The Light Programme: Light Classics

Today on Radio Riel, we are explor­ing the world of Light Music – from the ear­li­est days of the genre, which start­ed in the late 19th cen­tu­ry, to its hey­day after the Sec­ond World War.

Light Music’ – also known as ‘mood music’ or ‘con­cert music’ – is very much a British phe­nom­e­non, refer­ring to a pop­u­lar and tune­ful style of orches­tral music that had its ori­gins in the sea­side bands of the 19th and ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry. The style peaked around the mid­dle of the 20th cen­tu­ry and then fell from favour: on the one hand eclipsed by rock ’n’ roll (many of its expo­nents by this time were the lead­ers of the Big Bands whose doom arrived dur­ing this peri­od), but on the oth­er con­tin­u­ing in hid­den guise, in the form of ‘library music’ – music record­ed for use in films, radio and lat­er tele­vi­sion – right up into the 1960s.

Light Music com­posers might at once have writ­ten for the British film-mak­ers of the 1940s, the BBC Light Pro­gramme after the war, and per­haps for the emerg­ing British inde­pen­dent tele­vi­sion com­pa­nies who required themes to open and close a day whose broad­cast­ing hours were lim­it­ed by statute. And at the same time, their work might be found in pro­duc­tion stu­dios on discs from the Chap­pell, deWolfe and KPM music libraries, unavail­able to the pub­lic but often used for news­reel voiceovers, radio pro­gramme themes and, lat­er, as music to play while British tele­vi­sion was show­ing the Test Card out­side broad­cast­ing hours.

Light Music is char­ac­terised by a pre­dom­i­nance of melody – gen­er­al­ly mem­o­rable melody – which is one rea­son why it is a per­fect com­pan­ion to broad­cast­ing, pro­vid­ing themes and even inci­den­tal music to dra­ma, doc­u­men­tary, news and cur­rent affairs, and game shows. Often, peo­ple can recall the themes that punc­tu­at­ed their lives many, many decades ago.

Today, we’ll be hear­ing, among many oth­ers, a good deal from composer/arranger/conductor Mr Gavin Suther­land, one of the pri­ma­ry expo­nents of light music and relat­ed com­po­si­tions in Britain. More or less sin­gle-hand­ed­ly (along with Bri­an Kay on BBC Radio 3) he has brought British light music back from the grave and renewed our appre­ci­a­tion of a range of com­posers such as Richard Addin­sell, William Alwyn, Eric Coates, Robert Farnon, Charles Williams, J Mal­colm, Ronald Binge and many oth­ers. In addi­tion we’ll be hear­ing from many less­er-known com­posers. Many of the orig­i­nal record­ings have been re-issued on CD from com­pa­nies like Vocalion and Guild, while Chan­dos, Nax­os and espe­cial­ly White Line have released new, superb record­ings of the clas­sics.

If you would like to read more about some of the com­posers fea­tured in today’s pro­gramme, please vis­it the Index of British Light Music Com­posers. There is also an arti­cle on Light Music in Wikipedia. In addi­tion, do vis­it the web site of the Light Music Soci­ety.

Please note that there will be no edi­tion of the ZBS Radio Hour for the next few weeks. Instead, why not vis­it the ZBS Foun­da­tion web site — and check out their Hal­loween Pod­cast! The ZBS Radio Hour will return on Sat­ur­day 24th Novem­ber with two brand new adven­tures — Jack Flan­ders in The Ah-Ha! Phe­nom­e­non, and a brand spank­ing new Steam­punk ser­i­al star­ring Ruby the Galac­tic Gumshoe. Don’t miss it!

The Light Pro­gramme is pre­sent­ed by Elrik Mer­lin on the last Sat­ur­day of the month. You can lis­ten to today’s pro­gramme in-world now at, or sim­ply click here to start your play­er, if your brows­er is con­fig­ured to do so. Lis­ten­ers in the Unit­ed States are encour­aged to tune in using this link:

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