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Soundtracked: The Third Man

November 22, 2009

The Third Man (1949)

This theme music always gets stuck in my head easily for a couple of days every time I hear it. I watched the movie’s trailer quickly on YouTube a few nights ago (I was looking for a scene with Trevor Howard wearing a traditional naval duffle coat. You’ll find out why in this Tuesday post.) and it’s been this weekend’s soundtrack for me.

Anyway……, this notable musical score was composed by Anton Karas and played by him on the zither.

The picture demanded music appropriate to post-World War II Vienna. The British director Carol Reed was looking for a sound that would evoke the atmosphere of Vienna but he didn’t want schmalzy, heavily orchestrated waltzes……..

One night Karas was playing in a Vienna tavern and Reed heard him and was fascinated by the jangling melancholy of his music. Reed decided to have him score and play for the soundtrack of the film he was then shooting in Vienna. This was a brave decision by the director as Karas was an unknown wine bar performer before the productions came to Vienna and had absolutely no experience in composition or film scoring.

Reed later brought Karas to London, where the musician spent six weeks working with Reed on the score.

The zither was a new, catchy yet odd sound for English and American audiences and provided a perfect atmosphere for the film, which was very much the story of a stranger in a strange land.

The Third Man Theme“, was released as a single in 1949/50 (Decca in the UK, London Records in the US). It became a best-seller—by November 1949, 300,000 records had been sold in Britain. The exposure made Karas an international star.

Anton Karas playing the zither in 1946, London.

-N.

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