Wiktor Labunski (Łabuński;1895-1974).
Many eminent Polish musicians settled in the United States during the 20th century. Among them was the celebrated pianist, composer and pedagogue Wiktor Labunski (Łabuński; 1895-1974). Born in a Polish family in St. Petersburg in Russia and educated as a pianist at St. Petersburg Conservatory, Labunski spent the post WWI years in Poland, teaching in Cracow and Lviv and giving concerts as a virtuoso pianist. He married Wanda Młynarska, the daughter of the eminent conductor Emil Młynarski. His wife’s sister Aniela (Nela) was married to the celebrated virtuoso Artur Rubinstein. His older brother, Felix (Feliks, 1892-1979), was also a musician, composer, and conductor.
In 1928 Wiktor Labunski moved to the United States, initially serving as Director of the Nashville Conservatory and later as Director of Piano Studies at Bohlman School of Music in Memphis. At that time, he was highly respected as a virtuoso pianist. The Curtis Institute of Music awarded him in 1936 with an Honorary Doctorate, a title shared at that time only by two world-class pianists: Sergei Rachmaninov and Joseph Hofmann.
In 1937 Labunski relocated from Tennessee to Kansas City to serve as Director of Kansas City Conservatory. Later, when the Conservatory was incorporated into the University of Missouri, Labunski remained on faculty as Artist-in-Residence.
Over the years, through his tireless musical activism, Labunski became a local celebrity. During his thirty-seven years as Kansas City resident he gave locally over two hundred piano recitals. To mark the Polish-American musician’s 70th birthday. Mayor of the city, Ilus W. Davis proclaimed April the 14th, 1965 “Wiktor Labunski Day”. In 1971, Labunski became the Honorary Member of Kansas City Musical Club. He died on January 26th, 1974 in Kansas City.
Today, very few people remember this remarkable musician from Poland. After his death, Labunski’s personal archives, photos, autographs, recordings, manuscripts of his compositions, as well as the manuscript of his extended memoirs were all deposited in the Special Collections at the Miller Nichols Library at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. The materials at UMKC contain several published and unpublished compositions, a great majority of them works for the piano, many of them in manuscript.
Although composition was not at the center of his daily activities, Labunski produced an impressive body of high quality music which deserves examination and recognition. While he was active throughout his life as a virtuoso romantic pianist, his compositions indicate fascination with modernity and an acute awareness of contemporary musical fashions.
Dr. Slawomir Dobrzanski
Kansas State University
Member of PAHA, Dr. Slawomir Dobrzanski, Professor of Piano at Kansas State University, recently researched and recorded Wiktor Labunski’s complete solo piano music, soon to be released as a CD by the Acte Prealable label in Poland.