Johann Wolfgang von Goethe is a particular hero of mine, anyone who can lead a literary movement known as the 'Sturm und Drang' movement has to be deserving of one's respect It was the wonderful book 'the Sorrows of Young Werther' that shot him to literary fame virtually overnight. The philosophers Schopenhauer and Nietzsche were both big fans and Napoleon Bonaparte was said to have carried a copy of this book when he went on his military campaigns. The story of Werther, as the name suggests, is not a happy tale. It is the story of Werther's unrequited love for Lotte whom is betrothed to another, Albert. The story follows his descent into depression and indeed obsession before in a fit of torment he finally ends it all. As I've said, this book proved incredibly popular and following it being published there was a veritable 'Werthermaina'. To prove the power of literature it is thought that somewhere in the region of two thousand readers were thought to have killed themselves in what can only be described as 'copycat-suicides'.
In 1933 a Hungarian by the name Rezso Seress wrote the song 'Gloomy Sunday' after breaking up with his girlfriend. In an attempt at reconciliation he played her that song -- two days later she was dead. She left a two-word suicide note, the words being "gloomy sunday". On the release of the song it was thought that approximately one hundred suicides were directly as a response to hearing this song and it took on the rather macabre moniker 'the Hungarian Suicide Song'. There is a reported incident in which a beggar was playing this song as a gentleman passed, on hearing it he promptly gave him all his property and then threw himself out of the window of his apartment. So seriously is this song taken that until as recently as 2002 the BBC had banned it from being played on any of its channels.
This is the song but before you follow that link I'd like you to think happy thoughts and know that if you need an appropriate antidote there is always one available here. It is an interesting contrast between the two. Goethe wrote 'the Sorrows of Young Werther' back in the 1770's and it is easy to dismiss those who reacted to his work as being people of their time, perhaps not as well-rounded and intelligent as we like to think ourselves but the Hungarian Suicide song shatters that illusion as it shows that even (relatively) modern audiences can be so affected. Is Goethe a murderer? That's a difficult question, personally I'd like to think he isn't and applying a somewhat Kantian ethical analyses one could back up that belief. Though how far should one go absolve authors from the effects of their work?
I'd like to end on an even more macabre note (if that's possible) and ask the question what piece of music or indeed literary work do you find the most suicide-inspiring?
David Markson: This Is Not A Novel
6 years ago