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In mid-nineteenth century Vienna, Johann "Schani" Strauss, the son of the well-known waltz composer, whose name he bears, works as a clerk in a bank. Johann also wants to write waltzes and has difficulty concentrating on banking matters. When he is caught composing a tune one day, he is fired, but is happy because he will now have more time to devote to music. Johann's sweetheart, Poldi Vogelhuber, the daughter of a baker, is happy with his decision, and while Johann visits her father's shop, baker Kienzl, who is an amateur musician, suggests that he and other friends help Johann to start an orchestra. A short time later, they get a job at the popular Donmayer's Cafe, but their music does not seem to appeal to Otto Donmayer's patrons. Just as he is about to dismiss Johann, however, Fritz Schiller and Carla Donner, two stars from the Imperial Opera, arrive at the cafe and ask to have the orchestra play for them. Johann plays a new waltz, "Artist's Life," and the cafe is soon crowded with music lovers. Schiller, is impressed with Johann and arranges for him to attend a party at the palace of Count Hohenfried. Carla sings one of Johann's waltzes, which attracts the attention of the music publisher Julius Hofbauer, but Johann is insulted by what he perceives to be both Carla and Hofbauer's interest in him only as an amusement. He storms out of the party and soon marries the devoted Poldi. A short time later, a revolution breaks out and Johann writes a march that becomes the anthem of the revolutionaries. One day, as marchers start to sing the song in the streets, they surround the coach of an aristocrat. Just as violence is about to erupt, Johann notices that Carla is in the coach and rescues her. They then drive through the Vienna Woods and Johann is inspired by the sounds of the forest to compose a tune, which he and Carla joyously sing. They are then caught in a rainstorm and take cover at a small inn where the innkeeper, who thinks that Carla is Johann's wife tells her "it must be wonderful to be the wife of Johann Strauss." After she wistfully agrees, Johann leads the inn's small orchestra in one of his compositions and he and Carla realize that they are in love. Soon Count Hohenfried arrives after looking frantically for Carla and takes her home. The revolution has failed, and Johann returns home to Poldi, but cannot get his mind off Carla. He resolves to leave Vienna and take Poldi with him, but soon Carla tells him that he has been commissioned to write an opera for her. While the opera is being rehearsed, Carla and Johann fall more deeply in love. When the opera opens, the count discovers that Poldi, who has remained silent about Johann's relationship to Carla, has not come to the opening. The count goes to her and urges her to stop the affair before they run off together because he knows that such a relationship will only bring unhappiness to all of them. Poldi then goes to the Imperial Opera House but, when he sees Johann's triumph, she decides to go to Carla to tell her that she is planning to give her husband up because she could not help and inspire him as Carla does. Touched, Carla tells Poldi that she cannot accept her sacrifice and leaves without Johann. In the following decades, Johann becomes world famous and is given every possible honor for his waltzes. Despite his feelings for Carla, he remains with the devoted Poldi.