10 January 2009

Danish Humor

posted by Phil Johnson

ou'll get most of the following video just fine, even if you don't know Danish. It's an excerpt from Victor Borge's 80th birthday concert at Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen in 1989. This was one of his most famous concerts, coming near the end of his performing career and about a decade before Borge died.

Here's an excerpt from Borge's obituary mentioning this concert:

Borge became an American citizen in 1948, but thought of himself as Danish. It was obvious from the numerous affectionate tributes and standing ovations at his 80th birthday concert in Copenhagen in 1989 that Danes felt the same way.

In the concert at Copenhagen's Tivoli gardens, Borge played variations on the theme of "Happy Birthday to You" in the styles of Mozart, Brahms, Wagner and Beethoven—all executed with such wit that the orchestra was convulsed with laughter that a woman performing a piccolo solo was unable to draw breath to play.

"Playing music and making jokes are as natural to me as breathing," Borge told Reuters in an interview after that concert.
The "woman performing a piccolo solo" is actually playing a recorder (not a piccolo). She is Michala Petri, famed Danish recorder virtuoso. She makes stunning recordings with her husband, Danish lutenist and guitar player Lars Hannibal. She's been performing to critical acclaim since she was a teenager.

I love the spontaneity of her performance with Borge, and the brave way she perseveres, even when he starts playing in a different key. The video is not subtitled, so I've included below the video a quasi-translation and keyed it to the time code for you:

To the concertmaster:
How does it begin?
0:08: Oh, you have to use the bow?
0:13: Please do that again.
0:17: You are very nervous; your hand is shaking!
0:22: One more time, please. You may shake, that is all right!
0:36: Yes, that was right!

To Michala Petri:
Does this key suit you?
0:48: What a great shame; I cannot stand that key.
2:26: Does this mean I have to play it all again?
3:56: You chose it yourself.
4:06: It sounds great. I am very happy about this. You spoil my birthday completely!
4:26: We try one more time; if it does not work I may take the flute from you.
4:38: Did you never consider playing the cello?
7:42: Is there a doctor here?
8:03: Would you like a glass of water?
8:20: I do that every morning.

Phil's signature


Anonymous said...

My wife and I just thoroughly enjoyed this post. Thank you for a wonderful laugh.



Rachael Starke said...

I remember watching Victor Borge on the Muppet Show when I was a kid, and how he inspired me to not give up piano lessons (for a while, anyway :)). Thanks for the great trip down memory lane...

wordsmith said...

Ja, det var skikkelig morsomt! Takk skal du ha, Phil.

Susan said...

Oh, what a genius Victor Borge was. I remember a commercial advertising his concert videotape. They showed a clip of him playing a few simple notes on the piano that didn't amount to anything familiar. Then, as if realizing something, he turned the score upside down, played those notes "backwards", and voila!...the galloping notes of the William Tell Overture were instantly recognizable, and the audience roared with laughter. Thanks for a good laugh, Phil. I needed it! :D

Ed de Blieck said...

Haven't laughed as much for ages!

DJP said...

Charming, and hysterical, at the same time. Which pretty much describes Borge, come to think of it.

Solameanie said...

My favorite Borge moment is when he takes the seatbelts out of the piano bench. What fun!

Dr. Paul W. Foltz said...

What a fun post. Thanks a lot

JackW said...

After seeing this I called my daughter to watch it as well. She is very good on the recorder and she now has a new fan in Michala Petri. Having accompanied my daughter on some music with classical guitar, I can tell you that their performance was an amazing display of musical mastery.

Thanks for sharing this video!

Daniel said...

Hilarious. I smiled through the whole thing.

Anonymous said...

Victor Borge is such an inspiration to me, hehe...my sister got me the "Victor Borge classic collection" dvd set for Christmas so I'll have so many of those concerts to enjoy for years to come.

Brendt said...

Goofing around while playing brilliantly was Borge's career. For Petri to go along with it shows how good a sport she was.

Andrew said...

I am a dedicated Borge fan, but I had never seen that clip before.

There is another version of the same song...but this time the violin soloist is the one switching keys on Borge. Also very funny.