This month, Clef Notes explores various topics related to music and cinema. This past season, we had composer Sebastian Currier stop by the WGUC studio for an interview before the premiere of his Concerto for Orchestra with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. While here, we got on the topic of film music.
Mr. Currier brought up his affinity for the film score used in Carol Reed’s 1949 classic The Third Man, starring Orson Welles and Joseph Cotton. He mentioned that he finds the use of a single instrument—the zither—during the entire score especially effective. What I find particularly interesting about this score is that it was composed by Anton Karas, who had no background whatsoever in writing music for film. In fact, he struggled to support his family working as an entertaining musician at a Viennese Wine Bar. It was at this very bar that Reed heard Karas perform. Amazed at the sounds of the zither, he asked Karas to come on board to work for The Third Man, writing the score for the entire film.
Karas agreed to write the music for Reed’s film, thus putting his name on the map as the “Third Man Theme” gained international recognition. The film’s main theme was actually something Karas wrote 20 years earlier, yet never actually performed. Have you seen The Third Man? Do you agree with Currier in his statement that a single zither is especially effective in this film?