Thursday, January 26, 2012

Anton Karas - "The Third Man Theme"

I was looking to download the audio from the 78 RPM recording of "The Third Man Theme", from the movie of the same name, when I ran into this on the first shot. It runs about 1 minute longer than the commercially recorded version, but that's just a bonus as far as I'm concerned.

Not only does this song represent one of my favorite movies, it also reminds me of how I felt the first time I heard this record. And I heard it long before I saw the movie. My Mom and Dad had a lot of records. This was one of them; I can still see the blue label spinning at 78 RPM's and I remember the day my brother, or I, broke it.

Watching this little film of Mr. Karas playing sent me to Wikipedia, where I found the following information about him. He was always somewhat more of a mystery to me than "The Third Man" film itself, so I don't want to know too much about him. It would take away from the exotic sound of his zither playing, perhaps forever altering the way I view the film! I can't take that chance. So, I'll stick to basics.

He was born in Vienna of Hungarian and Czechoslovakian background and had 4 siblings.His father was a factory worker. Anton, his two brothers and sisters, all learned to play music, in spite of their relative poverty. At age 12 Anton found a zither in his grandmother's attic, and learned to play that. Through this humble beginning a legendary piece of music would someday emerge.

He began his apprenticeship as a tool and die maker at age of 14, but never stopped taking music lessons. From 1924 until 1925 he worked in a car factory, but economic conditions soon put an end to that, which drove him back to the University, and a career which would eventually lead to "The Third Man Theme."

From 1939–1945 he was employed by the Nazi's German Wehrmacht, working in anti-aircraft warfare, for a while stationed in Russia. But he never left his zither behind, taking it with him when he went to war. He reportedly went through several zithers during this period.

In 1948 Carol Reed was in Vienna to shoot "The Third Man" and after hearing Karas play at a cafe, he commissioned him to do the title track for the film. This was Karas' first attempt at composing music on his own. He went to London, living with Reed while writing the score. He hated every minute of it.

The success of the film score made Mr. Karas well off and he didn't do too much in the way of touring, beyond a few Command Performances for Royalty around Europe. But again, I don't want to know too much about the man. His fingers are more than capable of communicating all that I ever really need to know.

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