Composers -> Saint-Georges, Le
Chevalier de -> Gian Faldoni, Fencing Rival of Saint-Georges
1 Daniel Marciano
Daniel Marciano taught French language and
literature in Great Britain and the United States before taking
a position at the University of Franche-Comté in Besançon,
France, a city close to Switzerland. While teaching he
also wrote for the stage.
Daniel Marciano might formerly have been respectfully called an
enlightened fencing amateur. He regularly coordinates
sessions for actors, and has written and staged several shows
and plays including duelling sequences. He was a member of the
jury during the World Championships of Artistic Fencing which
took place in May 2004 in the city of Les Sables d'Olonne,
Master Robert Heddle-Roboth was awarded the distinction of
Expert Emeritus of Artistic and Theatrical Fencing by the
Académie d'Armes de France [The Academy of Arms of
He and Daniel Marciano have co-authored a book, De
L'Epée à la Scène [From the Sword to the Stage: A book on
theatrical fencing], with a foreword by Marcel
Marceau, the famous mime, a former student of Heddle-Roboth.
Published by Thespis, it has 281 pages and 140 illustrations,
with six pages in color.
The book cover illustrates the self-complacency of the "noblesse
d'épée" approaching a theater. The "noblesse d'épée" means
literally the nobility of the sword, noblemen having the
exclusive privilege of carrying a sword by their side.
The book presents the essential aspects of the history of
fencing and dueling, making reference to theater plays.
The choreography of fencing is illustrated with drawings,
photographs and engravings drawn from old fencing treatises.
At the end of the book, the authors present arrangements of
dueling scenes adapted from famous literary works or playlets
they composed. In this section of the book there is, in
particular, a large excerpt of a play on the Chevalier de
Saint-Georges, adapted from Daniel Marciano's novel, which is
pictured above. The authors invite you to suit the action
to the word by saying to you: "It's your turn to perform!".
Daniel Marciano's interest in the Chevalier de Saint-Georges
dates back to 1976 when L'Académie d'Armes de France asked him
to write an article on this dazzling Chevalier for their
quarterly magazine. We know that Joseph de Bologne de
Saint-Georges is claimed by musicians, music lovers and fencers
at the same time. Antoine La Boëssière, the son of his
fencing master, lived with him during his adolescence and
considered him to be "the most extraordinary fencer who has ever
Alfred de Vigny was a 19th century poet, playwright and
novelist. His book Cinq Mars is a work of
historical fiction whose foreward is Réflexions sur la
vérité dans l'Art [Considerations on the Truth in Art].
In it the author writes "...the adopted fact is always better
conceived than the truth, and furthermore is adopted because it
is more beautiful...". He adds "one should give in to
greater indifference to historical truth to judge dramatic works
of art borrowing memorable characters from history...What is
true is subsidiary...".
Daniel Marciano was convinced by this expression of faith.
Rather than writing an additional biography on Saint-Georges, he
preferred to write a novel of historical fiction. It would
magnify the Chevalier's saga, without losing sight of his music
and the main events of his life based on reliable witnesses and
archive documents of the time. The book, Le
Chevalier de Saint-Georges, Le fils de Noémie, was published
in 2005 by Thespis, firstname.lastname@example.org
It is shown at the top of the page. An English adaptation
by Daniel Marciano is a possibility. The book has been
nominated for the Grand Prize in the "Memory" Category of the
"Fetkann" Competition for Caribbean Literature, which
commemorates slavery and the slave trade.
He has also written a play on Saint-George called
Le Divin Saint-Georges, which includes singing, dancing,
music and fencing bouts, and for which he has prepared an
Daniel Marciano has asked us to announce that he is willing
to send the French or English version of this theatrical
production to directors of theater companies who might
wish to read it.
He has also written a one-act play in the style of la commedia
dell'arte called Le Cartel. It was
successfully performed for 20
nights at the Château de Joux in Pontarlier, near the Swiss
border, and at The Citadel in Besançon, France. Le
available in an English version.
2 Gian Faldoni: Rival of
the Chevalier de Saint-Georges
In Angelo's Pic Nic or
Reminiscences, Henry Angelo, an Italian Master teaching
fencing in London, spoke enthusiastically of the Chevalier de
Saint-Georges whom he considered as the God of Fencing.
He also devoted a long comment to Gian Faldoni, who, according
to him, was the most remarkable fencer Saint-Georges crossed
If we believe Angelo, he heard about Gian Faldoni for the first
time during one of his stays in Florence. He wished to
know more about this fencer and asked one of his friends, a man
called Watson who was residing in Leghorn, Italy, to send him
all the information he could possibly gather on this swordsman.
Watson was able to satisfy his friends's curiosity after
talking in 1827 with Michelo Faldoni, Gian's elder brother, who
was 75 years old at that time.
Michelo told him their father was from Pisa. A renowned
professional fencer, he had taught fencing in Leghorn and the
Angelo brothers had the privilege of fencing in his academy.
Faldoni Senior was an outstanding swordsman. He had fenced
publicly against top fencers and no one had been able to defeat
him. Several fencers among his students had won fame on
the fencing floors in Europe.
Andrea Faldoni taught fencing to his son who quickly became an
excellent fencer. In 1759, Gian did a tour of Italy and
very easily got the better of all the fencers he met.
Gian was born in Leghorn on January 6, 1739. Therefore he
was older than Saint-Georges who, according to Antoine La
Boëssière, was born on December 25, 1745.
In 1761, Faldoni quarreled with an officer of a Toscan regiment
who was a redoubtable duelist and had provoked him in the
street. Faldoni quickly fell on guard and hit him four
times which should have put an end to this duel but realizing
that his opponent was wearing a coat of mail under his doublet,
Faldoni announced: "Now I am going to finish you off."
He was about to hit him in the neck when two officers, "to their
great shame", Master Angelo added, prevented him from doing so
by pulling them apart.
In 1763 Faldoni went to Rome with a well-known French fencer
called Delliser. He fenced against Major Ruggero de Roco
Picolomini, an excellent Italian fencer, a man in attendance to
the King of Poland. They had four bouts and each time
Faldoni proved superior to his adversary. Then the Major
wrote to Andrea Faldoni in these words:
"I was pleased to have the privilege of meeting your
son and fencing with him. I think he is a fencer of
the highest level and all the spectators applauded him,
astonished by the speed of his direct thrusts and his
In 1764, Mr. Delliser invited Gian to France in order that he
might fence against a fencing master from Marseilles.
Delliser had bet 100 gold louis that Faldoni would beat him in
six hits. Faldoni easily enabled Delliser to win his bet,
then went to Lyons where he formed a partnership with Master
Simon who was at the head of a prosperous fencing club.
This master from Lyons was eager to welcome such a talented
Very quickly, all the French fencing masters agreed that
Saint-Georges was the only one able to face Faldoni with a chance
of success. According to Angelo, Louis Delavoiner
introduced Saint-Georges to Faldoni whom he had met in Leghorn.
(Possibly this name was distorted by Angelo who was often not
too particular or accurate when mentioning surnames or place
names. Very likely he intended to refer to the famous
chemist Antoine de Lavoisier, 1743-1794). However, the
Chevalier politely turned down the challenge, confessing to his
friends that he did not wish to have a bout with an Italian
Was Saint-Georges prejudiced against the Italian School of
Fencing? If such was the case, Angelo does not say a word
about it but we may think that Saint-Georges did not particularly
appreciate the style of Italian fencers which perhaps favored
physical involvement more than the French. Above all,
Saint-Georges was a musician, a violin virtuoso who was already
trying music composition. He considered fencing as a
pleasurable art, a subsidiary discipline. He also enjoyed
other sports - then called literally "exercises of the body" in
French - such as dancing, riding, shooting, skating and swimming
and he was outstanding in all of them.
To him, a fencing bout was similar to a chess game. It was
a conversation between right-minded people. He considered
a fencer in front of him more as a partner than as an opponent.
He was known for being courteous and modest. Antoine, La
Boëssière's son, said he knew how to be obliging when crossing
blades with his friends and tried to avoid any form of violence.
"His hand was light," he wrote, "and he lifted his arm so high
that he never hurt anyone at the time fencing masks were not yet
One may understand the unwillingness of Saint-Georges to fence
against Gian Faldoni and the impatience of the Italian master to
face La Boëssière's prodigy. Saint-Georges was perfectly
aware that Faldoni was a very "sharp" foil expert, a
professional swordsman devoting all his time to the practice of
As he could not compete against Saint-Georges, Faldoni decided to
make a tour of the fencing halls in Paris in order to meet the
very best amateur and professional fencers, each time requiring
a written testimonial to keep track of his victories.
Finally, the fencing masters of Paris managed to convince
Saint-Georges that it was of paramount importance to confront
Faldoni and prevent him from going back to Italy with a
reputation of being invincible. Saint-Georges was
eventually convinced he should accept the challenge and a public
bout was planned for September 8, 1766. A crowd of
aristocrats and fencing masters attended this event.
Henry Angelo asserted that the Italian got the better of his
rival. With the rigor of an actor who has learned his
lines by heart, he quoted a letter which Faldoni sent to his
father the day following the bout. Did Michelo show the
document to Watson who may have copied it in order to bring it
back to Angelo on his return to England? Was it an oral
message reported by Watson and reshaped as a letter?
Anyhow, here is what the letter said in the original text of
Henry Angelo: [Webmaster's explanations are in brackets]
I have at last finished all my assaults [fencing matches] in
Paris with one that I made yesterday with the strongest fencer
in France, and truly I cannot do less than confess that I don't
believe that an equal number [a comparable fencer] is now
living. But the success I have now met has been so
and as much as I could wish before such a famous and
powerful fencer, that I shall briefly tell you that I gave him
two first hits, I received the third, then gave him the fourth
which was a straight thrust, and was judged the finest attack
in the whole assault; I again was touched with the fifth and
gave him the sixth which was the last. I cannot describe
you the congratulations and compliments I received from all
the nobility and masters; and they all assured me that Paris
had never seen such an assault before. The name of the man
is Saint-George, and they believe him to be the first
swordsman in Europe, and truly his thrusts are as quick as lightning. He has a very long lunge, and his passades are
presque impénétrables [his parries are nearly impenetrable].
The biographers of Le Chevalier invariably refer to this
document to state that Saint-Georges lost the bout. They do not
cast the slightest doubt on Angelo's story. Yet, if the latter
is a good story teller, anxious to please his readers,
historical accuracy is not his major preoccupation and notorious
errors he made illustrate this fact.
Thus without checking his sources - which would have been easy
at the time - he wrote that "Mr. de Bologne died soon after his
son's triumph over Master Picard in 1766"
Yet, we know for certain - as the services of the Regional
Archives of Guadeloupe have kept the official death certificate
of George de Bologne - that he died in Basse-Terre on December
26, 1774. Among other mistakes, Henry Angelo mentions in
his Reminiscences that "Saint-George died in about 1810 or
In the foreword of his treatise La Théorie de l'Escrime
[The Theory of Fencing], A.J.J. Posselier, the adopted
son of Master Gomard, gives a completely different version than
Angelo's. Reporting the same fencing bout, he states that
"if Faldoni took the first two hits, he was eventually well and
However we may suppose that Posselier, also known as Gomard, is
perhaps not more credible than Angelo. In fact, just as
Angelo is prone to showering praise over the Italian fencing
school of which he is an eminent representative, Posselier shows
similar chauvinism. Thus, when dedicating his fencing
treatise to the Count de Bondy, another virtuoso with the foil,
he does not hesitate to compare him to the Chevalier de
Saint-Georges. It happens (what a coincidence!) that the
Count de Bondy was a disciple of Gomard Senior, his adoptive
In addition, this appraisal of Posselier does not correspond to
the opinion of Gabriel Letainturier-Fradin, one of the greatest
scholars on fencing. He states that the most redoubtable
fencer whom Saint-Georges met was Cavin de Saint-Laurent, a
famous adventurer of the time. However, Posselier, to go
back to him, asserts that during the confrontation between Cavin
de Saint-Laurent and Saint-Georges, if Cavin hit his adversary
seven times, he was hit twenty-seven times!
In fact, it does not matter much whether it was Faldoni or
Saint-George who took the better by one or two hits.
However clever a foil champion may be, can he be irresistible?
Anyhow, if we give credit to this letter of Gian Faldoni, quoted
by Henry Angelo, the greatest praise the rival of Saint-Georges
awarded himself consisted in stating that he was the one who
gave the most beautiful hit with a direct thrust, the simplest
attack of the fencing repertoire which consists in extending the
arm and lunging.
To take an opponent of Saint-Georges' caliber by surprise with a
direct thrust, this simple actiion of Faldoni had to be executed
with the speed of lightning.
Today, if the major preoccupation of sports competitors in
general and fencers in particular is to win and receive medals -
the end, unfortunately, often justifying the means - it may be
pertinent to point out that at the time of Saint-Georges,
competing with the foil before one's peers was a way, among
others, to show gallantry, finesse and skill. The art and
method of hitting was as important as the actual hit. The
motto of fencers like Saint-Georges might have been "Harmony and
Still according to Angelo, after his bout against Saint-Georges,
Gian Faldoni sent a petition to the King to get permission to
open a fencing hall in his name in Lyons and this favor was
granted to him. Angelo tells us that the people of Lyons
admired this elegant man wearing a feather in his hat and
carrying a sword-stick, walking in the streets of the city.
Faldoni had met a charming young lady, named Marie Lortet - more
often called Theresa - the daughter of Pierre Lortet, also
called Pierre Meunier, a professional caterer in Lyons.
Let us mention incidentally that Angelo turned Pierre Lortet
into a surgeon and Thérèse Lortet became Theresa Mosnier,
Mosnier probably being a distortion of Meunier.
Angelo also speaks of the assassination attempt on Faldoni in
Lyons. Two men wearing uniforms paid him a visit at his
fencing hall and fenced with him. Then, they offered to
stroll together in the countryside and have a drink. Very
courteously, Faldoni accepted the invitation, but as soon as
they reached the tavern both men became rude and started
laughing at the Italians. Faldoni understood that he had
fallen into an ambush and looking at them straight in the eyes,
asked them the following question: "Have you ever had a quarrel
with an Italian?". They answered negatively. "An Italian",
Faldoni continued, "you must know, slaps his opponent's face
before a duel."
Therefore, he asked them to stand up and slapped them both in
the face. He drew his sword and announced he was about to fence
alone against both of them. The two agressors were not bold
enough to accept the challenge as the determination of the
fencing master had frozen them with terror. Then Gian
Faldoni obliged them to tell him who was the mastermind behind
this machination. He learned that these killers had been
sent by this fencing master from Marseilles who, furious and
humiliated after losing his gold, wished to avenge himself.
A few years later, Saint-Georges learned with deep sadness the
double tragic end of Gian Faldoni and Thérèse Lortet.
Angelo wrote that by attempting to rescue one of his former
disciples fallen into the river Rhône, Faldoni suffered brain
damage after staying underwater too long.
The parish registers of Irigny of the Rhône district do not
mention this heroic deed. They simply speak of brain
damage after too violent an effort.
Jean-Baptiste Hepdé is the author of a three-act melodrama on
the lovers of Irigny, Theresa and Faldoni or the Frenzy
of Love. The play was premiered at the Théâtre des
Celestins in Lyons. Three years later it was presented in
Paris under the title of Celestine and Faldoni or the
Lovers of Lyons, an historical drama. In his foreword
Hepdé specifies that during a fencing bout Faldoni was hit in
the neck, provoking the rupture of an artery. However,
this precision may just be an element of fiction.
Anyhow, from then on the Italian master was a broken man, unable
to exercise his profession. He was only 32 and Theresa was
Faldoni went to Montpellier to consult the doctors of the School
of Medicine. He demanded to be told the truth about his
health and the doctors informed him that he had just a few
He decided to take his life and informed Theresa of his
decision. Spontaneously, she expressed her desire to die with
him. He vainly tried to dissuade her from doing so.
They agreed to meet in the old Chapel of Selettes, located near
a village called Irigny, near the countryside of Lyons. Gian
Faldoni and Theresa Lortet had constructed a device with a
string connecting the triggers of two loaded pistols. They
died on Sunday, May 30, 1770, a little more than three years
after the memorable fencing bout won by the Italian virtuoso.
According to Angelo he was a man who was "exceptionally
courageous, generous and warm-hearted".
This double suicide of the lovers aroused a deep emotion all
over the region. Those who were acquainted with them came
to grieve and pray in this chapel, the theater of the drama.
In his Dictionnaire Philosophique [Philosophical
Dictionary], Voltaire mentioned this strange suicide
after his essay entitled De Caton et du Suicide.
Louis de Fontanes (1757-1821), a member of L'Académie Française
[The French Academy], wrote the following lines to celebrate the
Theresa and Faldoni! May you be remembered;
Poems should also celebrate your fate.
Were Héloïse and Abélard, the illustrious lovers,
More touching, was their love less genuine than yours?
Once again, love forever is mourning, bearing regrets for you.
May it soothe your spirit and give you a poet!
In an article on the Chevalier de Saint-Georges, published in
January 1978 in the quarterly review of L'Académie d'Armes de
France, Master Pierre Lacaze pointed out that :
Saint-George was honored in the 18th century, forgotten in
the 19th century and rediscovered in the 20th century...and
fencing owes to music the fact that one of the most brilliant
fencers of its history came down to posterity.
As for Gian Faldoni, he owes his notoriety to Saint-Georges and
to Angelo's romanticized tale that caused him to be mentioned by
all the Chevalier's biographers as the most talented fencer who
crossed blades with one of the most charismatic musicians and
composers of his time, what is more the "God of Fencing".
In his Notice Historique sur Saint-Georges [Historical
Resume on Saint-Georges], Antoine La Boëssière
expresses the same idea in the following words:
Paintings survive the painters, marble the sculptors, works of
music and poems the musician and the poet: it is not the case
for "exercises of the body". Those who were praised when
they were dancing, fencing or riding horses to perfection
won't leave any visible trace to posterity. Contemporaries, the
only witnesses of these prodigies, will remember them.
We know that a fencing master from Rouen, named Picard, dared to
cast a doubt over the ability of young Saint-George. He
scornfully called him "La Boëssière's mulatto". George de
Bologne then gave his son the order to punish the braggart.
And to motivate him, he promised - should his son win - to give
him a cabriolet with a horse.
Saint-Georges went to Rouen and turned this professional fencer
into an object of ridicule in the presence of all the notables
of the city and all his disciples. Master Picard started
the bout all smiles and perfectly confident, only to end it
shameful and repentant.
4 Author's Note:
We recommend a remarkable Web site on The Lovers of Irigny:
5 Webmaster's Note:
If you have not seen the home page on the life and music of the
Chevalier de Saint-Georges, please follow the link at the top of
this page. Among other things, the home page describes the
regimen at the Academy of La Boëssière, the boarding school at
which Saint-Georges studied fencing and other subjects for six
This page was last updated
January 1, 2016