In the beginning of the 19th century, Johannes Elias Alder is born in a small village in the Austrian mountains. While growing up he is considered strange by the other villagers and discovers his love to music, especially to playing the organ at the local church. After experiencing an "acoustic wonder", his eye color changes and he can hear even the most subtle sounds. Elias falls in platonic love with Elsbeth, the sister of Peter, a neighbor's son, who has loving feelings towards Elias ever since. After Elsbeth marries someone else, Elias (aged 22) decides to end his life by not sleeping anymore.