In vocal music, contrafactum (or contrafact, pl. contrafacta) is "the substitution of one text for another without substantial change to the music".[1] The earliest known examples of this procedure (sometimes referred to as ''adaptation'') date back to the 9th century used in connection with Gregorian chant.[2]


Translations meant for singing are not usually intentional "substitution". Types of contrafacta that are wholesale substitution of a different text include the following:

Poems set to music

An existing tune already possessing secular or sacred words is given a new poem, which often happens in hymns, and sometimes, more than one new set of words is created over time. Examples include:


A lyricist might re-cast his/her own song (or someone else's song) with new lyrics. Examples include:


Intentional parodies of lyrics, especially for satirical purposes. Examples include;

Writers of contrafacta and parody tried to emulate an earlier song's poetic metre, rhyme scheme, and musical metre. They went further by also establishing a close connection to the model's words and ideas and adapting them to a new purpose, whether humorous or serious.[5]


The Australian music quiz show, Spicks and Specks has a game called Substitute, in which players have to identify a popular-music song from someone singing completely unrelated words, such as from a book about knitting, to the tune of that song.


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Other notable songs with significantly-different lyrics in different languages include the following:

Songs which have been re-written by the same writer with different lyrics include:

Contrafactum has been used in writing several national anthems, such as those of the United States,[8] the United Kingdom, Russia, Estonia and the Netherlands.

Legal issues

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The above examples involve either music that is in the public domain or lyrics that are modified by the original lyricist, but an obvious consideration in producing a contrafactum of someone else's music in modern times is the copyright of the original music or lyrics upon which the contrafactum is based.

See also


  1. ^ Falck, Robert; Picker, Martin (2001). "Contrafactum (from medieval Lat. contrafacere: 'to imitate', 'counterfeit', 'forge')". Grove Music Online (8th ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.article.06361. ISBN 978-1-56159-263-0.
  2. ^ Rootes, Larry (Spring 2001). "Hymnody: A Development of the Middle Ages". Sacred Music. Richmond. 128 (1). ProQuest 1202734.
  3. ^ "Tunes by name". Cyberhymnal. Archived from the original on 2012-03-18. Retrieved 2008-06-04.
  4. ^ Rorke, Margaret Ann (1984). "Sacred Contrafacta of Monteverdi Madrigals and Cardinal Borromeo's Milan". Music & Letters. 65 (2): 168–175. doi:10.1093/ml/65.2.168. JSTOR 736980.
  5. ^ Lohman, Laura (22 November 2020). "'More Truth than Poetry': Parody and Intertextuality in Early American Political Song". MUSICultures. 47: 34–62. ProQuest 2481240065.
  6. ^ Schachter, Michael (2013). "'Autumn Leaves': Intricacies of Style in Keith Jarrett's Approach to the Jazz Standard". Indiana Theory Review. 31 (1–2): 115–167. JSTOR 10.2979/inditheorevi.31.1-2.0115. Project MUSE 669644.
  7. ^ Florimond van Duyse, "Het oude Nederlandsche lied. Tweede deel", Martinus Nijhoff / De Nederlandsche Boekhandel, The Hague/Antwerp, 1905[verification needed]
  8. ^ As American as tarte aux pommes! Celebrating the Fourth with some American Music