This Week in Piano History: The Pianist Who Could Crack a Joke

Victor Borge

THIS WEEK IN PIANO HISTORY, we remember the debut of The Victor Borge Show on NBC-TV on February 3, 1951. Borge’s brilliant comedic routines brought humor to the classical music concert hall in ways previously not experienced.

Born in Copenhagen, Borge’s musical studies with his parents, who were both musicians. His father supervised his early musical training, but he later was accepted on full scholarship into the Danish Royal Academy of Music at age of nine. Borge additionally studied with Frederic Lamond, a former student of Liszt, and Egon Petri. In the initial part of his career, Borge satirized many different elements of his life, including some beyond music.1 He was a noted critic of Adolf Hitler. Born to an Ashkenazi Jewish family, Borge was forced to flee Europe for the United States in 1940.

Upon arriving in the United States, he was able to quickly find work by appearing on Bing Crosby’s radio show in NYC called Kraft Music Hall.2 The success of this program later resulted in Borge’s own radio show. In 1951, The Victor Borge Show officially debuted on NBC-TV. His clever routines, largely making fun of his own abilities and other quirks of the classical music field, were quite popular; however, the show was taken off the air after just a few months.

In describing his work with Borge, director Perry Lafferty stated, “He was probably as talented a person as I worked with in my life… Nobody stopped to think it through at the time, but he’s so special with what he does on the piano with music, that it’s not something you sit down with writers… Nobody might have thought that—including me—that television would burn his act up. Now, you had to think, ‘What do you do with him? He doesn’t do acting, he just plays the piano.’ It was the hardest thing in my career… Victor Borge fought everything we wanted to do.”3 

After The Victor Borge Show was taken off air, Borge continued to perform and conduct around the globe. He performed his Comedy in Music show on Broadway, giving nearly 850 performances.4 In addition to worldwide fame, Borge received a number of honors and awards in recognition for his outstanding contributions to the classical music field. In 1997 he was given an honorary degree from Trinity College Connecticut. In addition. he was one of the honorees at the 1999 Kennedy Center Honors. He also received the Order of the Dannebrog from Denmark. He continued performing up until his death in 2000, a week shy of his 92nd birthday.

A skit based on Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2.
A video featuring a portion of the original The Victor Borge Show broadcasts from 1951.
  1. Karen Monson, “Borge, Victor,” Grove Music Online. 2001; Accessed 20 Jan. 2023,
  2. Ibid.
  3. Wesley Hyatt, Short-Lived Television Series, 1948-1978: Thirty Years of More Than 1,000 Flops (First edition. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2003), 26.
  4. Karen Monson, “Borge, Victor,” Grove Music Online. 2001; Accessed 20 Jan. 2023,

Hyatt, Wesley. Short-Lived Television Series, 1948-1978: Thirty Years of More Than 1,000 Flops. First edition. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2003.

Monson, Karen. “Borge, Victor.” Grove Music Online. 2001; Accessed 20 Jan. 2023.

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