The style is a less "serious" form of Western classical music, featuring through-composed, usually shorter orchestral pieces and suites designed to appeal to a wider audience than concerti, symphonies and operas. The form was especially popular during the formative years of radio broadcasting, with stations such as the BBC Light Programme featuring a playlist largely consisting of light compositions.
Occasionally known as mood music or concert music, light music is often grouped with the easy listening genre. Light music was popular in the United Kingdom, the United States and in continental Europe, and many compositions in the genre are still familiar through their use as film, radio and television themes.
Before Late Romantic orchestral trends of length and scope separated the trajectory of lighter orchestral works from the Western Classical canon, classical composers such as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart or Joseph Haydn won as much fame for writing lighter pieces such as Eine Kleine Nachtmusik as for their symphonies and operas. Later examples of early European light music include the operettas of composers such as Franz von Suppé or Sir Arthur Sullivan; the Continental salon and parlour music genres; and the waltzes and marches of Johann Strauss II and his family. The Straussian waltz became a common light music composition (note for example Charles Ancliffe's "Nights of Gladness" or Felix Godin's "Valse Septembre"). These influenced the foundation of a "lighter" tradition of classical music in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
In the UK, the light-music genre has its origin in the seaside and theatrical orchestras that flourished in Britain during the 19th and early 20th century. These played a wide repertoire of music, from classical music to arrangements of popular songs and ballads of the time. From this tradition came many specially written shorter orchestral pieces designed to appeal to a wider audience.
Composers such as Sir Edward Elgar wrote a number of popular works in this medium, such as the "Salut d'Amour", the Nursery Suite, and Chanson de Matin. The conductor Sir Thomas Beecham became famous for concluding his otherwise serious orchestral concerts with what he termed "lollipops", meaning less serious, short or amusing works chosen as a crowd-pleasing encore. Influenced by the earlier "promenade concerts" held in London pleasure gardens, a similar spirit embued many of Henry Wood's early Queen's Hall Proms concerts, especially the "Last Night".