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.
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.