IT is a song synonymous with Robert Burns but Scotland’s National Bard never heard Auld Lang Syne the way it is sung today, it has been revealed.

Although he wrote the words, the tune now known all over the world was added three years after Burns’ death by his second song editor, George Thomson, according to academics at the University of Glasgow’s Centre for Robert Burns Studies.

The relationship between the two is revealed in detail for the first time in the fourth volume of The Oxford Edition of the Works of Robert Burns due to be published next month.

“Burns’ relationship with his second song editor, Thomson, was a stormy one, and Thomson is seen as a ‘bad boy’ in the Burns story,” said Kirsteen McCue, the Centre’ co-director and professor of Scottish literature and song culture.

“Thomson is accused of changing Burns’ texts and choosing different tunes for Burns’ songs following the poet’s death in 1796 and of making lots of money from the proceeds, after having failed to pay Burns for all his work. Burns, in fact, often mixed and matched songs and tunes himself and he forcefully refused to accept payment from Thomson. But the battle against Thomson has raged to this day.”

Professor McCue said Thomson was inspired by Burns’ discussion of the song to seek a new tune.

“The one he chose has ended up being the one we all now sing as the global song of parting and which we’ll all be singing across Burns’ birthday again in 2021,” she said.

The Burns expert added that the Bard would probably have approved as it was similar to a tune for another of his songs, O can ye labour lea.

“It’s strange then to think that Burns knew the tune but that he never heard it with his text for Auld Lang Syne, which was published in The Scots Musical Museum when Burns was still alive, with a more reflective tune that has become much more popular in recent years,” said professor McCue.

For the first time since their original publications, the book presents the songs Burns produced for Thomson as they were seen by Thomson’s readership in the 18th century. The new volume also has detailed notes and commentary so the creative collaboration can be viewed in all its detail. The letters between the poet and Thomson reveal what Burns thought of specific songs and tunes and even show how he wrote a song.