Morgan Library & Museum Open Robert Burns and Auld Lang Syne Exhibition

The Morgan Library & Museum presents Robert Burns and “Auld Lang Syne”, open December 9, 2011–February 5, 2012.

Each New Year’s Eve, millions raise their voices in a chorus of “Auld Lang Syne,” standing with friends and looking back with nostalgia on days past.

Robert Burns (1759–1796). “Auld Lang Syne.” (detail) Autograph manuscript written within a letter, dated [September 1793], to George Thomson. MA 47.27.

But how did a traditional Scots folk song—with lyrics that many people scarcely understand—emerge as one of the world’s most enduring popular songs? It was Robert Burns (1759–1796), the great eighteenth-century Scottish poet, who transformed the old verses into the version we know today. Robert Burns and “Auld Lang Syne” at The Morgan Library & Museum untangles the complex origins of the song that has become, over time, a globally shared expression of friendship and longing. On view from December 9, 2011 at noon, through February 5, 2012, the exhibition features rare printed editions, a manuscript of the song in the poet’s
own hand, and selections from the Morgan’s important collection of Burns letters—the largest in the world.

The Scots words for “old,” “long,” and “since” combine to
form a phrase that translates loosely as “time gone by,” “old time’s sake,” or, in some contexts, “once upon a time.” But the old Scots phrase so gracefully evokes a sense of nostalgia that it has been embraced throughout the English-speaking world. Burns, who reworked the song for publication, declared that “a sprinkling of the old Scotish has an inimitable effect.” While the song has become indelibly associated with New Year’s Eve, it remains an anthem of friendship and remembrance.

“There are some works of art that have become so much a part of our collective consciousness that we forget that they did not emerge fully formed,” said Christine Nelson, the Morgan’s Drue Heinz Curator of Literary and Historical Manuscripts and Head of Interpretive Strategy. “‘Auld Lang Syne’ is just such a work. We are pleased to be able to look back at the early history of this familiar song by presenting selections from two of the Morgan’s great collections: the Robert Burns letters and manuscripts purchased by Pierpont Morgan in 1906, and the recently acquired James Fuld Collection of printed music.”

The Morgan Library & Museum 225 Madison Avenue, at 36th Street, New York, NY 10016-3405 212.685.0008

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