A bit on the history of Russian Folk Music
In the late 1800's, a young aristocrat named Vasily Vasil'yevich Andreev was probably the first figure in Russian history to start collecting Russian folk songs. Whilst studying in the village of Mar'ino, he became overwhelmed by the beauty of the balalaika sound, the instrument being played by many peasants in his estate. In fact, he even attempted to introduce it into the higher ranked society, but the crude instrument on which he was playing was not welcomed by the Russian aristocracy.
Andreyev then began a long collaboration with two violin makers, V. Ivanov and Francois Paserbski and a carpenter, Semeon Nalimov. The four set about reconstructing the balalaika by giving it frets, enlarging the soundboard and body, so that it could be performed on the concert stage. Andreyev became an acclaimed balalaika performer and teacher, often known as 'the father of the balalaika'.
He began experimenting with the instrument, creating a whole family of balalaikas - prima, sekunda, alto, bass and contrabass which provided a full spectrum of sound from soprano to low bass in a manner similar to the string family in the symphony orchestra. Andreyev also added the important domra family of instruments to his orchestra, along with the 'gusli', a table autoharp of the psaltery family.
Three generations of balalaika players have since descended from Andreyev's school. Whilst professional composers have written for the instrument, everything from solo pieces to concertos. However, folk music still dominated in the repertoire of balalaika, which was brought to prominence in Russian music by Vasiliy Andreyev.