Famous for its harmonically unchallenging, smooth and entertaining melodic lines, British Light Music grew from the indulgent and sentimental music of the 19th Century, from composers such as Arthur Sullivan, to become one of the most popular classical musical styles in Britain during the first half of the 20th Century. British Light Music is often referred to as easy listening and usually instantly recognisable. Whilst the genre may not advocate ground breaking compositional techniques, it is not always limited to its convivial facade, sometimes parodying more serious classical music through citation of theme and motif.
British Light Music is, for the most part, a form of programme music, with each piece designed to represent a mood, object, place or event. It was this quality, which made it ideal for broadcast throughout the heyday of radio, leading to the introduction of The BBC Light Programme in 1945, and during the advent of television, where British Light Music featured as the introduction to many early programmes. It was, in fact, these two mediums, which facilitated its success.
The genre’s popularity was complemented by its use in film; notably, and amongst many others, in the 1939 version of Goodbye Mr Chips with the soundtrack by Richard Addinsell, and the 1955 World War II classic The Dam Busters, which featured the famous “Dam Busters’ March” by Eric Coates. Although the style has declined since the early 1960s, its use in film has contributed greatly to its longevity.
Famous British Light Music composers include Ernest Tomlinson, Edward German, Haydn Wood, Richard Addinsell and Eric Coates, the last of whom is described as the ‘father’ or ‘king’ of British Light Music.