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In vocal music, contrafactum (pl. contrafacta) refers to "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:

  • 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:
  • 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, Forbidden Broadway with musicals, the Capitol Steps, and Mark Russell (the last two involving political parody).

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.


  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.  


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