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The Name of Victor Borge, Essay Example

Pages: 2

Words: 677

Essay

The name of Victor Borge has been synonymous with humor for decades. Other celebrated pianists of the 20th century also carved out unique places for themselves in popular culture. Van Cliburn, for example, represented the epitome of the young, dashing, serious classical musician, long hair and all. Conversely, the classically trained Liberace became an icon of flamboyant costume and extravagant lifestyle, and people attended his concerts to see what he was wearing, if also to hear excellent playing.  Only Borge, however, combined a kind of folk-humor charm with the world of classical piano.  Throughout a lengthy career, he somehow managed a virtually impossible feat: he made great piano music accessible to ordinary listeners through a sense of fun, while never lowering the standards of his musicianship.  If audiences laughed during his concerts, critics were nonetheless unable to accuse him of demeaning the music.

Consequently, the majority of Borge’s recordings and videos present him at his most whimsical.  He usually indulges in unexpected pieces of physical humor, while offering deadpan comments to the audience that accentuate the contrast between fun and the accepted ideas of how classical music should be presented.  In his guest appearance at the 1989 Wolf Trap concert, these elements of Borge are revealed in a very modest way. From the moment he begins to play and throughout his rendition of Debussy’s “Clair de Lune,” the keynotes are dignity and seriousness.  It is only in a brief moment before the playing that his devilish sense of humor is expressed.  He is introduced to great applause, and he strides across the stage below a gallery of massive images of himself.  He takes his seat and immediately extracts a handkerchief, with which he “dusts” the keys.   They are struck in the process, prompting Borge to turn to the audience and utter, “That’s not it,” as if referring to the opening note he requires.  That single act is his only lapse into comedy, and he then devotes himself to executing the piece with sensitivity and brilliance.  Moreover, Borge does not even attempt a joke when he takes his bow, turns to acknowledge the orchestra, and gracefully exits the stage.  That early comedy, then, reveals Borge’s genius for appealing to an audience.  It seems likely that he understands some fun is expected of him, even at this prestigious affair.  At the same time, there is the sense that the fun itself is not forced, but merely a part of his character.  Consequently, he confines himself to the brief, physical humor, and what is important is that, as always, he respects the music.  The fun he makes is of himself, not his art, as he appears to be an eccentric who cannot play on “dusty” keys.  There is also the significant element of a born showman present.  Simply, Borge comprehends that some transition is required to lighten the mood before great music is played, for he wants his audience to fully relax into the experience. The concert is serious, but Borge has enough respect for his audience and his art to know that a light tough eases the atmosphere.

The playing itself is, as noted, masterful.  Borge handles the keys in a way that reveals an intimate understanding of music, and of obeying the Debussy rhythms not necessarily heard.  He never “overdoes” the effect.  He never throws back his head dramatically or scowls.  The total effect, in fact, is that of a pianist enjoying the music as much as the listener.  Then, he enjoys as well the advantage of his physicality.  Distinguished, he also appears almost like a kindly grandfather figure, and he even looks to the keyboard in a way reminiscent of such a figure watching children playing.  His manner is completely accessible, even as his playing is technically superb and infused with feeling.  As the Debussy work is so familiar to concert audiences, this itself adds to the persona and abilities of Borge, who manages to make the music sound fresh.

Works Cited

“Victor Borge: Clair de Lune., Wolf Trap. 1989.” YouTube, 2011. Web. 9 Oct. 2012. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_evCoEVaTQE&feature=related

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