Not to be confused with Contrafact.

In vocal music, contrafactum (pl. contrafacta) is "the substitution of one text for another without substantial change to the music".[1]


While translations meant for singing do not usually constitute intentional "substitution", examples of contrafacta which do constitute 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, as often happens in hymns (typically Protestant ones); sometimes more than one new set of words is created over time. Examples:


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, as practiced in the United States by "Weird Al" Yankovic with popular music; 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 involving political parody).


Other notable songs with significantly different lyrics in different languages include:

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,[3] United Kingdom, Russia and the Netherlands.

Legal issues

While the above examples involve either music that is in the public domain or lyrics that were modified by the original lyricist, one 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 would be based.

See also


  1. Faulk, Robert; Martin Picker. "Contrafactum". Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy. Retrieved 2006-07-25.
  2. "Tunes by name". Cyberhymnal. Retrieved 2008-06-04.
  3. As American as tarte aux pommes! Celebrating the Fourth with some American Music
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