Virtuoso Victor Borge, the Irrepressible “Clown Prince of Denmark”

VB_Medals

Børge Rosenbaum was born into a musical family in Copenhagen in January of 1909.  A child prodigy, Rosenbaum took his first piano lesson at the age of two, gave his first recital at the age of eight, and embarked upon a brilliant concert career at the age of 17.

In 1933, Rosenbaum began injecting humorous interludes into his concerts, producing a blend of comedy and musical excellence which to this day no one (with the possible exception of Danny Kaye) has been able to match.  Rosenbaum carried his wildly popular act across western Europe in the late 1930s, incorporating anti-Nazi jokes into his topical comedy routines.

Through amazing good fortune, Rosenbaum happened to be on tour in Sweden when Nazi Germany invaded his homeland.  Rosenbaum escaped into Finland and fled Europe on the last available westbound ship out of Petsamo, Finland.  He arrived in the United States in August of 1940 carrying only $20. and knowing almost no English.

Soon after reaching the U.S., Rosenbaum was turned down for a job as a gas station attendant because of the poor quality of his English.  Within a few months, though – having learned English by watching movies – he was performing on the radio as “Victor Borge” and adapting his comedy routines for English-speaking audiences.  In 1942, Borge was named the Best New Radio Performer of the Year.  By 1946, he was the star of his own weekly radio show, in which he honed the musical comedy skits that were to delight audiences for the rest of his life.

In the 1950s, Borge enjoyed a smashing stage success in the longest running one-man show in the history of Broadway.  He appeared in films, thrilled audiences as the vamping guest conductor for symphony orchestras, and was completely at home playing for children on Sesame Street, The Electric Company, and The Muppet Show.

VB_with_a_Muppet

Victor Borge performed on stage until the week before his death at the age of 91 in December of 2000.  His unique blend of warmth, deadpan humor, impeccable comic timing, and piano virtuosity produced gales of laughter and made him a beloved and respected figure around the world.

Much of Victor Borge’s repertoire is now available on YouTube.  Here are some his most famous vignettes:

William Tell Upside-down

This short skit is a typical Borge blend of music and comedy.  (Rossini would flip!)

 

“The History of the Piano”

I vouchsafe that it is impossible to watch this Borgeian history lesson without bursting into laughter.

 

“The Page Turner”

 

“Hands Off”

 

“Dance of the Comedians”

Here Borge makes life difficult for symphony musicians.

 

“Phonetic Punctuation”

One of Borge’s most famous skits!

 

“Inflationary Language”

Borge “inflates” a text by raising the value of every appearance of a number, whether intentional or accidental.  As Wikipedia describes it:

‘”Once upon a time” becomes “twice upon a time,” “wonderful” becomes “twoderful,” “forehead” becomes “fivehead,” “tennis” becomes “elevennis,” [and] “I ate a tenderloin with my fork and so on and so forth” becomes “‘I nine an elevenderloin with my five’k’ and so on and so fifth.””

I feel very fivetunate to be able to see this on YouThreebe.  (Pun inelevended.)

 

 Quote for Today

“Laughter is the closest distance between two people.” – Victor Borge

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2 thoughts on “Virtuoso Victor Borge, the Irrepressible “Clown Prince of Denmark”

  1. Thanks for this, Cynthia. When the TV landscape was full of variety shows in the 50’s through early 70’s, we were privileged to be able to see many of his performances. As a pianist myself, I appreciated both his music and his humor.

    Liked by 1 person

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