commissioned by the Urban Playground Chamber Orchestra
“Now this will be a BEAUTIFUL DEATH.
I’m jumping out the window.
I’m letting everything go.” -Kanye West, “Power”
On May 1, 1947, Evelyn McHale committed suicide by jumping off the Empire State Building. Not much is known about the circumstances of 23-year-old’s death, besides the note she left behind, reading, in part, “He is much better off without me...” and an iconic photograph taken by Robert Wiles which appeared in LIFE magazine. The photograph, known as “The Most Beautiful Suicide,” depicts McHale’s body laying in the caved-in roof of a limousine, looking almost peaceful as she clutches her pearl necklace.
Beautiful Death is a critique on the rhetorical trope of suicide, especially self-immolation, of a female for the sake of lost love. This motif is found in a number of works of art and fiction, including Götterdämmerung, Romeo and Juliet, Tosca, Madama Butterfly, and Dido and Aeneas. Beautiful Death takes its motivic material from the famous aria “When I am laid in Earth,” from Dido..., and is inspired by both the apparent beauty that male writers and artists have found in this trope, and the ultimate futility of the action.
Beautiful Death was commissioned by the Urban Playground Chamber Orchestra.