What is Light Music?

Light Music bridges the gap between classical and popular music, although its boundaries are often blurred.1 It is music with an immediate appeal, music to entertain and to enjoy. It has a strong emphasis on melody,2 and as such, it is designed to appeal to a wider audience than more serious forms of the Western classical music tradition.

As the length and scope of orchestral music increased in the late Romantic period of classical music history (between 1850 to 1900), the Light Music genre emerged as a more accessible and enjoyable, less highbrow and less elitest alternative. Works in the genre include:

  • the operettas of Gilbert & Sullivan and Offenbach,
  • the waltzes and marches of Johann Strauss II and his family,
  • the marches of J.P.Sousa,
  • tuneful orchestral music by composers such as Eric Coates, Leroy Anderson, Ernest Tomlinson and Robert Farnon.

Palm court music, symphonic jazz, ballet music, show music, arrangements of popular songs and ballads, film music and television themes are all part of the Light Music repertoire.

The seaside orchestras such as the Scarborough Spa Orchestra that flourished in Britain in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and palm court orchestras that provided music for tea dances in large hotels and theatres were of great importance for the development of the Light Music genre. The greatest period for the popularity of Light Music began in the late 1920s when BBC radio broadcasting was introduced. It gained further exposure and mass appeal with the launch of the BBC Light Programme in 1945, including programmes such as Friday Night is Music Night and Music While You Work.

In this heyday of Light Music, the Light Music Society was founded in 1957 with Eric Coates as its first President. The aim of the Society was to champion light music throughout the world and to obtain increased facilities for those interested in this form of culture by means of broadcasting, recording and general performances.

Light Music suffered a decline in the 1960s as broadcasters changed their programmes in favour of popular music and many light music orchestras were disbanded to be replaced by recorded music. The BBC and many orchestras, libraries and theatres discarded their collections of sheet music. Music of this was saved from destruction by Ernest Tomlinson with the formation of the Library of Light-Orchestral Music in 1969.

The work of the Library, together with the work of the Light Music Society has managed to keep Light Music in the public consciousness. This has resulted in a resurgence of the popularity of Light Music since the 1990s, with an increase in the number of broadcasts, performances and recordings of Light Music.


  1. David Ades, notes from The Great British Light Experience, EMI, 1997, 724356667624, p.4
  2. Ernest Tomlinson, Brian Kay in conversation with Ernest Tomlinson on 'Brian Kay's Light Programme', 17 February 2005

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17 December 2018

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

19 February 2018

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