Spoiled heiress Louise Durant (Dame Elizabeth Taylor) decides to leave the comfort of her father's estate in southern France to study piano at the Music Conservatory in Zurich, despite knowing that she does not have the talent nor desire to be a professional pianist. She is going there to follow her new boyfriend, violinist Paul Bronte (Vittorio Gassman), who is completing his final year of studies there, and who she hopes eventually to marry. Not even knowing Paul, this move does not sit well with Louise's father, Nicholas Durant (Louis Calhern), as he values success over all else, and Paul is not a success. Louise hopes to find her place in Paul's musical life, she does not truly understand the all-consuming passion he and many of the other students have for music. In her view of their world, Louise finds that she cannot be a complementary figure in that musical life as she wants, but is in direct competition with it. As such, some students resent Louise for taking away from Paul's talent, while others resent Paul for believing he can give in to Louise's non-musical whims while believing that he is not sacrificing his music. While Paul may ultimately have to choose between the violin and Louise especially, as he seems to be on the brink of stardom, pianist James Guest (John Ericson), a freshman at the Conservatory who lives in the same building as Louise, seems like he is willing to give up everything for Louise as he is falling in love with her. In Paul and John possessing the true talent to make it big, they may end up resenting Louise if they choose her over their music. Louise has to find a way to foster their music while still being part of their lives in her love.
A rich, young beauty, Louise Durant (Dame Elizabeth Taylor), follows the man she loves and hopes to marry to Zurich where he studies violin at the conservatory. A piano student at the conservatory falls madly in love with Louise. The violinist loves his music first and Louise second. The pianist loves Louise first and his music second. Louise must ultimately choose which man she wants.
- At their villa in the south of France, beautiful, spoiled young American heiress Louise Durant informs her wealthy father Nicholas that she is going to the music conservatory in Zurich to study piano and be near her beau, Paul Bronte, a violinist in his final year of study. The headstrong Louise adds that she plans to marry Paul, although he does not know this yet.
In Zurich, Louise rents an apartment from Frau Sigerist, and meets fellow tenant James Guest, an American studying piano on the G.I. Bill. The following morning, Louise auditions for Prof. Schuman and, acknowledging her unexceptional talent, tells him she wants to study at the conservatory to be near the man she loves. When the kindly professor cautions her that great musicians do not always make good husbands, Louise confesses that she does not share Paul's passion for music. Schuman then tells Paul that he has chosen him to perform the violin solo in Tchaikovsky's Concerto in D Major with the Zurich Philharmonic. Paul leaves Louise alone in Schuman's waiting room for hours while he practices the piece, and she finally gets angry and walks out.
Paul finds Louise in her room packing, and although she is disheartened by the thought of always coming second to Paul's music, he persuades her to stay. Louise strikes up a friendship with James, and allows him to use her piano to practice. One day, Louise gets a telegram from her father asking her to join him in St. Moritz, and brings Paul with her. Nicholas concedes that the young man has a certain "arrogant charm," but warns Louise that Paul will never need her as much as she desires.
As the date of his concert debut grows nearer, Paul gets into an argument with the conductor at a rehearsal, and when Schuman reproaches him, he walks out in anger. When Louise tries to console him, Paul bitterly blames himself for being unprepared. Schuman gives Paul another chance, and Paul tells Louise they must not see each other until after the concert. Louise reluctantly consents, and the lovers speak only on the phone during Paul's intensive rehearsal period.
On the night of the concert, Paul performs with great passion, and is so much in demand after the show that Louise is again left waiting alone. Paul's career is immediately launched, but Louise feels excluded and takes no pleasure in his success. When Paul tells her he must continue to focus on his work, they quarrel and Louise walks out.
From her apartment that night, Louise sees Paul kiss a pretty conservatory student and drive away with her. Later that night, Frau Sigerist hears a noise coming from Louise's room and goes to James for help. James breaks down the door, and they find Louise on the floor, unconscious from taking an overdose of pills. Nicholas is summoned, and is impressed by James's devotion to Louise during her recovery. When she is well again, Louise prepares to join her father in Paris. James asks her to stay, and although the now-hardened Louise lightly dismisses his protestations of love, his desperation moves her.
Time passes, and Paul tours the world as a concert violinist. One day, after encountering Nicholas on the street in Paris, Paul calls Louise at the Ritz, and she happily agrees to meet him. While waiting for her in the bar, Paul sees James at a booth, drunk and miserable. Paul is surprised to learn that James married Louise several weeks earlier, and leaves the bar in disgust. Louise seeks Paul out at the concert hall and offers to divorce James, but while he admits he still loves her, he rejects her offer. A conversation with Nicholas convinces Louise that she needs to redeem herself in Paul's eyes by helping James, and she tells her husband they must go back to Zurich. James returns to the conservatory, and Louise patiently supports him through his long hours of practice. In time, James's first concert appearance is announced, and Louise sends her father a flyer with a note saying she wishes Paul knew she did it all for him. Nicholas passes the flyer to Paul after a concert, and Paul is pleased by the change in Louise. Soon afterward, Louise comes home and finds a letter slipped under her door.
On the evening of James's concert debut, Louise tells him she is going away with Paul after the concert, and implores James to see that he can succeed without her. Despite his obvious suffering, James plays brilliantly, unaware that Louise is watching him from the back of the auditorium. Paul comes for Louise and finds her watching her husband with great emotion. After the concert, James is standing on the empty stage when Louise appears and rushes into his arms.