Thank the Middle Class for the art of the Classical Era

Where Would The Classical Era Be Without The Middle Class?

The Classical era paved the way for the rise of the economic and social power of the Middle class, and their influence on society and the art within it. During the Classical era there was a huge power shift of who was controlling, and ultimately, paying for and supporting the arts. It no longer was dominated by the power of the aristocrats and the royalty of the time, but instead started to become influenced by the wants and needs of the middle class.

As the idea of Enlightenment began to spread so did the thought of individualism and self-governing, which was taken on strongly by the middle class of the era. The once considered, peasants of the era began to take control of their lives, becoming skilled workers. This not only aided to the Classical era’s economic standing but it also gave the middle class more economic power, and therefore more influence on society and the arts. Due to their new-found increase in income the middle class was able to partake in more leisurely activities that the before could not afford, and began to enjoy the music, art, and theatre of the time period. This provoked the change and focus of art to start to move away from pleasing the higher social class individuals to the middle class, reforming  the content and style of much of the Classical art styles.

The Middle Classes Influence on the Music of the Classical Era

5th Symphony by Ludwig Van Beethoven

One of the greatest influences on art the rise of the middle class had during the classical era, was their impact on the change of music styles, and the “role of the composer”. With the change in social power of the middle class also came the change of the role of the musical composer, which then changed they style of music being created. In the Baroque era composers were looked at as servants of the elite, and were required to only create music that the aristocrats wanted to hear. Although this gave a strong amount of power and accreditation to the title of a musical composer it limited the range of creativity from them, due to their music being so heavily influenced by the rich and powerful.

This completely changed during the Classical era. Music became no longer was limited to only the influence of the socially and economically elite, but started to become appreciated by the middle class. As the musical audience grew so did the range of music, and composers began to create pieces that captivated a larger and broader subject matter. Not only did composers begin catering to the middle classes need to listen to music but they also started to create pieces that were easier to play. The mood of the composed musical pieces changed either gradually or suddenly, with a much more flexible (less complex) rhythm, that made it easily accessible and recognizable to the middle class patrons.

Above you can see, the musical composition The fifth Symphony, by Ludwig Van Beethoven. This piece demonstrates many of the newly influenced composition tools aided by the middle class.  For instance the gradual and sudden shifts of “mood” through the tempo and rhythm of the piece, making it easy to follow along with emotionally.  There are numerous changes of beats and pauses, to allow a middle class audience to take in and catch up to the music. Lastly, although the piece is of high compositional standards it is driven with mood and emotion, an a storyline that can be used in many scenarios, thus allowing the middle class to connect and be interested in the piece itself.

The Middle Classes Influence on Art of the Classical Era


“L’atelier de Houdon” – Louis Leopold Boilly


The Arrival of a Mail-coach in the Courtyard of the Messageries by Louis Leopold Boilly

Like Music, visual arts of the Classical era were also heavily influenced by the rise of the middle class. In the beginning of this era visual arts was focusing on the Style of Rococo art, which was highly influenced by the aristocrats of the time. Although Rococo style was beautiful to look at and brought forth curvy lines, pastel colors, and light subject-matter, it also focused on the tastes and reflections of the aristocratic society. This focus leaded it to be rejected by the middle class, causing a transfer of artistic styles to the Neoclassical style of art.

The Neoclassical art style was in high demands, and well supported by the middle class because it reflected moral virtue, self-sacrifice, and heroism, as well as, the middle class denial of aristocratic power. The middle class wanted painting that stood for something, and ultimately represented “the middle class lifestyle”, which the Neoclassical painters attempted to do.

For instance, above you can see two examples of Neoclassical paintings done by the artist Louis Leopold Boilly. In both of these paintings we can see examples of either the depiction of daily life of the middle class, or the rejection of aristocratic power. In  the first painting, “L’atelier de Houdon”, we can see the rejection of aristocratic power by the way Boilly paints the “power figure” sitting down watching all the women paint, yet the women sort of subtly almost refusing to do so. In the second painting,The Arrival of a Mail-coach in the Courtyard of the Messageries, Boilly depicts the life of the everyday sort of middle class chaos. In this he paints multiple different scenes in one painting depicting the intricate lives of the middle class.

Paintings done by  Louis Leopold Boilly and other Neoclassical painters show the influence the middle class had on the art of the Classical Era. They represent the change of demands and wants of the middle class and how the painters of the Era were impacted by their demands, and began creating art around them.

The Middle Classes Influence on Theatre of The Classical Era

The Beggars Opera by John Gay

During the Classical Era, Theatre moved away from being only a form of court entertainment, and a peasant playhouse, and instead became focused on its middle class audience by becoming more political and more realistic. Theatre began to focus on political satire, which was the middle class was extremely fond of and helped to influence.

We start to see theatre play with themes like the triumph of the middle man, and the need for social reform, and the movement away from only using religious material, all of which were provoked by the middle classes new found place, economically and socially within the society of the seventeenth century. Theatre also begins to incorporate the use of popular folk tunes and just changing the lyrics to the attraction of the middle class.

Above is an example of one of the Classical eras greatest developments of theatre’s new genre of Ballad Opera, The Beggar’s Opera, by John Gay. In this new form of theatre we see the combination of music and spoken word to create a comedic opera.  This genre moves away and satires its counterpart Opera Seria, which is an Italian dramatic Opera. In the above scene, of The Beggar’s Opera you can distinctly see impact the middle class has on the overall feel of the atmospheres well as the back and forth of the middle class depicted as having a great time, whereas, the female character that is supposed to be representing the aristocrats is having a terrible time and is sticking her nose up at all the other characters. It is moments and representations like these that we can see the huge impact the middle class played in influencing the themes and characters of theatrical pieces of the classical era.

All in all, without the middle classes influence during the Classical era we might not have had the beautiful, influential, and crucial music, art, and theatre of the Classical period.

Works Cited

“Age of Enlightenment.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Web. 5 Mar. 2015. <>

“An Analysis of Classical Era Music: Middle Class Economic Growth.” Dlfitzpatrick. 3 Mar. 2013. Web. 5 Mar. 2015. <>.

Estrella, Espie. “The Role of Composers – Baroque and Classical Periods.” Web. 5 Mar. 2015. <>

“Louis-Léopold Boilly.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Web. 5 Mar. 2015. <éopold_Boilly>

“The Beggar’s Opera.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Web. 5 Mar. 2015.<’s_Opera>.

“The Classical Period.” The Classical Period. Web. 5 Mar. 2015. < Classical Period.html>

“The Effect of the Middle Class on Art of the 1700s.” Alexs Awesome Art Blog. 19 Oct. 2014. Web. 5 Mar. 2015. <>

“The Growing Economic Power of the Middle Class in the 1700’s-Visual Arts, Music, & Theatre of The Classical Era.” Fishing with Jeff. 16 Oct. 2014. Web. 5 Mar. 2015. <>

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One thought on “Thank the Middle Class for the art of the Classical Era

  1. Great job! Your whole post was crystal clear and on point with the influence of the middle class on art. I choose the same topic, but I feel you did a better job in making your connections more stronger. Thanks for the analysis with the “L’atelier de Houdon” painting done by Louis Leopold Boilly. Without your blog and this course I would have thought it was just a man sitting in a room with women painting (no particular meaning). You mentioned the women appear to be refusing to paint. Do you know why the women were depicted in this somewhat hesitant demeanor? Your detailed description of the musical piece by Beethoven was fantastic! I like how you went further in pointing out the pauses and simplicity in the piece that was easier for the middle class to understand. As you pointed out, the shifts of “mood” through the tempo and rhythm are super simple and clear to define. It’s no wonder this piece is still popular today! Very simple and catchy for everyone. The dark feel in the beginning has you hooked instantly. As for the visual art, here’s a video of another famous piece which I used for my blog. I felt it was a good example to use for the neoclassical style influenced by the middle class. The heroic aspect, linear lines, are all very evident in this piece. Thanks for the virtual exhibit! Very enjoyable.


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