There was no public announcement but none was needed: Hundreds of music lovers just showed up today for Emil Gilels' wake at the Moscow conservatory.

The great Soviet pianist, who died Monday at 68, lay in state just below the stage in the great hall, 13 gigantic wreaths of flowers banked behind his head. His portrait, framed in black, was set on an easel on one side of the bier; on the other side, his medals and awards were displayed on red cushions.

Up on the stage, the Borodin quartet -- the Soviet Union's leading string quartet -- held the rapt attention of several hundred listeners. The Soviet Radio-Television Orchestra also played, giving the mourners a midday mini-concert featuring Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet, among other selections.

Lying in state is an elaborate ritual here, a Russian tradition made famous by the recent deaths of successive Soviet leaders. The family sits in rows to the right of the bier, while friends and colleagues take turns standing in homage. Today, the leading figures of Moscow's music world turned out to pay their respects, the official mourners distinguished by their red armbands.

Gilels was one of the giants of Soviet music, a member of the generation of Soviet musicians that included Sviatoslav Richter, David Oistrakh and Mstislav Rostropovich. At today's ceremony, the pianist was lauded by officials from the Ministry of Culture and the conservatory as a patriot, a true communist and a "big part of our national cultural life." Said one speaker, "He served music with the capital letter M."

He also was "a wonderful man," said one middle-aged woman who had studied wth him at the conservatory and who watched the ceremony with tears in her eyes.

That people knew where to go to pay their homage is a tribute to Moscow's skill at passing information by word of mouth. Although his death occurred Monday and was reported by the western press here on Tuesday, it was not announced to the Soviet people until Wednesday night. And still there was a crowd at today's lying-in-state.

How did people get the news? "By accident" . . . "Through a friend" . . . "From a friend of my wife's" -- these were explanations given by those who came to sit in the top rows and listen to the music. Some were students at the conservatory, some had been students of Gilels, other were simply admirers.

"I think," said one man, rushing back to work after the lunch hour, "that if they had announced the ceremony , there would not have been places for everybody."