Origins of Famous Songs: Auld Lang Syne

About the origin of the famous song Auld Lang Syne, history of the music and words written by Scottish poet Robert Burns.

Stories behind Songs You Grew Up With

AULD LANG SYNE Robert Burns c. 1788

"Auld Lang Syne" has become a well-known and well-loved song in all English-speaking lands. Many people, if asked, would call it a Scottish folk song, and it is true that the melody may originally have been a folk tune. The words, however, were written by Scotland's famous poet, Robert Burns, who lived from 1759 to 1796. He wrote this particular poem about 1788, using in its 5 stanzas a goodly measure of Scottish dialect.

The title words mean, literally, "old long since" or, colloquially, "the good old days." The phrase "auld lang syne" appears at the end of each verse and in 3 of the 4 lines of the chorus, as well as in the title. Other dialect words are sometimes altered in modern versions of the song to make them more easily understood.

It is believed that the words and music 1st appeared together in published form in the Scots Musical Museum in 1796. The melody is also known as "The Miller's Wedding" and it was possibly in this form that Robert Burns 1st heard it. But it is a melody that is sometimes credited to composer William Shield, who used it, or something very similar to it, in his opera Rosina, presented at the London Covent Garden Opera House in 1783. It appeared in the overture to the opera and was played so that it imitated the sound of Scottish bagpipes.

Regardless of origin, the tune with the Burns words quickly became a famous song and before long was popular as the last song to be sung when an evening party broke up. The ritual developed that the group stood up in a circle, each one crossing his arms in front of his chest and clasping his neighbors' hands to left and right. While singing, all arms were swung forward and back in time with the music.

Still often sung at parties, picnics, around campfires, "Auld Lang Syne" is most often sung at New Year's parties when the old year dies at midnight and the new year is ushered in.

England and Scotland both claim the song, and the U.S. has certainly adopted it as its own also.

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