Thursday, 31 January 2013

Ludwig Koch and a 'Red' Bullfinch

Now for something a little different……………………..

31st Jan.  Well it’s the last day of January and as yet I have not seen a Bullfinch this year despite scouting out the usual territories on patch.  Having had this failure in mind got me thinking that maybe next month is the best time to actually hear the rather quiet song of the Bullfinch which can be so easily drowned out when other birds start to sing.  Despite the rather quiet song, the Bullfinch is renowned for its abilities to learn new songs.  I seem to remember previously commenting on the blog about the large trade (in past times) in Bullfinches for this very reason.

For some reason I became involved in an email discussion about Bullfinches (as you do) with my friend Hilary this week.  Her comments concerning Bullfinches, Ludwig Koch (of whom I regret to say I knew few facts) and a group called Man Jumping (of which I admit I knew no facts) had me doing a little research.  I’d missed the talk on Bitterns at the NHSN on Friday as it was such a lousy evening weather-wise so I replaced that event with my research and found on the internet a radio programme involving and about Ludwig Koch

I won’t go into too many details about Ludwig Koch as if you’re interested (and I am sure you will be) you can listen to the radio programme.  I will cover a few points.  Koch was Jewish and worked in Germany prior to World War 2.  It’s believed he was the first person to record birdsong.  The recording was made of an Indian (Common) Sharma in 1889.  The recording was made by Koch when he was eight years of age and can be heard on the programme.

In 1936 Koch went to Switzerland using a return ticket given by Hermann Goring.  It’s said that Goring was fond of birds and other animals.  Well I suppose no one is all bad!  I can remember having heard that Hitler liked children, although in his particular case I suspect it depended very much on what race they belonged to!  Koch never used the return part of the ticket and came to Britain where he eventually became responsible for setting up the BBC Library of Natural History Sounds.  It’s said that in his day he was as well known as David Attenborough is today.

Where do the ‘Red’ Bullfinch and the group Man Jumping come into this I hear you ask?  Well, Man Jumping appear to have used some direct lines taken from a tale told by Koch and used them on an album by the name of ‘On the Rocks’.  I assume the lyrics are lifted from Koch’s tale as at least some appear in the radio programme and Koch is co-credited with them on the album.  So the following lyrics show how the Bullfinch, Man Jumping and Koch are linked………………..

Bullfinches - were very gifted mimics of all kinds of tunes. In France, we had one singing the French National Anthem,  La Marseillaise, very distinctly. There was a bullfinch in Berlin, I never forget it, singing the Communist Song, The Red Flag and when Hitler came to power in 1933, someone denounced the owner of the bird. He was arrested and was released only after the poor bullfinch had been killed. You see, even mimicking birds have to to suffer under dictatorship

The lyrics then go on to mention a meeting between Koch and Bismarck………………

So I remember that I even approached the well known Bismarck, a very tall man, a very big man, with a voice like falsetto, I never forget it......

Koch had met Bismarck and recorded his voice.  In the radio programme he explains that this recording had been lost.  (Hard for me to imagine Bismarck with a falsetto voice).

Koch was a musician and singer and I believe a professional singing career was abandoned because of health problems.

My friend Hilary has thought about the Man Jumping lyrics since our initial email discussion and she made the following comment, which I’m sure she won’t mind me pinching.  So I guess what links the themes is sound - bullfinches mimicking, Bismarck's falsetto voice, Koch's violin playing,  the mermaid's song and that explains why a band interested in sound (in a more technical way than your average band) would be interested in Koch. So it all fits once you tune into it as it were.’

So I missed the Bittern talk, but have learnt a lot this week.  Talks and presentations have to be good to attract me if I’m honest and I often say that I’m better off staying at home and reading a good book.  That is certainly true in respect of some talks I’ve been to, although I was sorry to have missed this particular one.

Ludwig Koch 1881-1974.


  1. Very interesting, cheers for the link. It's a shame that Koch isn't more well heard of.

  2. The album isn't called 'On the Rocks', that is the name of the track featuring Koch's voice. The album is called 'World Service'.