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Title: Contrafactum  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Hotaru no Hikari, Theatrical adaptation, Recontextualisation, Articulation (sociology), Musical setting
Collection: Translation
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


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


  • Categories 1
  • Examples 2
  • Legal issues 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5


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:

  • The words of What Child Is This? were fitted to the tune of the folksong "Greensleeves".
  • The Charles Wesley hymn text Hark! the herald-angels sing was fitted to a tune from Mendelssohn's Gutenberg cantata Festgesang by William Hayman Cummings.
  • The hymn tune "Dix" has been given several sets of words, among them As with Gladness Men of Old and For the Beauty of the Earth.[2]
  • In Japan, the Scots song "Auld Lang Syne" (lit. "Long Time Ago", "Old Times") has a new set of words in the song "Hotaru no hikari" (lit. "The Light of the firefly"), and is used at graduation ceremonies. Another Western song, also reworked with different lyrics around the same period (late 19th century) and used at graduation ceremonies, sometimes confused with "Hotaru", is "Aogeba tōtoshi".

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:

Contrafactum is commonly used in writing national anthems, such as the United States,[3] United Kingdom, and Russia.

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. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ As American as tarte aux pommes! Celebrating the Fourth with some American Music
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