The above video plays a harpsichord piece from English composer Giles Farnaby.
Although the harpsichord is definitely not the first piano-like instrument to be found and used in early-modern English music, it will be the first I mention to give a reference point. This instrument was much like a harp, as the strings are plucked. The plucking comes from the pressing of a key rather than from the release of one's fingertip. This instrument is often built with multiple levels of keys, allowing for a wider range. This instrument has a more precise sound and does not allow for varying volumes or dynamics.
Also known as the fortepiano, the pianoforte is simply an early form of the modern piano. This instrument evolved from the harpsichord. This form of percussive string instrument was created originally by Bartolomeo Cristofori, who wanted to be able to control the auditory volume when playing on the harpsichord. This was done by changing the style of initializing sound from a pluck or release of tension to a hammer mechanism. This allowed for the keys to be pressed more gently for a softer hit on the string, causing a quieter sound of the note, and a louder sound from a harder hit on the key for the same reason. The pianoforte allowed for composers to begin writing dynamics in pieces made for piano instruments. This gave the pianoforte its original name, "gravicembalo col piano, e forte" which translates to harpsichord with loud and soft. These pianofortes were often small and rectangular in shape, usually with a comparatively smaller range than its predecessor, the harpsichord, and followers, up until the modern piano.
A woman playing on a piano accompanied by a man on violin
The pianoforte was regularly known as the instrument to be played by ladies, as it was very uncommon to find a gentleman playing a piano instrument at all. Gentlemen, if they did play an instrument, would play the flute or some string and bow instrument instead. It was not uncommon for a woman to play a pianoforte sonata (also known as a solo piece) accompanied by a man on flute, cello, or violin. Although women were often accustomed to the pianoforte, some learned to play on other string instruments as well.
The Modern Grand Piano
The piano we are familiar with is the result of developments upon developments of the early pianofortes. Early modern pianos contained five octaves of range, whereas current pianos have seven octaves or more of range.
Matt Bengtson's Fortepiano. Perf. Matt Bengtson. Matt Bengston Pianist. Matt Bengtson, 8 Nov. 2011. Web. <mattbengtson.com>.
Powers, Author: Wendy. "The Piano: The Pianofortes of Bartolomeo Cristofori (1655–1731)." The Met's Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. N.p., Oct. 2008. Web.
Hayes, Deborah, Dr. "A Drawing-Room Concert in Georgian England." N.p.: n.p., 2000. N. pag. Print.
Elfenbein, Andrew. "Romanticism and Music Culture in Britain, 1770-1840: Virtue and Virtuosity." Wordsworth Circle, vol. 41, no. 4, 2010, p. 188+. Academic OneFile, go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=AONE&sw=w&u=lom_accessmich&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA252556130&asid=711ff304f6422357a81cd6359ae8740e. Accessed 28 Mar. 2017.
George, Lianne. "The opposite of sex: why we're obsessed with Jane Austen and Regency-era romance." Maclean's, 13 Aug. 2007, p. 56+. World History in Context, link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A167627635/WHIC?u=ann79305&xid=068da365. Accessed 28 Mar. 2017.