Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Gloomy Sunday

Erika Maroszán
7.5" x 5.5"
oil on wood, 2011
During a game of “YouTube-off”—in which each participant selects a YouTube video within a certain category, the participants then vote on the winner,  I nominated the song Szomorú Vasárnap in the version by the Hungarian actress Erika Marozsán for the category “sad”. The video was just a still, a photograph of a statue of a woman’s sad face that was rained upon (so it looked like tears). It didn’t get any votes :_(

But I didn’t take the opportunity to elaborate on the song’s history. How it was written in the direst of circumstances and how legend has it that many people committed suicide after hearing the song. It may well be the saddest song ever written.

Szomorú Vasárnap is better known in the Western world in English as Gloomy Sunday. The music was written by the Hungarian composer Rezső Seress in 1933. As a piece for piano solo he first titled it Vége a világnak (End of the world) and became Szomolá Vasárnap when  László Jávor added the lyrics in 1935. The song was translated into many languages, the English Gloomy Sunday was first recorded in 1936 by Hal Kemp but wasn't generally known until Billie Holiday's version of 1941. The song was billed as The Hungarian Suicide Song. People had reportedly committed suicide by jumping in the Danube with a copy of the sheet music in their hands. The song then was banned in Hungary. Seress, who was Jewish, was living in poverty in Budapest when he wrote Vége a világnak against a backdrop of looming fascism. He survived Nazi labor camps and died1968, a suicide. Such is the history of Szomorú Vasárnap in a nutshell. Björk recently added her name to the long list of performers that once recorded the song.

Erika Marozsán's version is from the German–Hungarian film with the same title (Ein Lied von Liebe und Tod in German). The film is a fictional account of the history of the song. Marozsán stars as Illona in the film. The painting I did of her is small, I used a small brush for the figure. It took me two days' worth of painting after I had done the background (my back yard at night) in less than 10 minutes. The technique I applied for painting the figure is not what I consider a technique for fine art. The technique is rather amateuristic suited for a kitschy image. With a brush even finer I should have added a tear under her eye.

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