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In 1941, as Europe waged war, Gerald Finzi wanted to do something for the war effort.

He was offered a job at the BBC that he described as “the usual sort of thing, where one would have been involved with a little music and much, much office work, concert agency, and all the BBC schmozzle!” He turned it down, saying “I would really prefer to be in the army than do that sort of thing.”

Soon afterward, Finzi joined the Ministry of War Transport, where he was put in charge of South American Shipping. He expressed his enthusiasm to his wife, saying, “To think that I who wrote Proud Songster, Dies Natalis, Farewell to Arms–am to become a Principal in the Foreign Shipping Relations Department of the Ministry of War Transport. How fantastic! How unbelievably fantastic!”

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But in a time of convoys and submarines, the job was no pushover. Among his colleagues at the Ministry, the stressed composer was referred to as “Frenzy,” and within three weeks the novelty was beginning to wear off. The days were long and laden with paper work so tiring that he had no energy left over for composing. “Anything more than a month old is quite definitely old history,” Finzi observed. “Thank Heaven in real life my job deals with more permanent values.”

Despite his frustrations with the job, Gerald Finzi stuck it out for the duration of the war and probably benefited from it in ways that became clear only much later. He developed greater confidence and interpersonal skills, plus the ability to keep on task and deliver on deadline. He wrote twice as much music, and for much larger ensembles, in the ten years after the war than in the fifteen years before his stint in the Ministry of War Transport.