Django’s Mass

Django’s Lost ‘Mass’ Composition ~
Messe Gitane

Django impresses the Experts with an Organ Mass which he began (aged 34) to compose in 1944 in honour of the French Roma’s – Manouche – Holy Place of Pilgrimage, St.-Maries-de-la-mer, on the Riviera.  Django was a devotee of classical music. His favourite composer was the futuristic Claude Debussy and he often quotes subtle references to his music in his playing.  He claimed Debussy’s ideals as a Musician and Composer were the closest to his own. His favourite Classic compositions were Ravel’s 8 “Valses Nobles et Sentimentales” and Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D minor”.

Valses Noble et Sentimantales

Toccata and Fugue in D Minor

Another notable event of this period was Django’s 1st venture into Orchestral composition — an ambitious Troublant Bolero played by the Quintet augmented with Brass and String Section. Django, who knew nothing of notation, dictated all the orchestral parts on the Guitar. The mere fact of this undertaking bears witness to the respect accorded to Django’s musical ideas and to the force of his personality. Future efforts in this field were to be marked by growing assurance and consciousness of his own worth.


The Town is a pilgrimage destination for the Roma (Gypsies), who gather yearly in the town for a religious festival in honour of Saint Sarah. The French believed she was Mary Magdalene’s daughter, and she was also known as Sara-la-Kali (Sara the black). Dark-skinned Saint Sara is said to have possibly been the Egyptian servant of the 3 Marys.   If we compare the ceremonies with those performed in France at the shrine of Sainte Sara (called Sara e Kali in Romani), we become aware that the worship of Kali/Durga/Sara has been transferred to a Christian figure… in France, to a non-existent “Sainte” called Sara, who is actually part of the Kali/Durga/Sara worship among certain groups in India.  The ceremony in Saintes-Maries closely parallels the annual processions in India, the country in which the Romani originated, when statues of the Indian goddess Durga, also named Kali, are immersed into water. Durga, the consort of Shiva, usually represented with a black face, is the goddess of creation, sickness and death.  The famous flamenco guitarist Manitas de Plata first played there.


Django’s Method of Transcription – This truncated and angled picture which looks like it has major architecture in the background is in fact edited from a Messe Gitane transcription session photo – the full picture shows the pipe smoking clarinettist transcription specialist (Rostaing?) writing down what Django has played.  Django was almost illiterate and did not understand musical terms or nomenclature but yet he could never play out of Key.  The ‘architecture’ is, in fact, a Church cupboard.DjangoMassComp

“During the war years, Django began work on a new dream: An organ mass devoted to his fellow Romani’s to be performed annually at the Gypsy pilgrimage to Camargue ville of Les Saintes-Marie-de-la- Mer as the Gypsies’ adopted Saint Sarah.  Alas, due to the difficulties of composition, Django never finished the project, although his work-in-progress would be played for Radio Broadcast in 1944.”   A Mass would have the various parts lists with an Introit, Kryie, Gloria, etc, and would be about 45 minutes long.


Django composing the Organ Mass using a Clarinettist Musician transcribing from his Guitar performance.  The same Pump Organ perhaps for impromptu rehearsal is in the background.


Django Talks of Messe Gitane  – French




On the basis of texts by the French Poet Jean Cocteau,
Django composed an opera “Le manoir de mes reves
(The Manor of my Dreams) or (Django’s Castle), but this too is never performed other than the Recorded Title.

A documentary film, Django Reinhardt (1958), was made after his death (1953) by the director Paul Paviot. It includes an introduction by Jean Cocteau and features music performed by Grappelli, Rostaing, and Joseph Reinhardt.