Piano Street Magazine

Piano Humour: A Victor Borge Tribute

October 30th, 2010 in Top Video Picks by | 17 comments

“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?”

Victor Borge

Franz Liszt – Hungarian Rhapsody, no. 2

Sheet music to download and print -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”

Sheet music to download and print – Chopin: Waltz opus 64 no 1

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  • Betty Patnude says:

    I like it that it is so easy to post to facebook and share these stories and videos with friends! I have not noticed this feature before since it’s so tiny and at the very bottom. Is this a new feature? Perhaps you might consider making that slighly bigger and more prominent. Just discovered it today. Thank you so much, PianoStreet!

  • Roger Jones, P.Eng, SMIEEE says:


  • Dr. Geneviève Huang says:

    Victor Borge is too adorable! What a ham! A genius of a ham:)

  • Bob Spray says:

    It is always such fun to vieiw these videos again. Years ago I was playing at a lady’s luncheon and the hostess’ daughter produced sheet music of Chop Stix in the mode of Victor Borge. It was a four-hand version. I sight read read it with her and it was most fun….all the crazy antics were written in the music, including changing positions on the bench . I’ve never see that or found an source for it since. If anyone knows how to get a copy of it, I would love to have it. Also,….are there any other “in the mode of Victor Borge” sheet music available?

    Thanks for posting this.

    Bob Spray

  • Graeme Jeal says:

    I saw Victor Borge live on stage many years ago when he came on a visit to England. He was funny then; he still is. Genius!

  • Darlene says:

    Pure joy!

  • Mi-con says:

    Sir Victor is amazing!!!

  • Maria Elizabeth Paes Lasagno says:

    Simply fantastic, they are marvelous!

  • Scot King says:

    Victor Borge is quite funny and I enjoy his videos. I studied the piano with Leonid Hambro at California Institue of the the Arts in the 1980s. He was a good teacher.

  • Michael J Skywolf says:

    These are perhaps the funniest videos i have ever seen. Victor Borge is pure genious.

  • ProfK says:

    I don’t remember a whole lot of other performers I’ve seen over the years but I remember every minute of the Borge performance I saw at Carnegie Hall in the 60s. Yes, on their own the words and actions would be funny, but the humor was enhanced by Borge’s being the one to say and do them. Thanks so much for a trip down memory lane.

  • Rich Landers says:

    I learned to speak English as a toddler by listening to Victor Borge for hours. My mother would put an LP of his album reciting Hans Christian Andersen stories on the phonograph and I can still remember his voice today. What an outstanding performer and musician.

  • Henry Link says:

    As a boy in the 40’s I used to watch his show on TV in Washington D.C. He is truly the master of music and comedy.

  • George says:

    Absolutely great! Thank you for the web site and the video links.

  • Darryl says:

    I was fortunate to see Victor Borge’s “one man show” in NYC when I was 13 or 14 years old….in 1954. He was wonderful, marvelous, exhilarating to watch and listen to. To this day, I well up with joy viewing his perfomances.

  • PREM KISHORE says:

    Enormously gifted, Victor Borge has brought so much joy and laughter into the lives of many people/But he was also a skilled pianist and so intelligent to connect his humor and wit to the music he played. Gratitude for the links

  • Elise McClintick says:

    Mr. Borge’s version of Clair de Lune on You Tube is my favorite performance of this classical piece Not so much of Mr. Borge’s humor in this rendition from the 80’s but he SHINES in performance

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