Gaston Borch (1871-1926)

(No portrait yet found.)

Gaston Louis Christopher Borch was born on 8 March 1871 in Guînes, France, to a French woman (Emma Louise Sophie Hennequin) and a Norwegian father (Christopher Wolner Borch). Mlle Hennequin was an excellent pianist and soprano, and reportedly was once engaged to be married to the composer Jules Massenet. It is known that she performed a concert in collaboration with Massenet in 1860, and corresponded with him until her death.

Gaston Borch played the cello, and studied composition with Jules Massenet in France, Bruno Liljefors at the Valands School of Fine Arts in Sweden, and with Svendsen in Copenhagen. From 1893 to 1899 he conducted various orchestras in Norway. In 1898, his opera Silvio was presented at Christiana. At this point, he may have had private lessons with Grieg, who recommended him as "one of the best chefs d'orchestra, and most promising composers of our time." (from Massenet Newsletter, Vol. 1 No. 4).

In an attempt to keep up with Gaston's complicated life, I've entered a bunch of data below in roughly chronological order.

1983-1899 conductor of the Christiana Orchestral Society - Norway and the Musikforeningen - Norway []. This date may be a year too long.

1894-1896 visiting conductor in France, Belgium, Holland and Germany [The art of Music]

1898 Emigrate to US

1899-1900 playing cello and conducting Theodor Thomas' orchestra in Chicago (which was renowned for playing new and challenging music).

On 24 June 1900, a newspaper says that Gaston has been just lately married to Gyda Hennig, who is presented as a Norwegian pianist.

On 1 July 1900 the St Paul Globe announced an upcoming concert on 19 July. Both Gaston Borch and Mrs. Gaston Borch, Rose Alice Gluckauf performed. It's revealed that Rose performed under the stage name Miss Gyda Henning (sic). She had studied piano and voice in Europe. Mr. Borch has made his home in Chicago this winter and has become famous as a conductor and cello soloist. He also conducts the symphony orchestra that is giving weekly concerts at the Auditorium.

On 5 July 1900, he married Rose Alice Gluckauf in St. Paul Minnesota. (Rose's last name gets butchered in various historical documents, as Genuk, Gluckauf, Glickauf, Glickhauf).

There are several concerts through the weekend July 6-8, 1900, as a Scandinavian music festival. Both Mr. and Mrs. Gaston Borch performed. St Paul Globe: "Professor Gaston Borch of Chicago contributed a cello solo in his usual artistic manner."

On 22 April 1901, Borch submitted a patent application for a piano attachment. At that time, he lived in 924 1/2 East Second Street, Duluth, Minnesota. This was announced, as the Sonorite Piano Attachment, d on 13 October 1901 in a St Paul paper.

On 10 October 1901, he performed in Syracuse New York. The paper says he arrived after living in Duluth for two years.

26 March 1902 Gaston and Rose had a son, Frederick Louis Borch. Born in Chicago.

16 May and 18 October 1902 show Gaston Borch as professor of cello at Syracuse University.

From 1903-1906 he played cello in the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra under Victor Herbert (along with another future photoplay music composer, J.S. Zamecnik). The site has him as principal cello.

He then returned to Europe as a conductor in Lausanne, Switzerland; and served as a guest conductor throughout Europe.

On 30 October 1905, the New York Passenger Arrival Lists have Gaston arriving from France, but his name is crossed out, and "Not on board" is written in the margin. He actually returns 24 October 1906.

23 January 1906, "Genoveva," a concert overture by Gaston Borch, was performed by the Pittsburgh Orchestra at a reception of the Art Society in Carnegie Music Hall, Pittsburgh. The composer conducted. [Boston Symphony Orchestra, Volume 37].

1906 Conductor of the Lausanne Symphony Orchestra, Switzerland [The Art of Music biography]

24 October 1906, Gaston returns from Europe to New York, according to Ellis Island records.

1907? Marries Eleanor M.S. Borch.

27 April 1907 Conductor of the Grieg Jubilee Concerts, New York [Chicago Symphony archives]

10 January 1908. Gaston plays at a concert in New York City.

1910 Census. Rose Borch and Frederick Borch are living in Chicago without Gaston, but with Rose's mother and her step-father.

1910 Census. Gaston Borch is in Philadelphia, living with Eleanor M.S. Borch, age 30. They have been married three years, one daughter Emma D. Borch, age 1 year 5 months. A note from grandson Michael Christopher Borch indicates that his father, Ragnvald Christopher Borch, was born in 1910, presumably after the census, and that there were two sisters.

1910 a member of the faculty of the Pennsylvania College of Music, Philadelphia [Baltzell's dictionary of musicians, 1910]

1917 According to Michael Christopher Borch, Eleanor discovered that Gaston had another wife, and throws him out. He goes to Boston.

1920 Census. Rose Borch, daughter, age 40, widowed, and son , age 18, b. IL, parents b. Germany, living in Decatur.

1920 Census. Gaston Borch, age 43, lodging at 261 West Newton Street, Boston; along with Elsie Borch, age 22.

1921. According to Massenet newsletter, GB returns to Sweden (possibly to avoid bigamy charges according to MCB?) where he becomes involved in the film industry. Composes score for film The Saga of Gosta Berling (1924), and conducts it at the Skandia Theater in Stockholm. The score was revived for a screening in 1950, so it may still survive.

22 January 1922, Decatur Review (Illinois) reports Mrs. Rose Borch presenting evidence of bigamy in a divorce case.

1925 "Returned to Sweden where he is said to have made the first orchestral radio broadcast in January, 1925 with the Skandia Cinema Orchestra" []

1926 Feb 14th, Gaston Borch dies in Stockholm Sweden. []

1950 Nov. 2, Elsie Borch renews copyright to "Amour Deçu," acting as widow.

His guide book, Practical Manual of Instrumentation (1918) is an interesting window into the orchestras and orchestration techniques of the era, comparing the instrumentation of American and European theater orchestras, and describing methods of "cross-cueing" pieces so that the same arrangement can be used by groups ranging from piano trios up to large orchestras.

Borch was a prolific composer of photoplay music from about 1916 until his death, and also wrote standard classical works including at least one opera (Silvio, produced in Oslo in 1897 and Christiania in 1898). Some of his photoplay music pieces appear to be adapted from larger works -- perhaps other operas or ballets -- though I have been unable to substantiate this. His style ranges widely, from the achingly beautiful melodies of his Dramatic Tensions and Pathetic Andantes, through the Grieg-like folk qualities of his Mountain Music Suite and "Norwegian Folk Song," and the bizarre orientalism of his Indian and Oriental music, so crucial to our compiled score for the film Destiny. Borch's music can often be distinguished by his use of polyphony and counterpoint, as he is one of the only composers to regularly work fugual and contrapuntal techniques into this genre.

I am not aware of any complete film scores written by Borch, although one internet site mentions him in regard to the Swedish film Gosta Berling's Saga, giving credits as "Original music score arranged by Rudolf Sahlberg and Gaston Borch." This score would be fascinating to discover and perform if it still exists.


Norwegian Folk-song (1916, Schirmer). mp3 file from Mont Alto's score to The Marriage Circle.

Andante Patetico e Doloroso (Schirmer's Photoplay Series Vol 3, 1918). An excerpt, from Mont Alto's score to Fritz Lang's film Destiny.

(MIDI FILE) Andante Patetico e Doloroso (Schirmer's Photoplay Series Vol 3, 1918). The entire piece in its piano-only version, recorded for footage of Valentino's funeral, included as an extra on the Kino Blood and Sand DVD.

Mountain Music III (Mountain Song). From Mont Alto's score to Fritz Lang's film Destiny.

The Mont Alto Ragtime and Tango Orchestra Web Site

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