“And now, in honour of the 150th anniversary of Beethoven’s death, I would like to play “Clear the Saloon”, er, “Clair de Lune”, by Debussy. I don’t play Beethoven so well, but I play Debussy very badly, and Beethoven would have liked that.”
“I’m going to play it with both hands so that way I will get through with it a little faster.”
“I only know two pieces, one is ‘Clair de Lune’, the other one isn’t.”
“It’s Fliszt, not F. Liszt. You don’t say M. Ozart?”
Franz Liszt – Hungarian Rhapsody, no. 2
Danish humourist and musician Victor Borge gave his first piano recital when he was 8 years old and in 1918 was awarded a full scholarship at the Royal Danish Academy of Music, studying under Olivo Krause. Later on, he was taught by Victor Schiøler, Liszt’s student Frederic Lamond and Busoni’s pupil Egon Petri.
When the Nazis occupied Denmark during World War II, Borge was playing a concert in Sweden and managed to escape to Finland. He traveled to America on the USS American Legion, the last passenger ship that made it out of Europe prior to the war, and arrived August 28, 1940 with only 20 dollars, three of which went to the customs fee. Disguised as a sailor, Borge returned to Denmark once during the occupation to visit his dying mother.
Even though Borge didn’t speak a word of English upon arrival, he quickly managed to adapt his jokes to the American audience, learning English by watching movies. He took the name of Victor Borge, and, in 1941, he started on Rudy Vallee’s radio show, but was hired soon after by Bing Crosby for his Kraft Music Hall.
From then on, it went quickly for Borge, who won Best New Radio Performer of the Year in 1942. Soon after the award, he was offered film roles with stars such as Frank Sinatra (in Higher and Higher). While hosting The Victor Borge Show on NBC from 1946, he “developed many of his trademarks, including repeatedly announcing his intent to play a piece but getting “distracted” by something or other, making comments about the audience, or discussing the usefulness of Chopin’s Minute Waltz as an eggtimer. Or he would start out with some well-known classical piece like Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” Op. 27 and suddenly drift into a harmonically suitable pop or jazz tune like “Night and Day” (Cole Porter).”
Borge helped start several trust funds, including the Thanks to Scandinavia Fund, which was started in dedication to those who helped the Jews escape the German persecution during the war. Borge received Kennedy Center Honors in 1999.
Aside from his musical work, Borge wrote two books, My Favorite Intermissions and My Favorite Comedies in Music (with Robert Sherman), and the autobiography Smilet er den korteste afstand (”The Smile is the Shortest Distance”) with Niels-Jørgen Kaiser. Victor Borge continued to tour until his last days, performing up to 60 times per year when he was 90 years old.
Victor Borge Hall, located in Scandinavia House in New York City, was named in Borge’s honor in 2000, as was Victor Borges Plads (”Victor Borge Square”) in Copenhagen in 2002.
Victor Borge and Anton Kontra – Monti: Czardas
Victor Borge and Leonid Hambro – Chopin: “Minute Waltz”