Germany was a volatile place in 1931 but it did have a long tradition of music appreciation, so it’s not surprising that an eleven-year-old violinist named Helmut Zacharias would find an appreciative audience when he played a Mozart concerto on national radio. But he took it in stride — after all, he’d been performing for several years by then — and he would go on to have a long and celebrated career during which he became known as the Magic Violinist.
The Berlin-born Zacharias was the son of a professional violinist and naturally enough got an early start in the business, first learning to play from his father and then continuing his studies in the Berlin Academy. He was only six when he first began appearing on stage but he continued to study in subsequent years even as his performing career bloomed. By his teens he was touring the country and becoming a much-admired performer, although the clouds of war were gathering. As Zacharias approached adulthood and war began, he managed to stick to music for a while and even made some records, but by the early 1940s he was conscripted into the German army.
In the post-war years Zacharias moved to Switzerland and began to rebuild his career. He’d always been at home with classical music and had also enjoyed playing the kind of jazz inspired by French violinist Stéphane Grappelli, well-known for his long association with the legendary Django Reinhardt. Building on that foundation, Zacharias began to perform and record contemporary pop music and light classics, all in a style perfectly suited to audiences of the era, and he soon became an international star.
His popularity on U.S. record charts peaked in 1956 with “When the White Lilacs Bloom Again” (“Wenn Der Weisse Flieder Wieder Bluht“), but he had many successful records through the years. He was also a talented composer and conductor, and worked with some of the biggest stars around, appearing on stage, on TV, and the occasional movie. He enjoyed a long career that extended into the 1990s, but his final years were marred by Alzheimer’s. He died in 2002 at age 82.