Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Shield, William
SHIELD, WILLIAM (1748–1829), musical composer, was born at Swalwell in the parish of Whickham, co. Durham, on 5 March 1748. From his father, William Shield, a music-master, he learned the elements of music. On his father's death in 1757 he was apprenticed to a boat-builder named Edward Davison of South Shields; but he continued his musical studies under Charles Avison, organist of St. Nicholas, Newcastle, for whom he frequently played the violin at concerts. After one of these concerts he was introduced to Giardini, who ultimately persuaded him to become a professional musician. On the completion of his apprenticeship he removed to Scarborough, where, though the instrumentality of John Cunningham [q. v.], the poet and actor, he was appointed leader of the band at the theatre and conductor of the concerts during the season. Here, too, he met with his earliest success as a composer, by setting a number of poems by Cunningham to music, and, at the request of the bishop of Durham, he composed the music for the consecration of St. John's Church, Sunderland, on 6 April 1769. On the death of Avison in 1770 his son engaged Shield as leader at the Durham theatre and of the Newcastle concerts. Next season he accepted Giardini's offer of the post of second violin at the Italian opera in London. He was promoted to principal viola in the following year, held that post for eighteen years, and became a member of all the best metropolitan orchestras.
His first operatic venture was the music to the ‘Flitch of Bacon,’ a comic opera by Henry Bate (afterwards the Rev. Sir Henry Bate Dudley [q. v.]). It was produced by Colman at the Haymarket theatre in 1778, and its success led to Shield's being appointed composer at Covent Garden. In 1785 his dedication ode for the Phœnix Lodge of freemasons at Sunderland was produced with great success. During Haydn's visit to England in 1791 Shield was much in his company, and used to say that he thus learnt more in four days than in any four years of his life. In August 1792 he resigned his office at Covent Garden owing to a financial disagreement, and went to France and Italy with Joseph Ritson [q. v.], the antiquary; but on his return a few months later he was immediately reinstated. He ultimately resigned in 1797, and dissolved all connection with the theatre ten years later. In 1793 he, Incledon, Bannister the elder, and others, formed the once famous ‘Glee Club;’ he was also an original member of the Philharmonic Society. In 1817, on the death of Sir William Parsons, he became master of musicians in ordinary to the king. Shield died at 31 Berners Street, London, on 25 Jan. 1829, and was buried on 4 Feb. in the south cloister of Westminster Abbey, in the same grave as Solomon and Clementi. He left his fine Stainer viola to the king, who, however, insisted on paying Shield's widow (born Ann Stokes) its full value. On 19 Oct. 1891 a memorial cross was erected by public subscription to Shield in Whickham churchyard, and on 25 Jan. in the next year a memorial slab was placed over his grave in Westminster Abbey. His portrait, painted by Opie, was mezzotinted by Dunkarton.
Shield excelled as a melodist, and a large number of his songs and his dramatic pieces, which chiefly contain songs, were very popular. His concerted music was of inferior quality.
He wrote music for upwards of thirty dramatic pieces (for a list of which, with dates and places of production, see Harmonicon, viii. 52), of which ‘Rosina’ (1783) was one of the most popular; for this he received 40l. His songs are very numerous, and include ‘The Wolf,’ ‘The Thorn,’ ‘The Arethusa,’ ‘O bring me wine,’ and ‘Oxfordshire Nancy bewitched’ (written at Garrick's request). His theoretical works, ‘An Introduction to Harmony’ (London, 4to, 1800), and ‘Rudiments of Thorough-bass’ (London, 4to, 1815), were much used in their day. He also wrote:
- ‘A Cento of Ballads, Glees,’ &c., London, fol. 1809.
- ‘Collection of six Canzonets and an Elegy,’ London, n.d.
- ‘Collection of Favourite Songs.’
- ‘Trios and Duos for Strings.’
[Life (Newcastle 1891), by Mr. John Robinson, who promoted the schemes for erecting the memorials to Shield; Parish Register of Whickham, Durham; Chester's Register of Westminster Abbey; Dean Stanley's Westminster Abbey; Burial Book of Westminster Abbey; Quarterly Mus. Mag. and Rev. x. 273; Harmonicon, vii. 49; Musical Times, 1891, p. 654; Annual Biogr. and Obit. 1830, pp. 86–103; Georgian Era, iv. 257; Parke's Mus. Memoirs, vol. i. passim, ii. 275 et seq.]