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Théâtre : Le Divin Saint-Georges
Daniel Marciano
Thespis (2006)




















































































De L'Epée à La Scène
From the Sword to the Stage: A Book on Theatrical Fencing
Robert Heddle-Roboth &
Daniel Marciano
Thespis (2005)





















































Violin Concertos by Black Composers of the 18th and 19th Centuries
Rachel Barton, violin
Encore Chamber Orchestra
Daniel Hege, Conductor
Cedille 90000 035 (1997)


Home -> Composers -> Saint-Georges, Le Chevalier de -> Gian Faldoni, Fencing Rival of Saint-Georges

Gian Faldoni, Fencing Rival of Saint-Georges

Historical Essay by Daniel Marciano


Table of Contents

  1 Daniel Marciano
  2 Gian Faldoni
  3 Reminder
  4 Author's Note
  5 Webmaster's Note

Le chevalier de Saint-Georges, le fils de Noémie
(Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges, Noémie's Son
Daniel Marciano
Thespis (2005)

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, France.

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 France].  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 lived".

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, thespisedit@aol.com   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 English version.


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 Cartel  is 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 blades with.

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 thought-out actions."

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 Italian colleague.

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 fencer.

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 worn."

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 fencing.

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 brilliant, and as much as I could wish before such a famous and powerful fencer, that I shall briefly tell you that I gave him the 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 to 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"
*(REMINDER).  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 1811".

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 truly defeated".

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 father.

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 Efficiency".

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 19.

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 months left.

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 lovers:

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 years.


This page was last updated on January 3, 2021

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