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Auld Lang Syne


Auld Lang Syne

The best known Scottish song, sung all around the world at Hogmanay. 

Robert Burns often amended and improved old songs which he collected for publication, and ‘Auld Lang Syne’ is an example of this. Although the song is always credited to Burns, he himself wrote that he had heard the first three verses of the song from an old man.  According to Burns, he immediately wrote it down as he thought it ‘exceedingly expressive’. Burns later remarked that the song ‘has often thrilled through my soul’, however he did feel that it was in need of some enhancement before being brought to a wider audience.

Burns submitted the song to two different collections: ‘The Scots Musical Museum’, published by James Johnson, and ‘Select Scottish Airs’ edited and published by George Thomson.  The version of the song in the Musical Museum is the one which has the ‘original’ tune.  A song with the same tune but with words by Allan Ramsay had appeared in an earlier volume.  Burns believed this melody to be ‘mediocre’, finding that the strength of the lyric outweighed the ordinariness of the tune.

Burns also submitted the song to Thomson, whose stock in trade was settings of the songs by established composers of the day such as Haydn, Pleyel and Beethoven. It was for the Thomson version that Burns substituted ‘my dear’ for ‘my jo’, and it was Thomson who set the lyric to the well-established tune.

Other Burns songs ‘O Can you Labor Lea’ and ‘Coming Thro’ The Rye’ share similar melodies. It has been suggested that they both derive from the same popular strathspey which Thomson decided to use for ‘Auld Lang Syne’. This was variously known as ‘Sir Alexander Don’s Strathspey’, ‘The Miller’s Daughter’ and ‘The Miller’s Wedding’.  It was as ‘The Miller’s Wedding’ that Burns knew this tune.

This may explain the similarities which can be observed in these melodies. ‘The Miller’s Wedding’ is the tune which is usually used today for ‘Auld Lang Syne’, although some modern singers are reviving the use of the older, original tune which Burns disliked.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne.

For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

And surely ye’ll be your pint-stowp!
and surely I’ll be mine!
And we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

We twa hae run about the braes,
and pu’d the gowans fine;
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit,
sin auld lang syne.

We twa hae paidl’d i' the burn,
frae morning sun till dine;
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
sin auld lang syne.

And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere!
and gie's a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll tak a right gude-willy waught,
for auld lang syne.


Listen to Katherine Campbell performing 'Auld Lang Syne' to the well known tune from Traditional Scottish Songs and Music, Gallus Recordings, Tryst performing 'Auld Lang Syne' to the original tune and Jim Malcolm performing 'Auld Lang Syne' to the well known tune with an electronic backing.