ANTON KARAS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PHOTOS (top to bottom):

- Anton Karas (ca. 1955), playing a Karas-zither.

- "Weinschenke zum dritten mann" (ca. 1955)...note Karas's house on the hill in the background.

- Anton Karas, playing a Karas-zither with his "Two Rudi's" (ca. 1955)

- Anton Karas (ca. 1960) with a hand-written note to his wife "Der lieben Gattin..." - "To my beloved wife Dolli - 23/07/63".

ANTON KARAS - b. July 7, 1906 in Vienna; d. January 9, 1985 in Vienna

Anton Karas was just another Viennese zither player, performing at different wine gardens at night and working at odd jobs during the day. That was, until he was "discovered" by Carol Reed, producer of the movie The Third Man, to score the music for the film. The rest was then history.
Raised in the Brigittenau district of Vienna, he began studying the zither at the age of 12. The story goes that one day he found an old zither in an attic. His father allowed him to take lessons. This started with Professor Spiegel at Musikschule Horack and ended studying under the Viennese zither virtuoso Adolf Schneer. Karas began playing at wine gardens at the age of 17. This he continued to do for the next 28 years, until his meeting with Carol Reed! As the fame of the music from The Third Man spread, he began performing all over Europe, including a 32-week tour of the United States in 1951. In 1952, he opened his Weinschenke Zum Dritten Mann in the Sievering district of Vienna. He continued playing at his wine garden, which had varying degrees of success, over the years. In addition, he made special performances and recordings. He retired from the wine garden when a chain bought it out.


His compositions include:

"The Third Man Theme" *
"The Second Theme"
"Café Mozart Waltz" *
"Keine Ahnung"
"That Dear Old Song" *
"Rendezvous Waltz" *
"Farewell To Vienna" **
"Zither Man"
"Mein Herz Binkerl-Waltz"
"Visions of Vienna"
"Danube Dream"
"Wien, Weib, Wein",
"Karasitaten".

* Used in the movie The Third Man…some of which were merely incidental background pieces, later to be given names.
** This piece (used for the ending scene in the movie where the Alida Valli character walked passed the Joseph Cotton character in the cemetery) was an anachronism. In fact, Karas did not compose it. As the story goes, it was a 200-year old piece he took from a zither study book. He revised it, rearranging the notes in rapid successions (such as Chopin did to a degree) to extend the tone of the notes being played.

Directly after his success with the movie The Third Man, Karas had his dream zither made. This zither use acoustic amplification of the accompaniment and base strings (often overpowering the melody strings). This amplification was achieved by leaving the instruments thickness on the fret board side of about one inch. However, the thickness on the opposite side was increased almost two-fold! Several of this type were made, and were known as "Karas-zithern" by the Austrian music trade. Some of the accompanying photos show this type of instrument. He did not play this type of zither until after the advent of The Third Man. Karas never again had the film success that he earned with The Third Man. His "Third Man Theme" earned him the title of the king of the one-song composers. If all were told, his "Third Man Theme" is one of the most recognizable melodies, even to this day, with sales and performances at an all-time high for a "one-song composer."


The Karas Sound:
Many frustrating hours have been spent by zitherists trying to emulate the film's sound...here is part of the secret!

The music-track for the film The Third Man was recorded with the zither placed on a small kitchen table set on the wooden floor of the sound studio. Microphones were placed at several levels and positions around the table. The sound engineer then further enhanced the score, with portions dubbed. Truly, the sound was due to Karas' skills, zither tuning…and to the fact that he had very strong fingers which enabled him to carry through his style of playing.

 

 

 Anton Karas (ca. 1949), with fingers positioned for the beginning of "The Third Man Theme", showing the zither (of normal proportions) and table used in the film The Third Man

 

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