Contrafactum

Contrafactum

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In vocal music
Vocal music
Vocal music is a genre of music performed by one or more singers, with or without instrumental accompaniment, in which singing provides the main focus of the piece. Music which employs singing but does not feature it prominently is generally considered instrumental music Vocal music is a genre of...

, contrafactum (pl. contrafacta) refers to "the substitution of one text for another without substantial change to the music".

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:
    • The folksong "Greensleeves
      Greensleeves
      "Greensleeves" is a traditional English folk song and tune, a ground of the form called a romanesca.A broadside ballad by this name was registered at the London Stationer's Company in September 1580 as "A New Northern Dittye of the Lady Greene Sleeves". It then appears in the surviving A Handful of...

      " was adapted into the words of What Child Is This?
      What Child Is This?
      "What Child Is This?" is a popular Christmas carol written in 1865. At the age of twenty-nine, English writer William Chatterton Dix was struck with a sudden near-fatal illness and confined to bedrest for several months, during which he went into a deep depression...

      .
    • The hymn tune
      Hymn tune
      A hymn tune is the melody of a musical composition to which a hymn text is sung. Musically speaking, a hymn is generally understood to have four-part harmony, a fast harmonic rhythm , and no refrain or chorus....

       "Dix" has been given several sets of words, among them As with Gladness Men of Old and For the Beauty of the Earth.
    • 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
      Alan Jay Lerner
      Alan Jay Lerner was an American lyricist and librettist. In collaboration with Frederick Loewe, he created some of the world's most popular and enduring works of musical theatre for both the stage and on film...

       with the number She Wasn't You / He Isn'tYou from the stage and film versions, respectively, of the musical
      Musical theatre
      Musical theatre is a form of theatre combining songs, spoken dialogue, acting, and dance. The emotional content of the piece – humor, pathos, love, anger – as well as the story itself, is communicated through the words, music, movement and technical aspects of the entertainment as an...

       On a Clear Day You Can See Forever
      On a Clear Day You Can See Forever
      On a Clear Day You Can See Forever is a musical with music by Burton Lane and a book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner based loosely on Berkeley Square, written in 1929 by John L. Balderston. It concerns a woman who has ESP and has been reincarnated...

      .

  • Intentional parodies (as opposed to mere translations) of lyrics, especially for satirical purposes, as practiced in the United States
    United States
    The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

     by "Weird Al" Yankovic
    "Weird Al" Yankovic
    Alfred Matthew "Weird Al" Yankovic is an American singer-songwriter, music producer, accordionist, actor, comedian, writer, satirist, and parodist. Yankovic is known for his humorous songs that make light of popular culture and that often parody specific songs by contemporary musical acts...

     with popular music, humorist Tom Lehrer
    Tom Lehrer
    Thomas Andrew "Tom" Lehrer is an American singer-songwriter, satirist, pianist, mathematician and polymath. He has lectured on mathematics and musical theater...

     with his song "The Elements", which uses a tune from The Pirates of Penzance
    The Pirates of Penzance
    The Pirates of Penzance; or, The Slave of Duty is a comic opera in two acts, with music by Arthur Sullivan and libretto by W. S. Gilbert. The opera's official premiere was at the Fifth Avenue Theatre in New York City on 31 December 1879, where the show was well received by both audiences...

    , Forbidden Broadway
    Forbidden Broadway
    Forbidden Broadway is an Off-Broadway satirical revue conceived, written and directed by Gerard Alessandrini. The original version of the revue opened on January 15, 1982 at Palsson's Supper Club in New York City and ran for 2,332 performances. Alessandrini has rewritten the show over a dozen...

     with musicals
    Musical theatre
    Musical theatre is a form of theatre combining songs, spoken dialogue, acting, and dance. The emotional content of the piece – humor, pathos, love, anger – as well as the story itself, is communicated through the words, music, movement and technical aspects of the entertainment as an...

    , the Capitol Steps
    Capitol Steps
    The Capitol Steps are an American political satire group. It has been performing since 1981, and has released approximately thirty albums consisting primarily of song parodies. Originally consisting exclusively of Congressional staffers performing around Washington, D.C., the troupe now primarily...

    , and Mark Russell
    Mark Russell
    Mark Russell is an American political satirist/comedian. He also sings and plays the piano.-Biography:...

    (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.