The first piano was made in Florence around 1709 by Bartolomeo Cristofori, an dwas called a gravicembalo col piano e forte (ie a "harpsichord with loud and soft"). By the second half of the eighteenth century it began to replace the harpsichord as the preferred instrument of C.P.E. Bach, Haydn, Mozart and their contemporaries. The chief advantages of the piano over the harpsichord are that is capable of subtle changes in volume in response to the player's touch, and has a mechanism for sustaining the tone after the key had been released (operated with the knee in the early instruments rather than by the foot). The eighteenth century instrument is usually referred to as a fortepiano (to distinguish is from the modern pianoforte), and had a thinner tone than today's instruments, with less sustaining power and a smaller range (about five octaves).
The piano as we now know it emerged in the nineteenth century, after a number of important developments; the range was increased to seven octaves, the frame was made of iron rather than wood, and the hammers were covered with felt rather than leather. Also, the bass strings were "overstrung" (ie they ran diagonally across the higher strings rather that parallel to them) which allowed the use of longer and thicker strings, and a "double-escapement" mechanism was invented to facilitate rapid repitition of a note. All of these develpoments became standard by the middle of the nineteenth century. Witht eh modifications to the frame and strings, the piano was able to produce a sound capable of filling large concert halls, and the solo recital became popular. It was very successful as a solo instrument with an orchestra, and more concertos were writeen for piano in the nineteenth century than for any other instrument. Before gramaphone recordings, piano transcriptions were the principal way in which orchestral and operatic works became familiar. With the rise of the middle class, the piano became a symbol of culture; most middle class families owned a piano, around which many hours of entertainment were spent. The piano became the favoured instrument of many romantic composers, because it was capable of both intimacy and extravagant virtuosity, and an idiomatic style of piano writing developed.
The principal composers of piano music in the nineteenth century were: