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Casals Museum Opens

June 2, 2001
Copyright © 2001 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All Rights Reserved.

EL VENDRELL, Spain (AP) -- A hometown museum dedicated to cellist Pablo Casals opened Saturday with traditional Catalan folkloric dances and performances by cellist Mstislav Rostropovich and soprano Monserrat Caballe.

Some 500 celebrities and dignitaries, including King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia of Spain, toured the museum, whose 17 rooms each represent a different stage in the musician's life. The museum, 40 miles south of Barcelona in Spain's Catalonia region, opens to the public Monday.

It is housed in the renovated house where Casals lived until he went into self-imposed exile in 1939 to avoid living under the dictatorial regime of Gen. Francisco Franco.

``He was a man of personal warmth and a generous spirit who firmly believed in peace, in justice and freedom,'' U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a letter read by his envoy, Silvia Fuhrman.

Born in 1876, Casals was a child prodigy who grew into a virtuoso cellist, a brilliant conductor and composer. A fierce supporter of human rights, he refused to play in countries that were not democracies.

Speaking before the United Nations in the 1950s, Casals assailed fascism the world over, including in Franco Spain. He electrified his home region when he stated: ``I am Catalan. Catalonia is an oppressed nation.''

Casals' widow, Marta Casals Istomin, who is vice president of the Pablo Casals Foundation, said the museum has the most extensive collection of the musician's letters, photographs and mementos. Another Casals museum is in Puerto Rico, where he lived for 17 years before dying there in 1973 at age 96.

Originally buried in Puerto Rico, Casals' remains were returned to his hometown in 1979, four years after Franco's death.

``What I want people to understand is his message,'' his widow said. ``The maestro's message was that one must feel responsibility, one must pursue excellence in everything one does. Excellence, responsibility, vision and humility -- that's what this museum represents.''

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