Though she never wrote a note of music, Carolyne zu Sayn-Wittgenstein was a Polish-born Russian princess who had an intractable, and largely unrecognized, impact on the music of the nineteenth century. Born Karolina Elizabeth Iwanowska to a royal Russian family, she married Prince Nikolaus zu Sayn-Wittgenstein-Ludwigsburg in 1836 and bore him a daughter. The marriage was unhappy from the start, and in 1845 Sayn-Wittgenstein fell in love with composer Franz Liszt during one of his Russian tours. By 1847, Liszt and Sayn-Wittgenstein were living together in Weimar, and subsequently she undertook the tricky business of trying to get the Roman Catholic Church to allow them to marry and nevertheless retain her title and properties in Russia. Not surprisingly, Prince Nikolaus refused to divorce her and put up opposition to her marrying Liszt to his dying day, and in 1860 the church issued it's final denial to their union just as they were about to step up to the altar. Nevertheless, Liszt and Sayn-Wittgenstein remained close until Liszt died in 1886, and she did not long outlive him. After her death, Sayn-Wittgenstein's daughter founded the Franz-Liszt-Stiftung (Foundation) with money left behind from Sayn-Wittgenstein's will.
Sayn-Wittgenstein was a prolific author and letter writer and worked, uncredited, with Liszt on the libretti of the large oratorios that dominate his middle and late periods, such as Christus (1859-1863), Die Legende von der heilgen Elizabeth (1857-1862), the Szekeszárd Mass (1869), and Via Crucis (1876-1879). Sayn-Wittgenstein also ghosted many of the books published under Liszt's name, for example his biography of Frédéric Chopin, and her influence on Hector Berlioz's opera Les Troyens was of such significance that Berlioz dedicated this large and ambitious work to her. Although her libretti may seem wordy and somewhat ponderous by twenty first century standards, Sayn-Wittgenstein was regarded as an expert on matters of text in the grand scale and viewed, not as Liszt's unfortunate mistress, but as a peer by the European musicians of her time.