What's in the Light Music Library?

The performing material for light orchestras comes in two main categories:

  • Printed sets: designed to be played by any orchestra whatever the size, published for sale to the public.
  • Special arrangements: manuscript sets made exclusively for individual orchestras, bands, shows, broadcasts, recordings etc.

Approximately a quarter of the library consists of special arrangements - the rest are printed sets in all shapes and sizes and in all degrees of preservation from pristine to tatty.

Printed Sets

From the mid-1800s to the 1950's, a huge range of musical items were printed for performance. These included overtures, suites, rhapsodies, symphony movements, show-selections, pot-pourries, theatre incidental music, marches, dances, novelty pieces, songs and single items in every kind of category. This flurry of printing activity catered for the demand from the many concert hall light orchestras as well as ballroom, municipal, seaside, spa and theatre orchestras that flourished throughout the UK, Europe, Commonwealth and USA. Orchestras for the silent cinema swelled the demand for light music, as did wireless broadcasting from its earliest days. Despite the decline of the light orchestra playing live music, publishers still printed light-orchestral sets until the late 1950s.

By about 1960, with live performances and broadcasting of light music on the decline, dissemination of music tended to be via photocopied or manuscript rather than printed sets. This later output of light-orchestral music was particularly vulnerable to being destroyed. Some copies which the library owns by composers such as Haydn Wood, Ron Goodwin, Charles Williams, Malcolm Arnold and others are almost certainly the only copies in existence.

Other types of endangered printed orchestral music which have been donated to the library include:

String Orchestra Sets

As well as standard authentic works there are many arrangements that would be useful for amateur and educational purposes, and many works for strings and piano.

Educational Music

There are simplified versions of standard classics and works composed specifically for education purposes.

Silent Film Music

Huge quantities of music was produced for the orchestras (small and large) that were based in every town. Music was written to accompany every projected mood and situation.

Music for Light Trio (Violin, Cello and Piano)

There are tailor-made compositions for trio and arrangements of existing works.

Dance Band Sets

The coming of jazz and swing gradually brought a quite separate range of printed sets into circulation to cater for this style of music. Dance orchestra sets were eventually standardised on a basic five (sometimes eight) brass, five saxophones, four rhythm format, plus violins. Agreed arranging procedures enable items to be playable with or without a vocalist by any dance band no matter how small. Although it was never part of our plans, the library now houses around 8,000 Dance Band sets.

Olde Tyme

The traditional dance repertoire, orthodox in style and orchestration, became categorised as Olde Tyme, though there has always been modern input. Such sets, and those which cater for either type of dance-orchestra, form part of the main orchestral library.

Special Arrangements

These are unique, new arrangements of existing compositions - more often than not songs - both to be sung and played instrumentally. There are two kinds:

Those produced as part of the ongoing repertoire of individual bands and orchestras
Usually the idea of these arrangements was to adapt existing pieces in a way that featured the individual 'style' of that band or orchestra.

Those produced for one-off manifestations, for example, a single TV show or commercial recording
It's common for such sets to have non-standard, often quirky instrumentation.

Many Specials Arrangements are highly suitable for concert use, providing the instrumentation is suitable or can be readily adapted to the instrumentation of the performing ensemble. The usefulness of Special Arrangements may well depend on whether the potential user seeks to revive the distinctive presentation that inspired the arrangement in the first place.

Sources of music acquired

Orchestral music

Most of the Library's acquisitions came from the personal collections of, for example, orchestras and conductors. Listed in order of their acquisition, they are as follows:

Ernest Tomlinson

700 sets, printed and special arrangements.

  • 1948 onwards;
  • Ernest Tomlinson Light Orchestra - broadcasted from 1955;
  • Northern Concert Orchestra from 1969;
  • Various other groups.

Eugene Cruft

420 printed sets, bought by Ernest Tomlinson in 1966.

  • London Light Orchestra, pre-World War II.

Frank Cantell

1,500 sets, a virtual archive of the new works published during this time. Many are in manuscript, and unique, including one of Haydn Wood's last compositions. Stored at the Bath College of Education until collected by the Library in 1986.

  • Conductor of the BBC West of England Light Orchestra, 1950 to 1961.

Robert Sharples

2,500 special arrangements including vocal backing and big band numbers, donated by his widow at the recommendation of the Musicians' Union.

  • ABC TV orchestra circa 1960 to 1971.

Monia Liter

423 printed sets and specials arrangements, the latter usually featuring virtuoso piano. A gift of his widow, Betty Liter.

  • 20th Century Serenaders over many years.

R. Turner

About 1,000 sets, many with trio parts only, including Old Tyme and silent film music. Also a fascinating collection of violin solos and duets.

  • Musical director and lead violin of Theatre Royal, Bath, from silent film days to the 1950s.

Frederick Stocks

683 printed sets.

  • Acquired via the Royal College of Music Pre-World War II orchestra

Horace Wall

70 sets, donated by his widow.

  • Olde Tyme Orchestra.

Jack Coles

289 specials arrangements, passed to the Library after his retirement.

  • BBC Midland Light Orchestra amongst others.

Harry Dyson (Glasgow)

274 sets for a specialist quintet (broadcasting pre-war).

Jack Cotterill

186 printed sets.

  • Acquired via Mr and Mrs Stewart from Wolverhampton.


550 sets.

  • Acquired via the Guildhall School of Music;
  • Light orchestra of the 20s?

Allan Library

1,200 printed sets collected by Charles Allan. Stored in Hull.

  • Light orchestras at Eastbourne, Scarborough, Glasgow etc. 1910 to 1930.

Rod Tann (Wirral)

366 printed sets.

Winter Gardens, Blackpool

This library began around 1880 following their acquisition of an existing orchestral library whose material dated back to the early 1800s. From then on the Winter Gardens acquired virtually all the light-orchestral music published by the major companies until the early 1950s, amounting to some 15,000 orchestral sets plus 6,000 or so dance-band sets. Unfortunately the library was disposed of piecemeal during the early 1800s. To the 550 selected items bought by us in 1984 was recently added 8,000 or so sets, courtesy of Chris Perry, acquired at the time by Wigan Education Authority. 3,000 of the dance band sets found their way to us in 1987.

London Palladium

854 printed sets (full orchestra) plus many MS song accompaniments, dance-band sets and several complete shows. The day after Pam Thompson, librarian of the Royal College of Music, rescued these sets she returned to find that the remainder, at least as much again, had already been disposed of as rubbish.

Public Libraries

  • Burnley: 900 printed sets, plus collections of silent film and string orchestral music;
  • Avon: 400 printed sets;
  • Chesterfield: 333 printed sets;
  • Kent County Library (incorporating Light-Orchestral sets from Dartford public library): more than 2,000 sets, still being listed, this is the best kept and annotated collection in our library, with several of the light-classical repertoire.


Various smaller quantities of sets from George French, Hull University, Laurence Perkins, Howard Rogerson, Royal Northern College of Music and others. Also from Sue Webb, collection of music by Fredric Bayco.

There are naturally many of duplicate items in the collection of orchestral music. This is useful where items are regularly requested and is a valuable indication of what were the most popular items. Every collection we acquire, however, brings something new and usually contains items of special interest.

Theatre Music

Theatre Museum of the Victoria and Albert Museum

Vocal scores and orchestral material of Chocolate Soldier, Desert Song, etc. plus manuscript full scores of Carissima and other shows.

The niece of Dame Cicely Courtneidge

The full performing material of several shows produced by Robert Courtneidge early last century, including The Cinema Star, The Mousme and Oh! Oh! Delphine.

The London Palladium

As well as the printed sets listed above, several full shows including the pre-war 'The Fleet's Lit Up' and 'Okay for Sound'.

Ex-BBC Acquisitions

  • 50 small combination arrangements of standard items, literally rescued from a skip by Ernest Tomlinson in 1978;
  • 442 sets from the former BBC Scottish Variety Orchestra library, all specially arranged song accompaniments by Ian Gourlay, Bob Docker and others - these were thrown out and then rescued by the orchestral pianist;
  • Via Geoffrey Lester of the BBC Music Library, 3,000 Dance Band sets for which they no longer had use, responsibly stored until they could be passed over to us.;

Other Sheet Music

A large quantity of other types of sheet music has come our way, whether from family or friends or found in amongst the many orchestral collections which have arrived.

This includes:

  • thousands of piano versions of orchestral works (useful as archive material);
  • vocal music such as ballads, popular songs, evergreens and long-forgottens;
  • much choral music of every description;
  • a fine collection of mainly classical violin and piano music;
  • some classical chamber music;
  • a substantial collection of music for two violins and orchestra/piano.

The Library's collection of popular songs is of particular value because of the numerous enquiries received about them. Its comprehensiveness is largely due to the collection, 8,000 or so, built by Thames Television and donated to us early in 2000 when the company was taken over by Pearson Television.

Forthcoming events

25 February 2018

25 March 2018

17 December 2018

  • Erato Orchestra In Concert

    • Erato Orchestra Conductor: Ian Butterworth Violin: Geoffrey Silver at St Mark's Church, Church Road, Purley, CR8 3QQ

19 February 2018

    • at
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