One of my favorite anecdotes from the turbulent life of Gustav Mahler has always been the story of him walking up to the edge of Niagara Falls and shouting, "Finally, a real fortissimo!" Alas, as I discovered on a tour of my book's various loose ends, it doesn't quite pan out. Zoltan Roman's fine documentary study Gustav Mahler's American Years quotes from an interview that Howard Shanet conducted with Alma Mahler-Werfel in 1960. The great lady tells it thus: “Mahler was to conduct in Buffalo, New York, and we took advantage of the trip to visit Niagara Falls. We spent hours near and even under the roaring falls — they were even greater at that time than they are today, you know — and then with that roar still in his ears Mahler went to conduct Beethoven’s ‘Pastorale’. I was waiting for him as he stepped off the podium. ‘Endlich ein fortissimo!,’ he said, ‘At last a fortissimo!’” The fortissimo in question is Beethoven's, not Niagara's. The point, as Alma elaborates it in her memoirs, is that music can offer experiences more overpowering than Nature itself — a kind of extreme aestheticism that Oscar Wilde also propounded in "The Decay of Lying," when he said that most sunsets are attempts at second-rate Turners. That essay also contains one of my favorite sentences in the English language, on the subject of Hamlet: "The world has become sad because a puppet was once melancholy."