Cabinet of Folksongs

Cabinet of Folksongs

Krišjānis Barons strongly believed that the basic structure of Latvian folk poetry is a quatrain. It is backed by the Latvian singing tradition

itself. So he asked the collectors to send the material (in quatrains) to him written on just one side of each sheet, in the format 3 x 11 cm, so it can be cut into the slips he used (the other formats had to be re-written before they could be used).

By the year 1893 Barons had received approximately 150,000 texts. As Barons proceeded, he had to invent some tool to help in maintaining the arrangement of the texts. First he used the cigarette paper boxes, which he, being a smoker, had in good supply. The particular size of the slips came from boxes like this. But the deep box turned out to be inconvenient when working with such a great number of slips.

Since 1940 the Cabinet of Folksongs is in the custody of the Archives of Latvian Folklore. It was made in 1880, in Moscow, following the Krisjanis Barons’ own design. It has 70 drawers arranged in two columns, each having 20 (2 x 10) compartments intended for paper slips sized 3 x 11 cm, containing a quatrain of text. There are also three larger drawers for documents.

There are 268,815 slips (217 996 folksongs) altogether in the Cabinet. This manuscript is unique not only from the perspective of its cultural value, but also physically. While the cabinet has two replicas (one in the Krišjānis Barons’ museum in Riga, the other — in Russia, in the manor where much of the editing work was done, while Barons worked there as the private tutor for the owner’s children), the slips have just a single microfilm copy made in 1940s, with indications that this might be incomplete. On 4 September 2001 it was inscribed on the UNESCO Memory of the World Register. All the material now is scanned completely and is available on a separate site at

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