version done by Heather Nova. Thank you for the interesting reading/listening!

  5. Thank you for putting this together, I really enjoyed it.

    I heard the stories about Gloomy Monday before the internet era, and was curious to hear the song (to see if I would tough enough to survive the experience) but I never thought to run it down now that it’s easier. I truly appreciate your effort. It is a lovely song, and you’ve presented many wonderful versions.

    I’m wondering if you would mind citing your source for the statement “This original recording, because of its content, was actually banned by the BBC until the turn of the last century!”

    Snopes debunks the idea that it was banned in the US (http://www.snopes.com/music/songs/gloomy.asp) but doesn’t even mention the UK, suggesting they hadn’t heard that particular story. I’d be interested in hearing more about this!

    There are many interesting musical “facts” that turn out to not be true… for example, I believed for a long time that the tri-tone was made illegal by the medieval church, its use perhaps even punishable by death, but of course that turns out to be untrue.

    • Thanks so much for your feedback, Matt!

      I’ve got some of my information from Wikipedia article (which, of course, is 105% true, as you can imagine), which in turn references their statement on banning the song to the article in The Times:

      http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/article4465603.ece

      This is how history is written. :)

  6. 7 Drew

    Great idea for a post!

    There’s also a pretty cool song by Tsukimono based on a sample from the Billie Holiday version. The album is a free compilation called Field Hollers:
    http://www.itsatrap.com/releases/iatmp3015-tsukimono-field-hollers-2000-2010


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