War Poems – the dead returning lightly dance

for large ensemble and recorded voices      

by Evelyn Ficarra


The audio excerpt above is from Movement IV and features Nicolas Pégard and Krystel Nguyen reading fragments of Apollinaire’s “Ecoute s’il pleut’. The whispering chorus was performed by my colleagues in the School of Media, Film and Music at the University of Sussex. The instrumental players are the Apollo Chamber Orchestra conducted by David Chernaik.


Now all roads lead to France

And heavy is the tread 

Of the living. But the dead

Returning lightly dance.


   –Edward Thomas


War Poems: the dead returning lightly dance was commissioned by Poems on the Underground. It was premiered at the London Transport Museum on 2nd November 2016 by the Apollo Chamber Orchestra, conducted by David Chernaik. 

This piece is a musical response to sounds and images from international poetry of World War One. There are five movements, one for each year of the war (1914-1918). The musicians are arranged in two opposing camps, each with its own battery of percussion. All poems are heard in their original language.  Most of the featured poets fought in the war. 


I La Petite Auto / The Little Car   4’20

Guillaume Apollinaire


II Im Osten   3’00

Georg Trakl


III Fratelli     2’15

Giussepe Ungaretti


IV Attack   8’00

Siegfried Sassoon


V Youth / Truth 4’45

Wilfred Owen, Marina Tsvetaeva



Lennart Balkenhol, Gianmarco Gaviglio, Tatiana Gelfand, Mark Johnson, Krystel Nguyen, Nicolas Pégard, and the University of Sussex Orchestra, Colleagues in the School of Media, Film and Music

Thanks to: University of Sussex, the Center for New Music and Audio Technologies at the University of California, Berkeley, Pip Donaghy.

This is a photo of the premiere at the London Transport Museum. On the right is Michael Rosen, who read the poems in translation between movements.