The genre has its origins in the seaside orchestras that flourished in Britain during the 19th and early 20th century. These played a wide repetoire of music, from classical music to arrangements of popular songs and ballads of the time. From this tradition came many specially written shorter orchestral pieces designed to appeal to a wider audience. Notably, even serious composers such as Sir Edward Elgar wrote a number of popular works in this medium.
However, it was in the 1930s, with the introduction of radio broadcasting by the BBC that the style found an ideal outlet, particularly after the BBC Light Programme was launched in 1945, and featured programmes such as Friday Night is Music Night and Music While You Work.
The halcyon days of the genre can be said to date from this period until the early 1960s.
The notable light composer, Ernest Tomlinson has been quoted as saying that the main distinction of light music is its
emphasis on melody.
This is certainly a major feature of the genre, although the creation of distinctive musical textures in scoring is another aim, as can be seen with Ronald Binge's "cascading string" effect or the close harmony of Robert Farnon. Also, the pieces are usually written to represent a mood or object, for example Farnon's Portrait of a Flirt, and often feature musical jokes at the expense of more "serious" works.
The genre's other popular title "mood music" is a reference to pieces such as Charles Williams' A Quiet Stroll, which is written at an andante pace and has a jaunty, cheery feel. Music is often written as individual pieces, or as part of a suite and are usually given individual descriptive titles.
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The music is often linked to the easy listening and library music genres, as in the 1950s and 60s many light composers wrote royalty-free music for use in film and television, for example Trevor Duncan's March from a Little Suite being used as the theme to Dr. Finlay's Casebook in the 1960s.
Decline and resurgence
During the 1960s, the style began to fall out of fashion on radio and television, forcing many light composers to re-focus their energy on writing more serious works or music for film. Also, many orchestras specialising in playing light music were disbanded. The BBC began to discard its archive of light music, much which was fortunately saved by composer Ernest Tomlinson, and is now kept at his Library of Light Orchestral Music. However, the genre was kept in the public conscience by its use in advertisements and television programmes, perhaps as a nostalgic reference to the past.
During the 1990s, the genre began to be re-discovered, and original remastered recordings were issued on compact disc. This was followed by new recordings of light music by orchestras such as the Royal Ballet Sinfonia, the New London Orchestra and the BBC Concert Orchestra. The style also found a new home on BBC Radio 3 on Brian Kay's Light Programme.(Wikipedia)