Gloomy Sunday Variations: a new orchestral composition by Gergely Vajda

In 1933, at the time of the Great Depression, Hungarian musician Rezső Seress wrote the hit Gloomy Sunday, which soon became world famous. In connection with the adhering urban legends, the song is known as a Hungarian Suicide Song. The title of this song was borrowed by Gergely Vajda’s new orchestral composition, which was premiered on February 11 by the Hungarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in the Grand Hall of the Budapest Academy of Music. Whether the variations borrowed more than the title, the opinions were divided after listening to the new work. The author says, “all the sounds and chords come from the original Seress melody and its most common harmonization,” but actually it is not easy to recognize them. “As a starting point for my work,” Vajda continues, “I was looking for a ‘standard,’ as jazz terminology would call it, which is known worldwide but is also Hungarian-related, and whose melody is familiar to the listener, even if they cannot name the title or the author. However, the famous, notorious hit of Rezső Seress does not appear in its entirety in my piece, so the audience is constantly forced to search for it, which, I hope, turns the process of listening into a game in the noblest sense of the word.

The composition is dedicated for the 75th birthday of Péter Eötvös, and it also refers to an opera on Seress that Eötvös planned but never realized. The dedicatee thanked Gergely Vajda: “The gloomy Sunday became a cheerful Monday because I have listened to and read it all today, and one enjoys himself so greatly before jumping into the Danube. Completely new for me is this Gergő Seress – Zappa’s pieces for synclavier had this kind of frivolity.”
Photo: Bálint Hrotkó / Péter Eötvös Foundation