Elizabethan%20Serenade_01Elizabethan Serenade may be the archetypal piece of British “light music”, familiar from its use as the theme tune for now forgotten BBC radio programmes of the 1950s. It was composed in 1951 and named to celebrate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II the following year. It starts off with the six bar counter melody rather than the main melody – a pair of flutes playing a regular rhythmic figure (two semiquavers followed by two quavers). Then comes the main melody (12 bars) on massed unison strings. The first two bar phrase is an arch, firmly in F major, rising from middle C up to A and back down again to C. The next phrase elaborates on this, shifting the first C up an octave. Then things free up a little – the next two phrases are each four bars in length, the primary rhythm becomes flowing quavers and the melody soars up to top F at the start of each phrase, descending gently down to the F below. It’s simple, but perfectly crafted.

A criticism of light music in general is that it relies on repetition rather than development, and that’s true here, except for some modulation of the main them in the middle section, followed by an extended bridge passage using the counter melody to return to the home key. But the piece is only three and a half minutes long. Although the scoring is “classical” the form is closer to pop music.

Ronald Binge (1910-79) began his career as a cinema organist and also played for a number of seaside orchestras in places such as Blackpool. After the war he became and arranger and composer for the light orchestra conductor Mantovani, where he originated the “cascading strings” effect with which the Mantovani Orchestra became associated. Light music originated in the 19th century but had its heyday from the 1920s until the 1960s, driven by the need for radio broadcasters (particularly the BBC) to fill up their schedules. It generated a significant amount of work for a whole set of highly professional composers and arrangers, all well documented in this book. Unfortunately, that all collapsed during the mid-1960s when light music fell out of fashion – many of the composers found new outlets in music for television and films.