Victor Borge plays it straight

Victor Borge plays it straight

Daily Comfort Zone

norman lebrecht

January 07, 2022

The Danish humorist was a piano student of Victor Schiøler – himself a Schnabel pupil – and of Liszt’s disciple Frederic Lamond.

He always wanted to make a straight classical recording but did not get a chance until quite late in life.

And this is his regular job:


  • A Dolfadam says:

    His name was Borg Rosenbaum, and before he found fame, he accompanied danseuse Nina Rigmor Strom (Stroganova) in concerts in Denmark.

  • Stuard Young says:

    I feel lucky. At a summer concert, mid 1960s, I heard Victor Borge set his brilliant comedy aside for a few minutes, to perform the first movement of Rachmaninoff Concert 1, with Leonid Hambro (Pianist for the NY Philharmonic) on Second Piano. It was fiery and impetuous, and the Music Tent audience was wrapped around in rapt attention.

    • Susan Woodard says:

      I attended that performance, too, it was extraordinary!! Hambro played the second piano part from memory.What a wonderful performance!

  • Hal Sacks says:

    When Borge Rosenbaum first came to America he spoke little English. He recalls being seated at a lunch counter and hearing a waitress shout out..”One Danish go.” So he got up and left.

  • E says:

    Hard to resist laughing at loud
    at some of his lines…often, it’s the timing. This was on the air
    during my childhood in NY…

  • Buckaroo Bigballs says:

    An international treasure!

  • Jeffrey Biegel says:

    Norman, it is so wonderful that you shared these juxtaposing videos. Borge was a genius – and a beautiful pianist. Here’s a story for your readers: in the mid 1980s, I received a phone call from Robert Sherman, then Program Director for WQXR Classical Radio in New York. He said that Victor was looking for a pianist to be his next sidekick, and asked if I would be interested. I said, ‘Sure, why not? Could be fun!’ I connected with his assistant, Jim Colias, and went to his CT home to fetch scores to learn before meeting him to audition. There was Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody no. 2 in c-sharp minor – but in c minor for his comedic version because it was easier to play with all the antics involved. Then, there was the two piano Carmen Suite which Borge arranged. I flew to Florida to meet him on the stage of a Miami venue. We spent three hours together. We did the Liszt, which was not as easy as it looks, and I played Chopin, Tschaikowsky and more for Victor. After returning home, a few weeks went by, and I phoned Bob Sherman. He said that Victor decided not to hire me. I asked why. He said the Borge felt that if he took me on his tours, people would laugh at me being the butt of his antics, and because he felt I was a serious artist, it would be difficult for the public to take me seriously after seeing me in a comedy routine. True story. He was a very dear friend. I remember we were on the same flight and he sat in First Class row 1. When I saw him, he said to me, “I get there before you do!” Ha! I actually debated that theory and said, “Well, Maestro, the back of the plane lands first!” he laughed and said, “You are right!”

    • Anthony Sayer says:

      Great story, Jeffrey, and classy, as all your comments are. Still, you lost me at one point:

      We did the Liszt, which was not as easy as it looks…

      Need I say more?

  • christopher storey says:

    A lovely little piece . In case you could not hear the composer’s name, it is (Waldemar) Fini Henriques

  • Chris says:

    I saw him late in his career perform a concert in Southern California. Many of the famous comedy bits were there, like “Phonetic Punctuation”. But I was not expecting how much of it he played “straight” as in the video here. It alternated between traditional piano recital and comedy routine. It was unforgettable. What a treasure he was.

  • Edward Czarkowski says:

    When I was a student we gave a performance where Borge played the first movement of Rachmaninoff’s first cocerto in the late 60’s.

  • Brendan Carroll says:

    Victor Borge was a big fan of Erich Wolfgang Korngold & a good friend of Korngold’s son Georg. I had the immense pleasure of being taken to lunch as a young man back in 1975, with both of these gentlemen @ the legendary Mirabelle Restaurant (in Curzon St) sadly no more. Unforgettable experience and conversation. Later in a concert I attended in Southport, Mr Borge played a little piece by Korngold especially for me. I do have many lovely letters from him also. He was indeed a treasure and a very fine musician.

  • christopher storey says:

    Having found the score, it is interesting to find that this performance is in fact an improvisation based on the original work . Plus ca change …..

    • James P. Colias says:

      Actually, Mr. Storey, there were three or four different versions of that miniature (work) around Mr. Borge’s
      Music Room, all by Fini H. Borge even used the
      tune on a Christmas card one year!

      James P. Colias
      Personal Manager to Victor Borge, 1976-2000

      • Jeffrey Biegel says:

        Jim, how are you? Think of you and Ron so often.

        • James P. Colias says:

          Jeffrey! How nice to hear from you … and how
          kind of you to mention my connection with Victor
          Borge. Thank you! I’m glad to report that I am
          in robust health … except at the moment, when I
          am recuperating from a mild case of Covid. It’ll
          be over soon. I have been following your career
          with keen interest. Congratulations! Of course,
          nobody’s performing these days, but let’s hope
          it won’t be too long till it’s safe to resume plenti-
          ful music activity! ‘Last I recall you were living
          in the City. If that’s true, please make your way
          to Stamford someday. I would like to introduce
          you to a magnificent Hamburg Steinway Concert
          Grand (played on and recorded on by Gieseking
          Schnabel, Friedman, Godowsky, e.a.) which was
          left to me by my great teacher/mentor Gunnar
          Johansen. Please call me when you have a
          chance: 203.622.8888. All the best, Jim

          P.S. I will relay your greetings to Ron!

          • Jeffrey Biegel says:

            Hi Jim! How kind that you took the time to respond here! Hope you recover soon; and thank you for sharing everything here. Will be in touch! All the best, Jeffrey