Galician-Portuguese contrafacta: Occitan and French models

1. Abstract

The relations between Galician-Portuguese lyric and Provençal or French lyric have long been pointed out. In these relations, the Galician-Portuguese compositions whose models, not only literary but also musical, seem to have been extra-peninsular compositions are particularly prominent. Using previous (and often well-known) French or Provencal melodies, these Galician-Portuguese compositions can be called contrafacta (or «cantigas de seguir», in Iberian terminology). Therefore, whenever original musical documentation subsists, the detection of these contrafacta may represent an important advance in the recovery of the «som» (sound) of medieval Iberian lyric (of which only thirteen original melodies survived).

During the extensive scientific work that led to the Galician-Portuguese Medieval Songs database (, this issue was marginally noted down. The present database, resulting from the project «Models and variations: the medieval Iberian lyric in the troubadour Europe», supported by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, aims to systematize all these cases of contrafacta, using either the data that have been collected by previous researchers, or the new data collected by the team of this project.


2. Team

Scientific team

Graça Videira Lopes
Manuel Pedro Ferreira


Mariana Lima

Technical team

Pedro Diniz de Sousa (IT supervisor, database, web programming)


3. Criteria

The purpose of this database is to make available to the general public, and also to researchers, in a rigorous but also accessible way, all the cases so far detected of Galician-Portuguese contrafacta that would have used Provencal or French melodies. Our criteria were as follows:

3.1. Texts included in this database

While the practice of contrafactum was also common within the Galician-Portuguese lyric itself (that is, the authors also «followed» similar models and melodies of other Galician-Portuguese authors), in its current state, this database contemplates only the extra-peninsular models, since they are the only ones that allow a possible recovery of the melodies (in many cases conserved, unlike the Galician-Portuguese melodies).

3.2. The definition of contrafacta

The criteria for the definition of a possible contrafactum have been discussed within the scientific community dedicated to this subject. The first requirement is simple: a text that «follows» an earlier melody must be sung (must «fit») in that melody. The subsequent detection of these contrafacta is not so simple. In general terms, the total or partial coincidence in two songs of the respective syllabic, rhymatic or even, in some cases, of the vowel terminations of the verses, are elements that indicate, with some certainty, the existence of a contrafactum .

In the general note accompaning each song, these general criteria are specified for that exact song.

3.3. Criteria for fixing and editing texts

The Galician-Portuguese texts included in this database are those of its electronic edition (in the Galician-Portuguese Medieval Songs database, whose criteria can be found here Pedro, link).

The Occitan and French texts are presented in our own edition, but taking as reference the previous editions that we considered most reliable (always indicated at the end of the General Note of each song).

Therefore, following previous critical editions and not the direct consultation of the manuscripts (which was only done in a few and more problematic cases), this edition of the Occitan and French texts summed up, almost always, to standardize the orthographic criteria (very different in the various editors followed).

For this standardization we were guided mainly by readability criteria. Thus, within the context of the non-alteration of what we may suppose to be the sonority of medieval Occitan and French languages, we have adopted, with one exception, the contemporary orthographic norms of Provençal and French. This exception concerns the accentuation rules of Provençal, since we have chosen to use (again, for the sake of readability), the acute accent to indicate the open vowel and the grave accent to indicate the close vowel, as in the modern French standard.

Moreover, it should be added, more generally, that given the characteristics of this electronic edition, minor corrections or even revisions and modifications of either the readings or interpretations proposed for the songs or all other data included in this database, will always be possible at any time. Except for correction of small errors, any changes or new data will always be properly marked (in the section "Recent updates").

3.4. Music criteria

Whenever, in an Occitan or French poem, affinities with a Galician-Portuguese lyric text have been verified, which could be interpreted as evidence of emulation by the author of the latter, we sought to know whether any version with musical notation had survived or not in European songbooks. The melodies found (examined directly from the manuscripts) were then compared with the related texts in Galician-Portuguese, in order to judge their compatibility. It should be noted, in passing, that such compatibility is not called into question by formal divergences of little importance (such as the lack of a phrase or a syllable), nor by the need to redistribute the notes by syllables, since such variants between the song used as a model and the new composition can also be found in other branches of the medieval songbook, in contrafacta clearly identified as such. When several texts could hypothetically have followed a melody, it was evaluated which one(s) would be closer to it. If there was more than one melodic version for the same text, the version that was more easily adapted to the Galician-Portuguese text was the one we followed. Cases of altered strophic structure, hyper- or hypometry, and other problems were also noted and discussed. The melodies judged to be compatible were then transcribed from the relevant manuscript and the text placed under the notes. Whenever there were more notes than syllables, we tried the most convincing syllabic distribution, given the prosody and the musical style of the time (with emphasis on the examples of Martim Codax and D. Dinis).