Andre's Segovia died in the arms of his third wife, but he lived until the end with his first love. That was the guitar, which he took with him on all his travels, seated next to him on airliners (he paid for the extra ticket) and called "Senorita Segovia."

In his vocabulary, the guitar was always "she" and his tone when he spoke of it, like his touch when he played it, was that of a lover.

"You know the guitar has feminine curves," he said in a 1980 interview, "and this influences her behavior. Sometimes it is impossible to deal with her, but most of the time she is very sweet; and if you caress her properly, she will sing very beautifully." His career was a prolonged affair with an inanimate object. Inanimate, that is, until he touched the strings.

Segovia began studying the violin when he was 6 years old -- that would be in 1899. Fortunately for the guitar, his violin teacher was not very good. "His tone and pitch were so poor that I rejected the violin as a musical instrument," Segovia recalled 81 years later.

That teacher's inadequacies may have changed the course of musical history. But Segovia and the guitar might have found one another anyway. Now that his life can be seen in perspective, his romance with the instrument seems as predestined as Romeo's with Juliet or Antony's with Cleopatra. The first time he touched a guitar, he recalled, "I played, not as if I were learning but as if I were remembering."

His family also liked the piano -- an instrument that Segovia once called "a large, rectangular monster that screams when you touch its teeth." With work, he might have become an excellent pianist -- one among many. But on the guitar, he was unique.

On the guitar, Andre's Segovia became the most important performer in the instrument's history.

He raised the classical guitar to a special place among musical instruments. Segovia used to call his instrument "a small orchestra -- an orchestra seen through the wrong end of a pair of binoculars." What he meant was that it is the only instrument in general use for classical music that a performer can carry on stage, tune for himself and use for a musically complete performance, including harmony and counterpoint, without accompaniment.

Segovia was the last survivor of a special class of musical giant that flourished between the two world wars. Like Pablo Casals with the cello and Wanda Landowska with the harpsichord, his biography merged totally with the history of his instrument.

When he fought the prejudices of his family, which wanted him to master a "noble" instrument, Segovia was beginning his fight against society's indifference.

In the early 1900s, teaching himself to play the then-despised instrument in a classical style, Segovia invented the technique that is now used by all classical guitarists. In the 1920s, he was the only professional classical guitarist on the international scene. Today there are dozens. Most are his students or the students of his students; all owe him an incalculable debt.

When he adapted music that had been composed for lute, harpsichord or piano, by such composers as Bach, Mozart and Handel, Segovia was beginning the long task of building the guitar's classical repertoire. He tailored more than 200 pieces for the guitar in this way. "I had to break a vicious circle," he explained. "Before, there were no composers because there were no players, and no guitar players because there were no composers."

In later years, that repertoire was enormously expanded by the music of composers Segovia had inspired. "I have recorded more than 300 pieces," he once said. "I do not commission new works, but once they hear how their music can sound on the guitar, composers are eager to write for it."

One of those composers, Joaquin Rodrigo, said, "With him, the guitar rose to the realm of the great instruments." Perhaps an even finer tribute, though -- and certainly one that Segovia would have appreciated more -- can be found in the music, inspired by Segovia's example, that Rodrigo wrote for the guitar -- music such as the "Concierto de Aranjuez" and the "Fantasia para un Gentilhombre."

On his 94th birthday Feb. 21, Segovia said that "work is what keeps a person alive." He practiced what he preached; despite a heart attack two years ago, he kept up a busy schedule of performances and master classes. Even in his nineties, he would spend months on tour. And the system worked remarkably well for him for a long time -- 78 years as a professional guitarist, 71 touring internationally.

Segovia was on tour in the United States when the unimaginable happened early in April: He canceled appearances in New York and Washington, including an honorary degree ceremony at the University of Maryland, because of illness. He spent some time in a New York hospital and went home, apparently cured of a severe cold.

Near the beginning of his career, Segovia performed in a 2,000-seat auditorium in Barcelona. He was the first guitarist ever to play to a live audience of more than a few hundred. His technique declined somewhat in recent years, but people came in tribute to a legend as much as for the purely musical experience he offered. Even in his advanced years, even in enormous halls filled to capacity, he still made the back rows hear every note uttered by his instrument's gentle voice. Part of the reason was that this chubby, white-haired old man with rather formal manners inspired audiences to a special degree of silence. He would simply sit and stare at them until they were quiet enough to meet his standards.

When he was very young, Segovia used to recall, he once said a little prayer: "Lord, I am a very bad sinner who does not deserve your glory, so please leave me here {on earth}." Seldom are prayers so spectacularly answered as this one was. Segovia enjoyed the fullest blessing of longevity; he lived to see his work completed, his aspirations totally fulfilled. He had the bittersweet joy of seeing students surpass him technically -- and to his credit, he was always generous with praise of them. "Artistically, I have accomplished everything I wanted to," he said last year. "My life has been a line going slowly up without falling and without going back."

He knew the value of his work and was able to look back on it with pride. "The future of the guitar is assured," he said toward the end of his life. "I put the guitar at the level of the piano, the cello or the violin." A proud-sounding statement, perhaps, but it was the simple truth.