Auld Lang Syne (1)

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X:1 T:Auld lang syne [1] M:C| L:1/8 R:Air B:William Thomson - Orpheus Caledonius (1725, No. 31) Z:AK/Fiddler's Companion K:F c2|f3g (fg)a2|c2A2 G3F|f3g (f/g/a) (gf)| {f}d6c2| f3g (fg) a2|c2A2TG3F|F3g (f/g/a) (gf)|{f}d6|| f2|A2 (GF) F2 (GA)|B3A G2A2|c3d c2 (BA)|f6 c2| A2 (GF) F2 (GA)|B3A G3A|c3 d (cdcA)|c6||



AULD LANG SYNE [1]. Scottish, Air (2/4 time) or Strathsepy. F Major (Neil): G Major (O'Farrell, Sumner). Standard tuning (fiddle). AABB. Robert Burns (1759-1796) had the air to which he wrote his famous lyrics from an old man's singing, and immediately wrote it down upon hearing as he thought it "exceedingly expressive" and which he later remarked "has often thrilled through my soul." The song was sent by him to Johnson for inclusion in the Scots Musical Museum with a note that it was an old song with additions and alterations (Neil, 1991). Fuld (1966) states that the extent of Burns' responsibility for the words and tune has always been controversial, and states that it is "generally agreed that he was not the author of the words of the first verse," which he points out is the only one everyone knows. According to Robert Chambers [Scottish Songs Prior to Burns, 1890], the earliest printing of a song called "Old-Long-Syne" [sic] with the famous opening line is in James Watson's Scots Poems, Part III, p. 71 (Edinburgh, 1711). Chambers wrote that he song appears "as early as the reign of Chas. I, its associations conveyed in a song of many (10) stanzas", finally "brought together (in Watson's book) in a song of many stanzas." In fact, there were ten stanzas given in Scots Poems. These early printings, including Burns' version, were to melodies other than the air famous in modern times (interestingly, Burns wrote another song to the "Auld Lang Syne" melody that is substantially the one we know today, which he called "O Can Ye Labor Lea, Young Man," also known as "I Fee'd a Man at Martinmas," found in the Scots Musical Museum [Edinburgh, 1792-1793]). See abc's below.

Fuld finds identifying motifs for the modern melody for "Auld Lang Syne" in Playford's "The Duke of Buccleugh's Tune" in Appolo's Banquet (1687), and subsequently and more elaborately as "Miller's Wedding (1) (The)" (in Bremner's Scots Reels, c. 1757), "Miller's Daughter (1) (The)," "Lasses of the Ferry," "Sir Alexander Don's Strathspey," "Roger's Farewell," an the "Overture" to William Shield's opera Rosina (London, 1783). A minor-key tune called "Old Lang Syne, by Mr. Beck" is in the Balcarres manuscript (a lute manuscript at Balcarres House in Fife), and shows some similarities to the tune in Volume 4 of the Scots Musical Museum. The Balcarres tune also appears in Playford's A Collection of Original Scots Tunes (1700) and the Sinkler Manuscript (1710). As "Old Long Signe" the melody can be found in the George Bowie violin manuscript of c. 1695, which is not thought to be original with him[1]. According to Fuld the words and the present melody were first printed together in 1799 in George Thompson's A Select Collection of Original Scottish Airs (London), but, Fuld states, "it is not clear whether Thomson or Burns brought the words and melody together," and it is not clear exactly which air Burns heard the aforementioned old man singing. The late Bruce Olson, however, found another version of the song called "Auld Lang Syne" in both editions of Orpheus Caledonius (c. with the tune, and called "The Soldier's Welcome Home" in Walsh's British Musical Miscellany, III, n.d. (1735). The melody appears in one of the earliest Scottish fiddler's MS repertory books, c. 1705, in a private collection of Francis Collinson (1966).

Stewart-Robertson prints a strathspey version of the tune arranged by John MacAlpin of Killin, for dancing. Ludwig van Beethoven arranged a setting of "Auld Lang Syne" early in the 19th century.

As a young man Mark Twain thought to learn music and tried first one instrument, then another, before finally settling down with an accordion. After determining its rudiments, he learned the popular air "Auld Land Syne," and for about a week he continued to torture his unwilling listeners with the melody, when he, being of an ingenious turn of mind, endeavoured to improve upon the original melody by adding some variations of his own device. Just as he finished the tune with a suitable flourish, his landlady stepped into his room and said, "Do you know any other tune but that, Mr. Twain?" He told her meekly he did not. "Well then," said she, "stick to it just as it is; don't put any variations on it; because it is rough enough on the boarders the way it is now." As it happened, half the boarders left anyway, while the other half would have had not the landlady discharged Twain first. The aspiring musician went from house to house, but none would undertake to keep him after one night's music, so, at least, in sheer desperation he went to board with an Italian lady--Mrs. Murphy, by name. He says:

The first time I stuck up the variations, a haggard care-worn, cadaverous old man walked into my room and stood beaming upon me a smile of ineffable happiness. Then he placed his hand upon my head, and looking devoutly aloft, he said with feeling unction: "God bless you, young man! God bless you! for you have done that for me which is beyond all praise. For year I have suffered from an incurable disease, and knowing my doom was sealed, and that I must die, I have striven with all my power to resign myself to my fate, but in vain--the love of life was too strong within me. But heaven bless you, my benefactor! For since I heard you play that tune and those variations, I do not want to live any longer--I am willing to die--in fact, I am anxious to die." And then the old man fell upon my neck and wept a flood of happy tears. I was surprised at these things, but I could not help giving the old gentleman a parting blast, in the way of some peculiarly lacerating variations, as he went out of the door. They doubled him up like a jackknife, and the next time he left his bed of pain and suffering he was all right, in a metallic coffin.

At last Twain gave up the instrument, and from then on gave amateur musicians a wide berth.

The first couple of verses from William Thomson's Orpheus Caledonius (1725) commence:

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
Tho' they return with Scars!
These are the noble Heroe's Lot,
Obtained in glorious wars:
Wellcome, my Varo, to my Breast,
Thy arems about me twine,
And make me once again as blest,
As I was lang syne.

Methinks around us on each Bough,
A thousand Cupids play,
Whilst thro' the Groves I walk with you,
Each Object makes my gay:
Since your Return the Sun and Moon
With brighter Beams do shine,
Streams murmur soft Notes while they run,
As they did lang syne.

Burns' verses (from a letter of 1793 to publisher George Thomson) thankfully do not even chance an adaptation of the former, but are wholly his own and go:

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And days o' lang syne?

Chorus:
For auld lang syne, my Dear,
For auld lang syne,
We'll tak a cup o' kindness yet,
For auld lang syne -----

We twa hae run about the braes,
And pu't the gowans fine;
But we've wander'd mony a weary foot
Sin auld lang syne -----

We twa hae paidlet i' the burn,
Frae mornin' sun till dine:
But seas between us braid hae roar'd,
Sin auld lang syne.----

And there's a hand, my trusty feire,
And gie's a hand o' thine,
And we'll tak a right gude-willie waught,
For auld land 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. ---


Additional notes
Source for notated version : - the 1823-26 music mss of papermaker and musician Joshua Gibbons (1778-1871, of Tealby, near Market Rasen, Lincolnshire Wolds) [Sumner].

Printed sources : - Ashman (The Ironbridge Hornpipe), 1991; No. 72b, p. 30. McGibbon (Scots Tunes, Book 1) c. 1762; p. 14. Neil (The Scots Fiddle), 1991; No. 189, p. 244. O'Farrell (Pocket Companion, vol. III), c. 1808; p. 9 (appears under the title "Why should Old acquaintance be forgot"). Oswald (Caledonian Pocket Companion Book 3), 1760; p. 21. Sumner (Lincolnshire Collections, vol. 1: The Joshua Gibbons Manuscript), 1997; p. 83 (originally set in the key of 'C' major). William Thomson (Orpheus Caledonius, vol. 1), 1725; No. 31.

Recorded sources : - Tannahil Weavers IV (1981).




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  1. It is likely Bowie simply possessed the ms., writing in the front "Geo. Bowie 1705". Many of the tunes in it are either the work of or associated with John McLachlan, a musician active in Edinburgh in the 1690's.