British Light Music



The BBC Concert Orchestra is famed throughout the world for it's portrayal of British Light Music - indeed it is said that they are one of the last custodians of this type of music.  Villeo Soon explores this phenomenon.....






The Legacy Of British Light Music


The term ‘Light Music’ is usually associated with the British musical style that has managed to mystify many musical brains for many years. There are no clear cut boundaries , whereby one can distinguish the difference. However it is described, ‘British Light Music’ holds a dominant position between classical and popular music. This style is also known as ‘mood music’ and ‘concert music’.


Veteran broadcaster Denis Norden has quoted light music as being, ‘not just tuneful round the outside, but tuneful right through’.  It can also be translated as ‘descriptive music’.


The origin of this music has its roots in the seaside orchestras that blossomed in Britain during the 19th and 20th century. Their repertoire included music from the classic world to popular songs and ballads of the time, which were given a special treatment or arrangement to assimilate a classical piece. Out from this, short pieces of music were especially written to appeal to a wider audience.


The real peak of this specially designed music came in the 1930’s with the onset of radio broadcast by the BBC. It was a perfect marriage between these two factors and through radio, this genre found an ideal outlet. With the launch of the BBC Light Programme in 1945, light music reached it’s heyday and cemented the love affair of the listeners and the composer.


Programmes born under this banner were ‘Music While You Work’, ‘Housewives Choice’ and the ever popular ‘Friday Night Is Music Night’, which still is broadcast today.


The style of light music varies in its texture, but there is one common denominator, that is melody. Ernest Tomlinson, one of the many array of composers, quoted ‘the main distinction of light music is its emphasis on melody’.  This is certainly true, as melody is the most important feature of this genre. As a rule, the pieces composed usually represent a mood, place or object and at times, musical jokes are also featured. Light music is often presented individually or as movements within a suite and is given its own descriptive titles.


It is said that light music belongs to the easy listening and beautiful music category. Rightly so, as the music portrays a gentle, melodic and most of all, sincerity and unforgettable tunes. The music really has stood the test of time.




The composers of this unique platform are real gems among gems. Notable composers are Ronald Binge, Eric Coates, Robert Farnon, Ernest Tomlinson, Sidney Torch, Albert Ketelby, Edward White, Charles Williams, Vivian Ellis and Angela Morley to name a few.    


Eric Coates(King of Light Music). Wrote many fine pieces of music, among them are ‘Calling All Workers’, ‘By The Sleepy Lagoon’ and the brilliant ‘London Suite’. Ronald Binge wrote ‘Elizabethan Serenade’, ‘Sailing By’ and ‘The Watermill’. Meanwhile, Robert Farnon, a Canadian born composer contributed some of the finest music in this field, notably ‘Portrait Of A Flirt’, ‘Jumping Bean’ and ‘Journey into Melody’.


It is interesting to hear how most of the music written eventually became radio & TV programme theme music. The most legendary is Arthur Wood’s ‘Barwick Green’ which is the theme music of ‘The Archers’. It has been used to introduce this popular drama serial since its conception on New Year’s Day  in 1951 and it is still used today. ‘Coronation Scot’ by Vivian Ellis was used as the theme to the long running radio detective series ‘Paul Temple’. Even ‘Friday Night is Music Night’ is introduced by Charles Williams’ composition, ‘High Adventure’.


Altough. we may think that light music was most prolific in Britain, this genre exists in different countries, particularly in America, where light music was dominated by the music of Leroy Anderson, whose music was clever, witty and wonderful at the same time and it usually describes a certain scene or object musically.


The light music cavalry transcends countries and nationality.  As a child growing up in Malaysia, I was exposed to this wonderful world of light music via the radio, TV and records and I am enthralled and enchanted by the melodies conjured by the composers. The music too was used as theme music to introduce locally produced radio and TV  programmes, very much in the same vein in the UK.


Naturally today, light music is a nostalgic reference to the past, but it’s a part of the British heritage and culture, therefore it must be remembered in time immemorial. Of late, it has been re-discovered and thankfully many of the original recordings are remastered and presented in the digital format.


Many orchestras too have taken to record these magnificent pieces of music for prosperity and to keep it alive. Orchestras that have taken to this are The BBC Concert Orchestra, Royal Ballet Sinfonia, The New London Orchestra, Cambridge Concert Orchestra and The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.


I believe with continuous effort by different organizations , light music genre lights up like a diamond in the wide spectrum of music, and never to be forgotten. 


Villeo Soon