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Date of Birth:July 7th, 1906

Date of Death:January 10th, 1985




Categories:1906 Births · 1985 Deaths · Austrian Composers


Anton Karas

Anton Karas (July 7 1906 – January 10 1985) was a Viennese zither player, best known for his soundtrack to Carol Reed's 1949 adaptation of The Third Man.

Being one of five children of a factory worker, Anton Karas was already keen on music as a child.

He desired to become a band leader, which due to the family's financial situation was impossible.

However, he was allowed to learn to play an instrument, as were his two brothers and two sisters.

He later reported that his first own zither was one he found in his grandmother's attic, at the age of 12.

As ordered by his father, he started an apprenticeship as a tool and die maker at the age of 14, while also taking music evening courses at a private institution.

He successfully finished his apprenticeship in 1924 and worked in a car factory until being unemployed in January 1925.

As he had already begun to study at the University of Music and Performing Arts, Vienna in 1924, he subsequently earned his living as an entertainer in a Heuriger and soon found himself earning more income than his father.

He continued his studies until 1928.In 1930, he was married, followed by the birth of his daughter three months later.

From 1939–1945 he was with German Wehrmacht anti-aircraft warfare, temporarily in Russia, where he also took a zither along.

He lost more than one instrument due to war action, but always managed somehow to find another one.In 1948, director Carol Reed was preparing to shoot The Third Man in Vienna and decided to have Karas playing the zither for the soundtrack.

Reluctant Karas was invited to London and lived with Reed while composing the score, and at that time was drawing a considerable salary of 30 GBP a week, plus 20 in pocket money, with expenses.

The soundtrack was created in Korda's London Films studios, and Karas, who was homesick most of the time, worked up to 14 hours a day for twelve weeks: He had not been a composer before, but a great performer, and added improvisations to his repertoire.

Later, Karas would mention that Reed almost "kept him like a slave" when he wanted to go back to Vienna more than once.

The film, not least due to its music, turned into a gigantic success which changed Karas' life.

As a result, he toured all over the world and performed for many celebrities, among them members of the British Royal family (Princess Margaret had invited him to London's fashionable Empress Club, where he played twice a week during his stay at London), Juliana of the Netherlands, members of the Swedish royal family, and Pope Pius XII.

By the end of 1949, a half million copies of "The Harry Lime Theme" had been sold, an unprecedented amount for the time.

The success of the score also caused a surge in zither sales.In Austria, the film opened on March 10, 1950 in Vienna's Apollo Kino, and it initially offended some Viennese inhabitants, as it focused on the disgrace of the destroyed city.

Vienna's newspaper critics hated the film, except for its music.

When Karas returned to Austria after his first world tour in July 1950, he was welcomed by chancellor Leopold Figl and other members of the government.

Most importantly, the public liked the film.

In Brigittenau, where Karas was born, people queued for tickets which were sold out eight days in advance.

Karas, however, disliked all of the glamour: "I never was a star, and never felt like one.

It is because of that film that I was pushed from one place to the other..

My only desire was to be back home again." he stated later.

However, he went on tour again in 1951, travelling to Montreal and Las Vegas, followed by a number of other tours, including Japan in 1962, 1969 and 1972, where he performed for emperor Hirohito.In 1954, he opened his own Heuriger which immediately was fashionable under Hollywood celebrities like Orson Welles, Gina Lollobrigida, Curd Jürgens, Hans Moser, Paul Hörbiger, Marika Röck or Johannes Heesters; therefore becoming a tourist attraction.

However, he was still not satisfied, as he would have preferred to perform for locals who would understand him, his language and music.

Because of this he retired and retreated from the limelight in 1966.

Quote: "I'm not a tourist guy, and what I did there hadn't hardly anything to do with 'Vienna Heuriger'".

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