The History of “Auld Lang Syne”The popular New Years Eve anthem “Auld Lang Syne” is known around the world for its lyrics and melodies. Attributed to the famous Scottish poet and songwriter, Robert Burns, its origins date back to 1788.
Robert Burns was born in January of 1759, and is regarded as “The Bard” of Scotland, penning hundreds of poems in the Scots and English language. Even today he remains one of the most prominent and popular figures in Scottish history.
The poem, “Auld Lang Syne” was not entirely an original work by Burns. Like many of the folk stories and songs, they were passed down generation-to-generation. Each retelling may have slight variations and evolve over time. Burns recorded the oral tradition of this old folk song by an old man he met and put the lyrics of “Auld Lang Syne” to paper. By doing so, Burns helped to preserve a piece of Scottish history and sharing it with the world.
This folk song was rather well known, as evidenced by the similarities to other poets in the 17th and 18th centuries such as Robert Ayton, Allan Ramsay, and James Watson. Each of these poets had slightly different interpretations of the phrase “Auld Lang Syne” in their work, but the similarities show a common folk origin.
Burns originally sent “Auld Lang Syne” along with a collection of his works to James Johnson to be included in the Standard Collection of Scottish Songs as part of the “Scots Musical Museum”. The piece was to be included in a volume of published work that was completed in 1796, several months after Burns’ death.
“Auld Lang Syne” is set to the tune of a traditional Scottish folk song. This song was most likely a dance piece and set to a faster tempo, but modified after put to its new lyrics. Unlike many poets, Burns had a hand in choosing the tune that accompanied the song and paid particular attention to how the melody flowed with the lyrics.
Most know for being sung at the stroke of midnight on New Years Eve, “Auld Lang Syne” is often sung at funerals, graduations, and farewells. Although the original song has five versus, many times only the first verse and chorus is sung. The title is translated from the Scots language of as “old long since”, or more understandable to English speakers, “long, long ago”.
The Scots would sing “Auld Lang Syne” on Hogmanay, their translation for the last day of the year. The tradition and song quickly spread to the rest of the United Kingdom becoming a favorite custom at New Years Eve celebrations. As the Scots and Brits immigrated to other parts of the world, they brought the song with them spreading its popularity.
Guy Lombardo is credited with making the song popular on New Year’s Eve in the United States by broadcasting it on his widely popular radio and television shows from the late 1920’s through the 1940’s. Lombardo sang one of the first recordings available to the public in 1939.
The lyrics are a lasting reminder to people that the old times should not be forgotten and life-long friendships should be cherished. “Auld Lang Syne” has been translated in languages around the world and remains one of the most known songs of all time.
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