Invention of the modern piano has been credited to Bartolemeau Christofori who around 1700 developed the first pianoforte (meaning soft/loud) The modern piano is distinguished from older keyboard instruments like the clavicorde and harpsicorde by an escapement action and string dampening. The clavicorde is a string striking instrument like the modern piano and allows for color and sensitivity of touch. It requires absolute silence to hear its quiet sounds, but can be played with great musical sensitivity. The harpsichord is more robust and is a string plucking instrument.
By the second half of the nineteenth century the piano had been around for some 150 years. It had developed into an instrument which resembled the modern instrument of this day with only minor modifications. The modern piano allowed for a wide range of sound and color and was considerably more robust than the older instruments.
The old instruments were made of wood, but with the industrial revolution came piano harps made of steel. This increased string tensions, allowed for more strings per note and contributed to the increased color and sound. Thus the pianoforte became even more piano and forte.
Many composers of the time were also pianists. And the love affair with the instrument peaked in the late 19th century. Like the 20th century love affair with the automobile, there was a race to explore the capabilities of this strengthened instrument. Mozart and later Beethoven were just a few of the earlier players who enjoyed the continually improving instrument.
In a time before radio, television, and computer games: During a time when entertainment had flooded out of the courts of the aristocracy and into the halls of the masses, the general population of many European towns flocked to concert halls to hear their favorite artists.
In this environment, a fascination with virtuosity in the late part of the nineteenth century caused many composer-pianists to write music which displayed the extreme possibilities of the instrument. Like the heightened result of auto racing to the automobile, these races brought the heightened technical skills necessary to produce even more varied and exciting music to the developing instrument.
And for some reason, this music on the edge, a music which explores speed, agility, tone color, sound and brightness, this particular music, arising from a time when a wondrous instrument called the piano shone at the pinnacle of its day, has a way of producing a smile and shear delight in a willing listener.