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", examples of contrafacta that are wholesale substitution of a different text include the following types:

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:


A lyricist might re-cast his/her own song (or someone else's song) with new lyrics, as in the case of Alan Jay Lerner with the number She Wasn't You / He Isn't You from the stage and film versions, respectively, of the musical On a Clear Day You Can See Forever.


Intentional parodies (as opposed to mere translations) of lyrics, especially for satirical purposes, are practiced in the United States by "Weird Al" Yankovic with popular music; the humorist Tom Lehrer with his song "The Elements", which uses a tune from The Pirates of Penzance; Forbidden Broadway with musicals; the Capitol Steps; and Mark Russell (the last two involve political parody). Writers of Contrafacta and parody tried to emulate an earlier song's poetic metre, rhyme scheme, 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]


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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] United Kingdom, Russia and the Netherlands.

Legal issues

This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (June 2008)

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. ^ Faulk, Robert; Martin Picker. "Contrafactum". Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy. Retrieved 2006-07-25.
  2. ^ "Hymnody: A Development of the Middle Ages - ProQuest". Retrieved 2022-09-11.
  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. ISSN 0027-4224.
  5. ^ ""More Truth than Poetry": Parody and - ProQuest". Retrieved 2022-09-12.
  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. ISSN 0271-8022.
  7. ^ Florimond van Duyse, "Het oude Nederlandsche lied. Tweede deel", Martinus Nijhoff / De Nederlandsche Boekhandel, The Hague/Antwerp, 1905
  8. ^ As American as tarte aux pommes! Celebrating the Fourth with some American Music