Mapping the Collection of Russian Folk Songs in the Long 19th Century


This project is meant to demonstrate how the techniques of digital mapping can contribute to the fields of cultural and social history, as well as illuminate aspects of the complex relationship between geography, nationalism, and music in Russia in the long 19th century. This is by no means a complete map of the collection of Russian folk songs in the long 19th century, but can serve as a model of how a more comprehensive project could analyze and organize the socio-geographical data of folk song collecting.

The collection of folk songs in the long-19th century raises interesting geographical, political, social, and artistic questions. Where were ethnographers collecting folk songs? How does this relate to practices of knowledge production and ideologies of nationalism, ethnicity, and identity?

Many Russian composers of the mid- to late-19th century were involved in the documentation and dissemination/appropriation of folk music, either as collectors (such as Balakirev), arrangers or editors of folk songbooks (such as Tchaikovsky), composers who incorporated folk idioms into their music (such as Mussorgsky, Borodin, and Stravinsky), or all of the above. A significant amount of scholarship has already been done on the relationship between the artistic use of Russian folk idioms and the ideological and political project of Russian nationalism (see almost anything by Richard Taruskin).

The production of ethnomusicological knowledge through the collection of folk songs was also closely tied to nationalistic ideologies. Throughout her text Great-Russian Songs in their Folk Harmonization, E. Lineva focuses on the “authenticity” of the songs she is trying to collect. She explains that she studies folk songs in their “original unaltered shape,” 1 and was advised to explore the “remote, quiet corners” of Novgorod Province, where “genuine old folk-songs might very probably be found.” 2 Pleased with the outcomes of her expedition, Lineva says that “some of the songs have been preserved in so pure and genuine a form that they may well serve as a source of further theoretical researches into the genesis of the folk-song.” 3

But why are folk-songs and their “authenticity” so important? Lineva answers this as well, writing: “[The] Folk-song is the primitive manifestation of the musical genius of every country… […] each people has its own original, national features […] [and] its music and song show the same peculiarities as the language, litterature and customs [sic].” 4



The data for my maps was drawn primarily from three primary sources: E. Lineva’s Great-Russian Songs in their Folk Harmonization (1909), V. Prokunin’s Russian Folk Songs for One Voice and Piano (1872), and T.I. Filippov’s 40 Folk Songs (1882). I also used the one folk song from M. Balakirev’s Collection of Russian Folk Songs (1866). I also used the 1918 G. Schirmer publication Sixty Russian Folk-Songs for One Voice, Vol. I (edited by Kurt Schindler) to help identify song collections to locate and analysis. I also used Schindler’s annotations and notes to describe various song classifications.

I began my search for 19th century song collections with the bibliography of Margarita Mazo’s chapter “Russia, the USSR and the Baltic States” in Ethnomusicology: Historical and Regional Studies. Many potential sources were either simply not digitized online, or blocked behind a paywall. All of the primary sources I used came from IMSLP (the wonderful source of out-of-copyright sheet music). Amazingly, IMSLP has digitized, downloadable versions of the original song collections I analyzed.

To geolocate the villages and imperial district and province boundaries found in the primary sources, I used the online mapping resources of Harvard University’s Imperiia Project. The project has digitized and georectified Piadyshev’s Geographical Atlas, and offers an interactive online version of this map. An amazing resource, the mapping platform has dozens of layers that can be turned on and off. I used the Google Terrain base map along with the 1827 Piadyshev Atlas and 1897 province boundaries layers.


Like most mapping projects undertaken as part of the Musical Geography Project, this project used a combination of primary source analysis, Google spreadsheets, and ArcGIS.

In Google spreadsheets, I inputted information from the primary sources into 8 columns: Location/Region, Latitude, Longitude, Date Published, Song/Music Collected, Classification, Notes, and Citation. The “Citation” column contains the source where the song came from, along with any other primary or secondary sources that either helped to geolocate the song or describe its classification. The “Notes” section contains any information provided by the author of the source about the song (e.g. its classification), as well as a description of the classification (if necessary) and any acknowledgements about the provisionality of the lat/long pair given.

Most of the sources classified their songs into categories such as “wedding” or “soldier.” A few categories do not have simple English translations, which I tried to indicate in the Notes section of the spreadsheet. Schindler was useful for providing descriptions of a few of the classifications.

The information in the “Song/Music Collected” column is, generally, just the song titled provided in the source. If the song title was not available, I used the first line or so of the song lyrics. Unfortunately, I had to transliterate all locations and song titles into the Latin alphabet, so it would show up in ArcGIS. I used the sign “ ’ ” to represented the Russian soft-sign “ ь ”. In the original version of the spreadsheet, I left song titles in the original Russian. If the viewer wants to find out more about the song (or find a recording), it is much easier to copy and paste the Russian into Google instead of a transliteration or translation (which can vary from translator to translator). When transcribing the song titles (and occasionally the original Russian for the song classification), I replaced the old Cyrillic letter “ ѣ ” with “ е ”, per the post-Revolution orthographic shift (and per the modern Russian keyboard, which also does not contain this letter). I did, however, keep the original use of the hard-sign “ ъ ”, even though most usages of “ ъ ” were abandoned post-Revolution, as it does not hinder the comprehension of the song titles and is easily replicable on modern Russian keyboards. I also retained T. I. Filippov’s archaic use of “ i ” in the spellings of song titles and classifications. I provided the modern Russian spellings of the classifications as well.

“Date published” is just the publication date of the source. Originally, I planned to have a column titled “Date Collected,” but that data is nearly impossible to find or confirm –the songs could have been collected at different times, or years before the collection was published. However, the publication date is most likely roughly around the time the songs were collected.

With the exception of the one Balakirev-collected song I managed to geolocate, all of the locations were gathered from the songbooks/ethnographic materials. Usually, the location was listed under the song title or at the end of the song. Balakirev’s songbook does not provide the location of any of its songs; the location of this one song was mentioned in the annotations at the back of Schindler’s edited collection. I found Schindler’s annotation first, and was able to go back and find the original publication of the song in Balakirev’s collection. I added the province name after the district or village/town if it was not listed. All of the province and district names in the spreadsheet and map pop-ups are Imperial, not modern. I left large, well-known cities such as Moscow without a province name. I omitted all songs in T. I. Filippov’s collection that were sung “everywhere” or “widespread,” or that did not have a location listed. I did, however, include three of Filippov’s songs that he said he heard in Moscow, but the singers or the songs were from somewhere else. Because the focus of the map is the collection of folk songs, not the geolocation of the origins of particular Russian folk songs, I felt it was appropriate to leave these points in the spreadsheet to further illustrate Moscow’s importance to Filippov as a place for folk song collection. I made a note of this for each of the points. In Moscow, it seems, Filippov could hear folk songs from a variety of cities without having to actually go there (a contrast to Prokunin and Lineva). I did, however, omit a song that Filippov said was from Tula, but did not specify where he heard it. I also left out a Filippov song from the “Volga” region, as it is not clear which part of the Volga he was talking about.

Finding the lat/long pairs for all the locations required some major sleuthing. To start, the district and province boundaries of imperial Russia were re-drawn during the Soviet Union, and after the collapse of the Soviet Union. To help, I found Harvard University’s online interactive historical mapping platform at: I turned on the layers for the 1897 province boundaries, as well as the 1827 Piadyshev Atlas (the latter is digitized from the original document), and located the provinces and districts listed for each song. Because Harvard’s platform does not contain latitude-longitude information, I compared the historical maps with modern Google Maps satellite images, using large towns/cities and lakes as references points. If a specific village was listed in the primary source along with its district or province, I searched for that village in Google Maps, making sure it was in the correct corresponding modern province by comparing its location with the historical boundaries and natural features. I found many villages using this method. It appears that many of them still exist, and show up on Google Maps satellite images. When there were two plausible villages in the same area, I made a note of that discrepancy. Occasionally, the village did not show up in a Google Map search, but the village name appeared as a street name or train stop on the edges of a city in the correct region (once again, determined by the comparison of Harvard’s historical maps and Google Maps). When this was the case, I used the lat/long pair for the street or train stop; over the last 150 years or so, it has been common for small villages to be engulfed by urban expansion, and streets or train stops are often named after the village that was once there. When a village was simply missing from a Google Map search, and did not have any corresponding street or train stop names, I estimated a point in the center of the district (determined by the comparison of Harvard’s historical maps and Google Maps), and made a note of it. It is certainly possible for a village to have died out in the last 100 or 150 years. When a source only gave a district for the location of a song, I used a lat/long pair in the center of the district and made a note of it. T. I. Filippov often did not list specific villages and districts; rather, he simply wrote “Moscow” or “Rzhev.” I assumed that he meant the cities of Moscow or Rzhev, and put the lat/long point on these cities. In any case, cities such as these are in districts of the same name, so even if he collected songs in some other part of the district, the location would not be far off.

The Maps


Collection of Russian Folk Songs by Source

This map contains all of the data points from the spreadsheet, color-coded by source. The viewer can zoom in or out, move around, and click on any one of the colored points to get information about the song that was collected there.


The color coding shows us that each collector gathered songs in specific regions. This is not surprising considering that folk song collectors would go on expeditions in a certain region, and then publish a songbook or ethnography based on those trips. The map clearly illustrates this ethnomusicological practice, and visualizes the geographic reach of each researcher.


Collection of Russian Folk Songs Heat Map

This heat map contains all the data points from the spreadsheet, and demonstrates the frequency of song collection across space. The intensity of the heat spot depends on the number of songs collected in that location; the more red, the more songs. The map allows us to see not only which areas were sites for song collection, but which areas collectors gathered the most songs from.


The frequency of song collection in a certain area indicates either one of two things: a particular collector concentrated all of their efforts in one location and collected a significant number songs in one place, or multiple collectors collected songs from the same place. The heat map indicates that the Morshanskiy District in Tambov Province, Moscow, and Rzhev in Tver Province were all hot spots for song collection. Comparison with the map of songs by source demonstrates that Filippov and Prokunin collected the majority of their songs from Rzhev and the Morshanskiy District, respectively. This would explain their intensity on the heat map. Lineva, on the other hand, collected approximately the same amount of songs as Filippov did, but in a greater variety of village locations in Novgorod Province, which is why no one location in Novgorod Province is particularly red. The Morshanskiy District is more red than Rzhev because Prokunin collected more songs than Filippov did. Both Prokunin and Filippov collected songs in Moscow or in the Moscow District of Moscow Province, which explains the intensity of Moscow on the heat map.



Collection of Russian Folk Songs by Song Classification

This map contains all the data points from the spreadsheet, color-coded by song classification. I took all the classification names from the sources themselves. I consolidated “Dance” and “Round-dance” into “Dance/Round Dance,” all soldier or military-related songs into “Military.” If a classification had only one or two songs in the category, I put the song into “Miscellaneous.”


This map is not nearly as elegant as the previous two (partially due to the fact that ArcGIS makes color-coding layers difficult with maps with more than 7 layers), but it can tell us a few things. First off, we can see that not all maps are equally useful or clear. This classification map tells us more about language usage than about the folk songs themselves, as the different collectors used different terms to classify their songs. However, I think it is interesting to note the wide-spread use of the classification хороводная (khorovodnaya –round dance), and протяжная (protyazhnaya –literally “long,” “lingering,” “drawn-out”). According to Schindler, protyazhnaya is a category of folk song that has a “sad and longing character.”34 out of the 123 total songs (approximately 28%) collected were classified as protyazhnaya (purple on the map), while 26 out of the 123 (approximately 21%) were classified as round-dance songs (blue on the map). An additional song was classified as “dance,” which I included with “round dance” in the layer “Dance/Round Dance” for the map.


What’s Next?

With access to Russian archives, this map could be expanded to include many more collectors and collections of Russian folk songs in the long-19th century and into the 20th century. My maps show that, by and large, the folk songs were collected in rural villages in central Western Russia. The locations of these expeditions are not surprising considering their proximity to the academic institutions in Moscow and St. Petersburg that funded these ethnomusicological trips. But with more data, I could determine whether or not the concentration of folk-song collection in central Western Russia was a product of my relatively small sample size, or indicative of a larger trend. With more data across more time, I could also investigate if regions of folk-song collection changed over time, and why. Further research could also explore the sociopolitical implications of the documentation, dissemination, and appropriation of folk-songs by academics, conservatory musicians, and urban society in Imperial, Soviet, or Post-Soviet Russia.


Background title image:

Balakirev. A Collection of Russian Folk Songs compiled by M. Balakirev. [Сборник русских народных песен составленный М. Балакиревым] St. Petersburg: A. Iogansen, 1866.

T.I. Filippov. 40 Folk Songs collected by T.I. Filippov and arranged by N.A. Rimsky-Korsakov. [40 народных песен собранных Т.И. Филипповым и гармонизованных Н.А. Римским-Корсаковым] St. Petersburg: P. Jurgenson, 1882.

E. Lineva. Great-Russian Songs in their Folk Harmonization written down by E. Lineva, Second Series, Songs of Novgorod. [Великорусские песни в народной гармонизации записаны Е. Линевой, выпуск II. песни новгородские] St. Petersburg: Imperial Academy of Science, 1909.

E. Lineva. Peasant Songs of Great Russia as they are in the Folk’s Harmonization, collected and transcribed from phonograms by Eugenie Lineff, Second Series. English Edition. Moscow: Municipal Printing Office, 1911.

V. Prokunin. Russian Folk Songs for One Voice and Piano collected by V. Prokunin and edited by Prof. Tchaikovsky. [Русские народные песни для одного голоса с сопровождением фортепиано, собранные и переложенные В. Прокуниным, под редакцией профессора П. Чайковского] Moscow: P. Jurgenson, 1872.

Mazo, Margarita. “Russia, the USSR and the Baltic States,” In Ethnomusicology: Historical and Regional Studies, edited by Helen Myers,  197-211. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1993.

O’Neill, Kelly. Imperiia: Mapping the Russian Empire, accessed August 2, 2017,

Schindler, Kurt. Sixty Russian Folk-Songs for One Voice, Compiled from the Best Existing Sources with Piano Accompaniment, Introductory Essay and Notes by Kurt Schindler, vol. 1. New York: G. Schirmer, 1918.