Anton Karas was on July 7th 1906 in Vienna. He began playing the zither at the age of 12. He studied first under Professor Spiegel, and then Adolf Schneer, one of the most talented zither-players at that time. At the age of 17, Karas began performing at various wine gardens, as well as doing other jobs on the side. He continued like this, as an unknown musician for 28 years.
And then he met Carol Reed. Reed first heard Karas playing at a party in Vienna just before he began filming The Third Man. He had never heard zither and the music immediately had a lasting effect on him. The next day he tried to locate the zither player, but without success – he had been provided at the party along with the food and drink. Reed eventually managed to track down Karas a couple of weeks later. Karas played him a piece he had written (which would become the film’s main theme tune), and Reed immediately knew he needed to have the music in his film, although he didn’t know how. He took a recording of it, and decided to play it with some of the footage they had shot. The effect was stunning, and Reed decided he would have zither music played throughout the film.
Anton Karas’s music accompaniment to The Third Man is one of the most effective a film has ever had. It is truly haunting, but does not distract you from the film. Karas uses a variety of themes, all of which strengthen the mood and atmosphere of the film, and enliven it, so the film always seem frantic and on the edge, never stopping for a moment, but carrying you along with it. The most famous theme is The Harry Lime Theme, which is played every time Harry Lime (played by Orson Welles) appears. It is played loudly but lightly, almost pithily, very much like Harry Lime himself, with his wry humour.
The music to The Third Man became a hit in its own right, selling millions of copies, and reaching number 1 both in England and America. Anton Karas became famous throughout the world, and went on tour, both in Europe and America, playing for famous people, such as the King of England and the Pope. He also composed several other songs, and many other musicians tried to emulate his music.
In 1952, realising he could not stay famous forever, Anton Karas bought his own wine bar in Vienna, appropriately named ‘Zum Dritten Mann’. Here he often performed. He also made special recordings and performances, notably at Carol Reed’s funeral. On January 9th, 1985, he died in Vienna.
His compositions include:
The Third Man Theme
The Second Theme
Café Mozart Waltz
Mein Herz Binkerl-Waltz
Visions of Vienna
Wien, Weib, Wein