Page 1: Biography
Saunders, Linden Charles Mansell
Teacher, music critic, broadcaster
This biography, written by Jack Body, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1998.
Linden Charles Mansell Saunders was born in Christchurch on 5 December 1908, the son of Violet Mary Georgina March and her husband, Charles Mansell Saunders, a cordial manufacturer. As music critic of the New Zealand Herald from 1940 to 1993, Lin Saunders was to be a central figure on the Auckland musical scene, becoming one of New Zealand's most influential music commentators.
Music was a part of his early education. His study of the piano began during a prolonged period of convalescence after contracting influenza in 1918. He attended Christ's College from 1918 to 1922 and was a boy chorister at Christchurch cathedral under Dr J. C. Bradshaw, from whom he learned the organ. This experience enabled him to become choirmaster and organist of St John's Church, Woolston, at the age of 15. He entered Canterbury College in 1926, graduating MA in Latin in 1931, and MusB in 1934. From 1928 to 1934 he was on the teaching staff of Cathedral Grammar School, and organist and choirmaster at St Barnabas Church, Fendalton.
In England, at the Royal College of Music, London, Saunders studied composition (with Ralph Vaughan Williams), harmony and organ, becoming an associate of the Royal College of Music in 1935. He also undertook a short course of study at the University of Poitiers, France, and briefly taught languages at Rugby School.
Returning to New Zealand in 1936, Saunders became director of music at King's College, Auckland, where over the next 38 years he taught Latin and French as well. A dynamic and charismatic teacher, he revived music at the school and established a remarkable range of musical activities, in an era when many New Zealand schools were musically moribund. His initiatives included a chapel choir, a school orchestra, annual glee club music-theatre productions, and performances of Handel's Messiah, Bach's 'St Matthew' Passion, and a Christmas festival of lessons and carols. A number of his pupils later achieved musical prominence.
Saunders was notable for his seemingly boundless energy, and a propensity for minor calamities, in particular a tendency to set his clothes alight with his pipe. His marriage at Christchurch on 28 August 1937 to Helen Matilda Flower Bruce provided vital companionship and support through years of hectic activity, as 'Elsie' (as he was affectionately nicknamed by his pupils) pursued his double career as schoolteacher and music critic. They had no children.
During his 53 years as music critic for the New Zealand Herald Saunders wrote over 5,000 concert reviews. Tweed-jacketed, slightly dishevelled, and always accompanied by his wife, he was a familiar sight to Auckland concert-goers. He invariably refused to divulge his opinion of a performance before his review was printed. He was generally well informed and supportive, and enjoyed lasting friendships with many local and international musicians. However, he had little fondness for avant-garde music, and his unsympathetic reviews dismayed some New Zealand composers and contemporary music enthusiasts. He had a special penchant for opera, and during overseas trips he sought out productions in the world's most famous opera houses.
Besides his work as concert, record and book reviewer for the Herald, he was music columnist for Church and People, and a broadcaster, notably as presenter of 'Opera Hour' from 1976 to 1988. Saunders also served the musical community as vice president of the Auckland Choral Society, founding chairman of the Auckland branch of the Royal School of Church Music, and adjudicator at numerous music competitions.
In 1964 he was made an associate of the Royal School of Church Music (London) and in 1989 was appointed an OBE for his services to music. Throughout his life his favourite recreations were golf, bowls, gardening and travel. He went to Australia to cover the opening of the Sydney Opera House in 1973, and the Victorian Arts Centre in 1984, and visited the United States on a State Department travel award in 1970. He was the official press representative with the Auckland Dorian Choir on their 1977 tour of the United Kingdom. He died at his home in Mangere on 24 March 1995, survived by his wife, Helen.