Fortepiano, or pianoforte, is a common term for piano and it has the meaning of soft- loud. The reason why it was called this was to highlight its purpose of producing a tone that was both loud and soft. The piano is considered a stringed keyboard instrument and prior to any keyed instruments being used there were only string instruments such as a harp. At some point of time the strings were attached to a keyboard and the piano was invented.
Some of the first ancestors of the piano were the harpsichord and clavichord. The clavichord was first introduced in the 14th century and it continued to be used until the 18th century. A clavichord is a small rectangular type of piano that uses small pieces of metal to strike the strings. A clavichord has a very soft sound and therefore it was used primarily in a domestic settings and was seldom used in concerts.
After the clavichord came the harpsichord which was invented in the 15th century. It became the favorite keyboard instrument for homes until the 18th century. During the Baroque period, the harpsichord was commonly used to accompany singers or other instruments. With the harpsichord the strings are not struck by metal but rather they are plucked using a hard piece of leather or bird quill. Like the clavichord the harpsichord produced a quiet sound and would not allow any tone-force modification. Both the harpsichord and clavichord were eventually replaced in the 18th century by the piano.
In reality, the piano was a combination of the clavichord and the harpsichord. It allowed a player to use an expressive tone or a very soft tone. Some of the important manufacturers that helped to develop the piano included a German organ maker Gottfried Silbermann, the Vienna piano makers Streicher and Stein, the French inventor Sebastian Edward, Isaac Hawkins of Philadelphia, and an Englishman named Robert Wornum.
One of the more notable contributions to the evolution of the piano was from an American inventor who used iron for the frame. This invention was later improved by the Steinway’s who created beautiful sounding pianos. Steinway pianos are still considered to be one of the best sounding pianos on the market today. Another interesting invention by the Steinway’s was to use a technique called over stringing. They crossed the strings diagonally very close together at the center of the sound board which created a better stress distribution on the frame and which in turn created a better sound.