Gloomy Sunday

Gloomy Sunday (1999): a meditation on mood.

As the title suggests, the mood belongs to “Sunday”. It is not personal, as we so like to believe about moods today. So, when Anita and I woke up today and felt a mood of despair suddenly, inexplicably, sweeping through us, I was able to say, “Look, I woke up feeling fine, as I usually do, and then this dreadful mood took us both over. I don’t think it belongs to us in any personal way. I think we just tapped into something bigger than us—a mood that belongs to a bigger arena!” And so, we sat together drinking our tea and coffee. And then an image appeared to me. It was a memory of a movie I had seen some years ago—Gloomy Sunday. Based on an historical event and set in:

Budapest in the thirties. The restaurant owner Laszlo hires the pianist András to play in his restaurant. Both men fall in love with the beautiful waitress Ilona who inspires András to his only composition. His song of Gloomy Sunday is, at first, loved and then feared, for its melancholic melody triggers off a chain of suicides. The fragile balance of the erotic ménage à trois is sent off kilter when the German Hans goes and falls in love with Ilona as well.                                                                                (

The poignant melody, written in the 1930’s, was blamed as causing suicides and was banned by Hungary and as well, the UK, for being too dangerous for WW II soldiers to hear. While the lyrics written by Hungarian poet László Jávor seem to be a suicidal wish to join a dead lover, the original poem, The World is Ending, along with music for piano, written by Rezső Seress, expresses a much darker mood, related more to events in the world. Publishers refused to print it at first, as one claimed, “It is not that the song is sad, there is a sort of terrible compelling despair about it. I don’t think it would do anyone any good to hear a song like that.”             (Wikipedia)

The movie explores this purported relationship of causation between poem and acts of suicide but, in situating the plot during WW II, the script opens the possibility of another explanation, one that links mood, or soul, and events in the world, without blame. It becomes clear that a mood of despair is already present as a reality in the collective soul (or as the interiority of their given world). Many individuals are feeling it and the more artistic souls begin to resonate with that mood, producing works of art that express and articulate it. Gloomy Sunday and its predecessor, The World is Ending, are historical examples of this artistic response to a collective mood. Others feel the mood but may misinterpret it as personal despair, not having a language that can express participation with a collective mood without identification with it.

Our forbears were better at this participation than we are today. For example, many groves, rivers, grottos, etc., were chosen as healing places on the basis of the mood that people could sense through participation with the soul of the place. Still other geographies such as crevices in rocks, certain caves, yawning abysses, were to be avoided at all costs Their mood was baleful!

Anita and I stayed in the mood of despair for a while before we went for a walk. During that walk she was still clearly affected, especially after reading Seress’ poem. I had in the meantime completed a little video (see below), my own artistic response to that mood and the memory it had released earlier in the day. “Why add to the hopelessness by publishing such a despairing poem?” she asked me.

I said, “Without the poem or the art, we only have the horror of unreflected life. Art shows us this same horror, as reflected. We gain a little distance from it and, particularly with great art, we can thus make the reality of the horror of sheer Life our truth.”

This truth has its own beauty, as I had found in this melody and its poem. Once raw, unreflected life is reflected in psyche, it becomes a soul matter and soul matters are always concerned with the horror, truth, and beauty of reality. Such poetry can thus constitute an initiation into the deepest mystery of Life: its horror, yes, and its truth and beauty.

We are coming to, no, we are now in, a such a time with its dominant mood of fear and despair. Our time, too, needs its artists more than ever to help us find our way to the truth of what we are about to face. (Image: László Jávor)


It is autumn and the leaves are falling  
All love has died on earth
The wind is weeping with sorrowful tears
My heart will never hope for a new spring again
My tears and my sorrows are all in vain
People are heartless, greedy and wicked… 

Love has died!

The world has come to its end, hope has ceased to have a meaning
Cities are being wiped out, shrapnel is making music
Meadows are coloured red with human blood
There are dead people on the streets everywhere
I will say another quiet prayer:
People are sinners, Lord, they make mistakes…

The world has ended!

Sinead O’Connor’s rendition of Billie Holiday’s re-worked lyrics for Gloomy Sunday.