1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Shield, William

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SHIELD, WILLIAM (1748-1829), English musical composer, was born at Swalwell, near Newcastle, in 1748. His father began to teach him singing before he had completed his sixth year, but died three years later, leaving him in charge of guardians, who made no provision whatever for continuing his musical education, for which he was thenceforward dependent entirely upon his own aptitude for learning, aided by a few lessons in thorough bass which he received from Charles Avison. Notwithstanding the difficulties inseparable from this imperfect training, he obtained admission in 1772 to the orchestra at the Italian Opera in London, at first as a second violin, and afterwards as principal viola, and this engagement he retained for eighteen years. In the meantime he turned his serious attention to composition, and in 1778 produced his first English comic opera, The Flitch of Bacon, at the Little Theatre in the Haymarket, with so great success that he was immediately engaged as composer to Covent Garden Theatre, for which he continued to produce English operas and other dramatic pieces in quick succession until 1797, when he resigned his office, and devoted himself to compositions of a different class, producing a great number of very beautiful glees, some instrumental chamber music, and other miscellaneous compositions. In 1817 he was made master of the royal music. He died in London on the 25th of January 1829, and was buried in the south cloister at Westminster Abbey.

Shield's most successful dramatic compositions were Rosina, The Mysteries of the Castle, The Lock and Key and The Castle of Andalusia. As a composer of songs he was in no degree inferior to his great contemporary Charles Dibdin. Indeed The Arethusa, The Heaving of the Lead and The Post Captain are as little likely to be forgotten as Dibdin's Tom Bowling or Saturday Night at Sea. His vein of melody was inexhaustible, thoroughly English in character and always conceived in the purest and most delicate taste, and hence it is that many of his airs are still sung at concerts, though the operas for which they were written have long been banished from the stage. His Introduction to Harmony (1794 and 1800) contains a great deal of valuable information; and he also published a useful treatise, The Rudiments of Thoroughbass.