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Thursday, December 31, 1998 Published at 13:55 GMT


Have auld connections been forgot?

As you raise your glasses and throw back your head to sing your own rendition of Auld Lang Syne this New Year's Eve, you probably won't be sparing a thought to where the first rendition came from.

But the origins of Auld Lang Syne, the song now famously sung at all the best drunken hogmanay parties in Scotland, are being challenged.

Auld Lang Syne or Tyne? BBC News 24's Chris Stewart investigates
Ask practically anyone in Scotland and they are sure to say that their own Robert Burns penned the classic song in 1788.

In fact, for centuries the Scots have complained that the English stole the song to celebrate the New Year.

However fresh research has shown that the melody which stays ringing in our ears every New Year's Day was actually stolen from the English.

Waxing lyrical

Although he may have added some words of his own, according to Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Burns himself admitted that he had taken the lyrics from an old man he heard singing.

But it is now thought that the tune to match the words was part of the overture for Rosina, an obscure operetta written in 1783 by Englishman William Shield, who was born in Swalwell, Gateshead in 1748.

The discovery has created a hum of excitement in Gateshead. The local council is planning a campaign to have Auld Lang Syne renamed Auld Lang Tyne before the new millennium.

English tones

Although one or two historians have suggested that Shield may have had something to do with the tune, the local council had been unable to find any hard evidence.

[ image: Burns admitted that he had taken the words down from a man singing]
Burns admitted that he had taken the words down from a man singing
That was until John Treherne, Gateshead's director of music for schools found the original score to Rosina in the backroom of the local library.

"The music is unusual as it includes the singing parts and the clarinet parts which is quite unusual for this time, Mr Treherne said.

"We suddenly realise that the final section of the overture is a faster bit of, virtually note for note, the tune we know as Auld Lang Syne, with one or two very minor changes."

Mr Treherne said that copyright laws did not exist in the 18th century so writers often subconsciously filled in their own pieces with parts borrowed from others.

Burns backed

The news has not been welcomed by Burns aficionados.

Dorothy Mackay from the Burns National Heritage Park said: "I certainly feel that the Scottish people will always hold dear to their heart the fact that Robert Burns has written Auld Lang Syne.

"They are going to need a lot of persuasion from whomever to change their minds."

William Shield was one of the most popular musicians of his day. How he came to collaborate with Burns is not known. But it is known that Burns' work Coming Through The Rye also features Shield's music.

The only memorial to William Shields in Gateshead lies at his old church. He died at the age of 80 on 25 January 1829 which, uncannily, is Burns night.

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