The Heart Asks Pleasure First - How difficult?

Posted by: Bird

The Heart Asks Pleasure First - How difficult? - 12/15/05 10:07 PM

I'm currently learning Michael Nyman's "The Heart Asks Pleasure First", which is one of the pieces that really got my attention to the piano as a listener a long time ago. How would you rate this piece in terms of difficulty?

I find it rather hard to play, but I'm getting there. The most difficult for me is the separate figures on RH and LH. I can play them separately but not together. So I'm practicing this very slowly, but also simplified, for example only taking chords with the left hand.
Posted by: Mick

Re: The Heart Asks Pleasure First - How difficult? - 12/16/05 01:03 AM

The ambidextrous aspect is probably the most difficult thing you will encounter with this piece, and perhaps emphasizing the melody properly in certain areas if you have smaller hands. I'm not sure that it will help you in the long run to boil it down to just chords on one hand, because the key in this particular piece is the similar rapid movement of both hands in a fairly calculated pattern that does not change a lot throughout the entire composition. Just keep cracking at it in whatever tempo you can make yourself feel comfortable with, and I think with hard work you will be able to surprise yourself with how much your speed can improve once you 'get it' and everything clicks.

As for a difficulty rating? What do you think yourself - isn't that what matters? I've seen many people wanting to play this particular piece, but they didn't have the needed skills yet. I've also seen somewhat advanced players struggle a bit, and I've seen people who just recognizes the patterns and play it somewhat decently without really having reached a level where they should be able to play it yet. It's always fun to see someone pick up Nyman's work. You should look into some of his other stuff once you master this piece - most people overlook his other interesting compositions in favor of just this one.
Posted by: Bird

Re: The Heart Asks Pleasure First - How difficult? - 12/16/05 01:26 AM

Thanks Mick, and I'm definitely going to check out more of Nymans work.

Regarding the difficulty rating, I'm just curious as I've just started playing the piano a month ago, except for easy synthesizer stuff when composing for my band (I'm a singer/guitarist), and I'm already on my way with this piece. I get the feeling that I learn rather quickly, so I just wanted to know if I'm fooling myself \:\)
Posted by: Euan Morrison

Re: The Heart Asks Pleasure First - How difficult? - 12/16/05 03:32 AM

Hiya - T.H.A.P.F is one of the first pieces I'm currently finishing off. It was probably the piece that inspired me to take up piano in the first place (although i played keyboard before).

THe way I 'learned' the piece: (i used inverted commas because I dont technically play it 100% accurate, but enough to bring out the tune well)

1. Right hand only, first page. Learn it chunk by chunk (e.g. intro, then the first part of melody, then the melody played a few notes higher etc)
2. Right hand + single fingered chord on 1st page
3. Repeat process on second page, one hand only, then single left finger. (again, work on each segment of the tune seperate, and put it together)
4. Work out the intro with two hands together
5. Work on the first page - in particular, get the pattern going in the first few bars of the main theme with the left hand - it is repeated all over the first page, only starting on different notes. It you can nail it in one position, it should be fairly easy to move the hand to get the others.
6. THis is where I fall down. Another pattern is used for the left hand on page two, but I cheated and used almost the same pattern from page 1. In my desperation to hear myself play it, I rushed and ruined it. It stills sounds ok tho.

Thats about all I can say. I would say, from my own experience, that it is a very mechanical piece of music, with a beautiful melody. And its really fun to play (even incorrectly). Just slow things down, bring them up to speed, and have fun!

p.s. it took a while for me to get from step 3 to step 4. Incorporating the left hand fully seemed like such a big gap, but I didnt find it too difficult after a few days. I started the piece in October, and i'm just finishing it now. (not that that means anything, different people learn different rates, and as I say, I kinda cheated ;\)

And my advice is only from my personal experiences and i dont consider them to be the proper way to do things. Only my opinion.
Posted by: Euan Morrison

Re: The Heart Asks Pleasure First - How difficult? - 12/16/05 03:35 AM

...and to be honest, I dont think you are 'fooling yourself'. Maybe I'm wrong, others can feel free to disagree, but I found it to be a fairly manageable piece - and I had little experience of using left hand to play notes.

I would say if you can play the main theme really slow, then slowly bring it up to speed, the tune you are playing will inspire you to keep going. Every time I learned a new bit of the piece, it just kept sounding better and better. Have a go!
Posted by: ShiroKuro

Re: The Heart Asks Pleasure First - How difficult? - 12/16/05 05:02 AM

Count me with the group of people who loves this piece!

Bird, the answer to your question also depends on what arrangement you have and whether or not the RH or LH have been simplified in anyway.

I think this piece is deceptive. Although it sounds impressive, because it sort of creates a wall of sound, it's very simple on the page. And yet, what it asks of your hands (and brain) isn't really simple at all. Only IMO of course.

Will people jump sown my throat if I say that this piece is in a lot of ways like the first movement of the Moonlight Sonata? As long as your hands aren't too tiny, the Moonlight is easy for even a beginning pianist to play, but very difficult to play well. I think you can say the same of T.H.A.P.F.

If you can get past the problem of how the LH and RH are just off from each other, then I think you've put the hardest work behind you. I couldn't do this at first, and I felt like I had to bend my mind to get it. Then once I had it, it wasn't an issue any more.

However, if you have something close to the original arrangement, it is very easy for this piece to sound like mud. Most of the fingers of RH and LH are in sort of constant motion, so the key (no pun intended!!) is to bring out the melody and maintain a good balance between it and that wall of sound. Also, you want to build tension, but that's hard to do because there's not really significant change in the hand's behavior.

I have worked on this piece off and on and never really felt like it sounded good, just a lot of wobbly mud really. :p However, I play a version of the main theme, called the Sacrifice, which has a greatly simplified RH. Although this is probably the easiest piece I play, it's also one of the most popular, and I always enjoy playing it. If you're interested, it's on my web page. I am planning on putting up a few Xmas pieces, so if I don't have enough space it might be gone after Sunday, but take a look if you like.
Posted by: geek in the pink

Re: The Heart Asks Pleasure First - How difficult? - 12/16/05 05:56 AM

Wonderful playing Shiro! You wouldn't happen to have a pdf file of the score would you \:\) ? Heh, I'll search for it online.
Posted by: Bird

Re: The Heart Asks Pleasure First - How difficult? - 12/18/05 09:27 AM

Thanks for the good suggestions, Euan Morrison. It's similar to how I have been working on it so far. I agree, it's truly inspiring everytime I learn new bits of the piece.
...and thanks for giving me a laugh every time I read your Homer quote, it's brilliant!

ShiroKuro, thanks for the good advice, the version that you have on your webpage sounds really nice, laidback and contemplative, and it's one of the things that I like about this piece, that you can improvise freely over it with variations and it's keeps its beauty, be it simple or complex.
I'm working on the full version with the complex LH playing, since I'd really like to be able play it like this. The whole piece sounds like a river, and I'd like to develop this flow in my playing.
I've noticed too that it easily sounds like mud and one has to focus on the melody. It's really a challenge, since it's hard to distribute dynamics evenly with all the fingers playing rapidly and sort of towards each other. But it's very gratifying also - as soon as I get to a new level with it it just puts a big smile on my face \:\)
Posted by: Chris H.

Re: The Heart Asks Pleasure First - How difficult? - 12/18/05 03:52 PM

I have a young student who was inspired to learn the piano by this piece. It is intermediate standard (around ABRSM grade 4-5 if that helps). This particular lad didn't start with T.H.A.P.F. as it is not a beginner piece but his determination to play it helped him to achieve that standard quicker than most. If you want it enough you will get there.
Posted by: Dorrie

Re: The Heart Asks Pleasure First - How difficult? - 12/18/05 04:19 PM

Shiro -

Do you have a citation for a simplified verison of this piece?

Dorrie
Posted by: ShiroKuro

Re: The Heart Asks Pleasure First - How difficult? - 12/19/05 12:17 AM

Dorrie, and Geek in the Pink, I got this from a Japanese publisher and as far as I know it's not available anymore in Japan, let alone elsewhere \:\(

Bird, does your score have the complex RH as well? That's what I could never get un-muddied, that the RH and the LH are in constant arpeggios and the melody would always get lost in my RH jibberish.
Posted by: Bird

Re: The Heart Asks Pleasure First - How difficult? - 12/19/05 03:44 AM

ShiroKuro, yes, my score has the complex RH as well. It sounds muddy when I play it, I haven't got it right yet. But if I listen to the original recording, both LH and RH are very low-key except for the RH lead melody, and it seems that the RH arpeggios are the lowest in volume. Good control over the dynamics for both hands is probably the key to it, which is difficult with everything that's going on simultaneously. But that's what I like about this piece, eventually I will find the flow and then all the muddled notes will become a waving river.