The whole of the modern myth still in process of formation is founded on two bodies of work - Alberto Savinio's and his brother Giorgio de Chirico's - that are almost indistinguishable in spirit and that reached their zenith on the eve of the war of 1914. (André Breton, Anthology of Black Humour, 1937)
Andrea Alberto de Chirico (1891-1952) - who in 1914 adopted the pseudonym Alberto Savinio - was born in Athens to an Italian-speaking family from Dalmatia. He was the younger brother of Giorgio de Chirico. Andrea was homeschooled by his mother, while living in Greece. At a young age he became enthralled by ancient Greek culture, which was conducive to creativity and fantasy during his childhood. As a result, Andrea would later often credit Greece for his love of critical thinking and irony. When he was just 12 years old he earned his diploma in piano at the Athens conservatory. Following his father's death in 1906, he moved to Munich with his mother and brother. There he studied with the renowned composer Max Reger and wrote an opera entitled Carmela.
In 1907, the Savinio family moved to Milan. Together the brothers studied ancient languages, literature, music and philosophy, and practised painting and drawing. In 1910, they moved to Florence. Alberto would remain there for one year, working with his brother and helping him lay the foundations of the new Metaphysical art. The first public performance of Savinio's music, which he presented in Munich in 1911, was a failure and he moved to Paris, where he was joined by his mother and brother. He now separated his activity from his brother's - Savinio writing music and De Chirico painting. In 1914, he met Guillaume Apollinaire. The two became friends and collaborators, and Savinio participated briefly in the activities of the avant-garde artistic circles that gravitated around the poet.
Savinio's first literary production developed in this milieu. He collaborated with Les Soirées de Paris, the journal directed by Apollinaire, and in May 1914 he held a concert at its headquarters, presenting Les Chants de la mi-mort, a mixed work of dramatic scenes, in which music, literature, theatre and set design blended together, taking up the aspiration of Gesamtkunstwerk, the total work of art. Les Chants de la mi-mort dealt largely with the concept of sleep (referred to as "Half Death") and was filled with odd, mechanical toy-like characters. This poem is considered one of the most important of the 1910's surrealist movement.
When Italy entered the First World War in May 1915, the brothers returned to Florence, as they were enlisted with the city military district, and then were sent to Ferrara as part of the infantry reserves. Here they met Filippo de Pisis and Carlo Carrà, forming a short-lived alliance, the Metaphysical School. In Ferrara Savinio abandoned music and devoted himself to literature, although he never stopped drawing.
Alberto Savinio, La cité des promesses, 1928
In 1918, Savinio was sent to the Macedonian front as an interpreter and wrote a series of stories and lyrical prose; these works were released in instalments in La Voce and later published as a book entitled Hermaphrodito. From 1919 to 1923, Savinio, his brother and Carrà, living now in Rome, were part of the driving force behind the literary and artistic group surrounding the magazine Valori Plastici.
In the early 1920s Savinio collaborated with all of the leading literary reviews in Italy. He wrote Tragedia del l’infanzia (Tragedy of Childhood), an autobiographical collection of episodes in which the world of adults and artistic creativity is contrasted with the world of childhood imaginations. In 1924, the Metropolitan Opera of New York performed his ballet Perseus. 1925 saw the publication of his second novel, La Casa Ispirata (The Haunted House). During this period he also collaborated with Luigi Pirandello's Teatro d'Arte, which in 1925 staged the ballet La morte di Niobe in Rome, with music and lyrics by Savinio, and set design and costumes by De Chirico.
Alberto Savinio, Niobe, n.d.
In 1926, Savinio moved to Paris, and began to paint seriously, gaining both critical and public acclaim. His first solo show, held at the Galerie Bernheim-Jeune in 1927, was presented by Jean Cocteau. Savinio continued to cultivate the contacts he had made in 1920 with André Breton and the Surrealists. In 1933, Savinio returned to Rome. Starting in the mid-1930s and throughout the 1940s, he devoted his time exclusively to literary activities and journalism. During this period Savinio virtually abandoned painting, practising it only occasionally, and devoted his time to graphics, often illustrating his own publications and those of other authors.
Following World War II Savinio took up music again, composing the ballet Vita dell'uomo. At the same time, he also directed plays and designed sets, collaborating with the Scala in Milan. Savinio died in Florence in1952.