Alberti Merello, Rafael

Rafael-Alberti-1
Rafael Alberti.

Spanish poet and playwright belonging to the Group or Generation of 27. Born in Puerto de Santa Maria (Cadiz) on December 16, 1902. His Italian grandparents and his grandmothers, one Irish and the other from Huelva, were grape harvesters, and according to the poet himself “great bourgeois, owners of vineyards and wineries, Catholics to the most bizarre madness and the most violent tyranny. They and a few other powerful families were, even at the beginning of this century, the true masters of El Puerto” (The Lost Grove). His father was a wine representative for the North and he and his siblings lived with their mother, enduring “the true and tyrannical reign of their uncles”. He received a religious education, in the Carmelites and in the Society of Jesus, of which he always kept a bad memory.

In 1917, the family left El Puerto and moved to Madrid, which meant that Alberti changed his high school studies for painting. His first years in the Spanish capital were spent painting and visiting museums. He manages to exhibit in the Fall Salon and in the Athenaeum in Madrid. In 1920, his father died and he began to write and read with enthusiasm. He meets the young poets who collaborated in the magazine Ultra and thanks to the painter Gregorio Prieto the Book of Poems by Federico García Lorca falls into his hands. In a magazine directed by Pedro Garfias, Horizonte, he published his first poems. There also appeared Lorca’s “Little Ballad of the Three Rivers“, texts by Garfias himself and by Antonio Machado.

Lorca commissioned Alberti to paint a portrait of him with an apparition of the Virgin, which still hangs in Federico’s bedroom in the St. Vincent Farmhouse
The meeting with Lorca took place in October 1924 at the Students’ Residence.  Alberti was not a resident, but he lived nearby and knew many of those who stayed there. The night of the first meeting is described in The Lost Grove. Federico invited him to dinner with other students and then recited the Sleepwalking Ballad. On that evening Lorca commissioned a painting of him with an apparition of the Virgin which still hangs in Federico’s bedroom in the St. Vincent Farmhouse. Also at the Residence, shortly after, he met Dalí. Rafael participated in the avant-garde games with which the residents Pepín Bello, Buñuel, Dalí and Federico enjoyed themselves.

Rafael Alberti and María Teresa León.
Rafael Alberti and María Teresa León.

Encouraged by Claudio de la Torre, he presented and won the National Literature Prize in 1924 with Sailor on Dry Land. The jury was formed by Antonio Machado, Gabriel Miró, Menéndez Pidal, Arniches, Gabriel Maura and Moreno Villa. It was also awarded to Gerardo Diego for Human Verses. The prestige of the award and its publication by the publisher José Ruiz Castillo in the New Library opened many doors for him.

Celebration of Góngora's tercentenary at the Seville Athenaeum in December 1927. From left to right: Rafael Alberti, Federico García Lorca, Juan Chabás, Mauricio Bacarisse, José María Romero Martínez (president of the literature section of the Ateneo), Manuel Blasco Garzón (president of the Sevilla Athenaeum), Jorge Guillén, José Bergamín, Dámaso Alonso and Gerardo Diego.
Celebration of Góngora’s tercentenary at the Seville Athenaeum in December 1927. From left to right: Rafael Alberti, Federico García Lorca, Juan Chabás, Mauricio Bacarisse, José María Romero Martínez (president of the literature section of the Ateneo), Manuel Blasco Garzón (president of the Sevilla Athenaeum), Jorge Guillén, José Bergamín, Dámaso Alonso and Gerardo Diego.
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He became friends with Juan Ramón Jiménez, who published some of his verses in his magazines, as well as with other authors of the time. Since the appearance of his book, critics begin to compare him with Lorca. That year he meets the painter Maruja Mallo with whom he was to maintain a relationship until 1930. The influence of the painter can be seen in his poems of that time. In 1926, he publishes The Lover and in 1927 The Dawn of the Wallflower.

Shortly after, he attended the celebration of the tribute to Luis de Góngora at the Seville Athenaeum along with several writers such as Lorca, Salinas or Dámaso Alonso. For the occasion, Alberti wrote Third Solitude (incomplete paraphrase) imitating the style of the baroque poet.

Rafael Alberti. Photo by Ricardo Martín, 1981.
Rafael Alberti. Photo by Ricardo Martín, 1981.

The following years were years of crisis: economic, existential, health … His inner conflict manifested itself in a book classified as surrealist entitled On the Angels, 1929. Also this year his play The Uninhabited Man is performed. There had already been an ideological evolution in him since the Dictatorship of Primo de Rivera, years in which he participates in student protests, supports the arrival of the Second Republic and joins the Communist party.

In 1933, at the Spanish Theater, Alberti gives a lecture entitled Popular Poetry in Spanish Lyrics, with songs and dances by La Argentinita, accompanied by Lorca at the piano.

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In 1930, he meets the writer María Teresa León whom he marries and maintains a relationship of love and friendship. With her, in 1933 he founded the revolutionary magazine Octubre. From this date his poetry aims to shake consciences and improve the world. It was in this year when he published A Ghost Runs Through Europe or 13 Bands and 48 Stars. On May 6, 1933 at the Spanish Theater he gives a lecture entitled Popular Poetry in Spanish Lyrics, with songs and dances by Encarnación López Júlvez, La Argentinita, accompanied by Lorca at the piano. It is an act that aroused great expectation, even controversy because of the secondary role that Federico had played.

In 1936, the Civil War breaks out. Rafael and Maria Teresa were part of the Alliance of Antifascist Intellectuals. Both maintained a cultural and propagandist activity and received foreign writers and journalists visiting the country.They produced bulletins, manifestos and magazines such as El Mono azul and worked on the evacuation of the Prado Museum.

After the defeat of the Republic in 1939, they go into exile. They first moved to Paris where they collaborated with Radio Pirenaica. In March 1940, they arrived in Argentina, where their daughter Aitana was born. Later they passed through Chile and Rome. Fundamental books of this stage are Return of Far Livng (1952) or Rome, Danger to Pedestrians (1968).

Rafael Alberti. Photo by Luis Muñoz belonging to the legacy of Javier Egea.
Rafael Alberti. Photo by Luis Muñoz belonging to the legacy of Javier Egea.

Rafael Alberti returned from exile in 1977, after the death of the dictator. His political activity continued and he became a congressional member of the PCE, although he soon rejected the post.

During these years of democracy he participated again in the Spanish cultural life and will receive tributes and awards, for example the Cervantes Prize in 1983. As a convinced republican, he renounced the Prince of Asturias Award. In 1990, after being widowed, he married María Asunción Mateo. In 1999, he died in his hometown, after a life that began and ended with the twentieth century. His memoirs, entitled The Lost Grove I and II, are a fundamental testimony of someone who belonged to the so-called Silver Age of culture in Spain.

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