MADRID, Spain -- Thousands of tearful mourners bid farewell today to Andres Segovia, the master of the classical guitar whose career spanned nearly eight decades.
Segovia died of a heart attack at his home in Madrid Tuesday at the age of 94.
Several thousand people, including fans from around the world, filed past the oak coffin displayed in the chapel of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts this morning. His third wife, Emilia Corral Sancho, 52, opened his casket and placed two red roses in Segovia's hands.
'His death was gentle and quick,' said Segovia's son Carlos Andres, 17, who was with his father when he died. 'He said, 'I cannot breathe, I cannot breathe,' and it was over.'
Following a simple funeral mass, Segovia's body was taken to Madrid's San Isidro cemetery for burial.
'He taught us all we know,' said a young Japanese guitarist, tears streaming from his eyes. 'I traveled all night from Barcelona to say adios.'
Segovia was born Feb. 21, 1893, in the southern town of Linares and gave his first concert at the age of 16 after learning to play the guitar by ear. He devoted his life to raising the guitar from a cabaret instrument to concert hall category.
'Quite simply, there would be no classical guitar without Andres Segovia,' said Stewart Warkow, Segovia's American manager, who flew from New York for the funeral.
Spanish newspapers today praised Segovia as one of the greatest musicians of the 20th century. In its editorial, the leading daily El Pais said, 'With his immense vitality, he made a place for the guitar in contemporary history.'
Segovia's repertoire ranged from Bach and Debussy to modern composers such as Joaquin Rodrigo and Manuel de Falla who composed especially for him.
King Juan Carlos named him marquis of Salobrena in 1981, making him the first Spanish musician in recent times to be honored with a royal title.
Despite a heart attack two years ago, Segovia kept up a strenuous schedule of concerts and master classes. In April, he cut short an eight-city concert tour in the United States after being hospitalized in New York with heart and lung problems.
He gave his last performances in Minneapolis, Chicago, Miami and Pasadena, Calif.
At his wife's request, Segovia's death was not announced until Wednesday.
Segovia also was survived by a 60-year-old son, Andres, from a previous marriage who traveled from Paris for the funeral services.
'He never lost his gusto. Just before he died, he was preparing to go upstairs to his studio to practice,' Andres said of his father.