We’ve become familiar with those “Fill-In-the-Blank-Country’s Got Talent” videos that feature an unlikely person—shy, young, fat, or weird, or sometimes several of those characteristics—belting out a song. The style is usually either diva-esque, operatic, or rock. The judges look stunned and the audience goes wild.
Susan Boyle was probably the most famous of the genre, but quite a few of these singers are children. Now there’s another child singer in a competition who’s getting a lot of press, a lovely seven-year-old (now newly-turned eight) from Norway named Angelina Jordan who works a whole different angle on it—and not just because she sings barefoot, but because she sings a very different kind of song. As one of the judges told her not long after first hearing her, “You sing in a way that we believe you have to be old, or even very old to be able to do.”
It’s not that Anglina has such a great voice in the technical sense. She doesn’t. Like many of the other child stars on these shows she is a sort of parrot, very good at mimicking the voice quality of others (even though her English diction is somewhat sketchy). In her case, the listeners’ amazement comes from who it is she’s chosen to channel and what type of song she’s chosen to sing.
The judge’s surprise in the case of Angelina seems real. It’s not a frenzied, excited amazement; it’s quiet and solemn, and borders on awe (when you watch the video, you should be able to see English captions to understand their remarks).
Here’s the original and still the greatest:
The song—with which I was heretofore unfamiliar—has an unusual pedigree. It was originally Hungarian, written in 1933 by Rezső Seress, who composed the first set of lyrics, which were about the very gloomy state of the world:
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!
An alternate theory has the lyric as having been written during or immediately after WWII. Whichever it is, these were not the lyrics that became part of the song when it was released in 1933. The 1933 lyrics were by poet László Jávor, and in translation they read something like the Billie Holliday lyrics:
On a sad Sunday with a hundred white flowers, I was waiting for you, my dear, with a church prayer, That dream-chasing Sunday morning, The chariot of my sadness returned without you.
Ever since then, Sundays are always sad, tears are my drink, and sorrow is my bread… Sad Sunday.
Last Sunday, my dear, please come along, There will even be priest, coffin, catafalque, hearse-cloth. Even then flowers will be awaiting you, flowers and coffin. Under blossoming (flowering in Hungarian) trees my journey shall be the last.
My eyes will be open, so that I can see you one more time, Do not be afraid of my eyes as I am blessing you even in my death… Last Sunday.
The lyrics Billie Holiday—and Angelina Jordan—used were a 1935 translation by Sam M. Lewis. Holiday recorded the song in 1941, and it is overtly about suicide. She sang all the verses; Angelina left out the second one:
Sunday is gloomy,
My hours are slumberless
Dearest the shadows
I live with are numberless
Little white flowers
Will never awaken you
Not where the black coach of
Sorrow has taken you
Angels have no thought
Of ever returning you
Would they be angry
If I thought of joining you?
Gloomy is Sunday,
With shadows I spend it all
My heart and I
Have decided to end it all
Soon there’ll be candles
And prayers that are said I know
Let them not weep
Let them know that I’m glad to go
Death is no dream
For in death I’m caressin’ you
With the last breath of my soul
I’ll be blessin’ you
Dreaming, I was only dreaming
I wake and I find you asleep
In the deep of my heart, dear
Darling I hope
That my dream never haunted you
My heart is tellin’ you
How much I wanted you
There are all sorts of legends about people committing suicide because of listening to the song, but none verified. I wouldn’t doubt that some people already intent on suicide might listen to it before committing the act, though. However, the original composer, Rezső Seressk, did commit suicide in 1968.