William Shield (March 5, 1748 ? January 25, 1829) was an English composer, violinist and violist who was born in Swalwell near Gateshead, the son of William Shield and his wife, Mary, nee Cash. There were Shields living in Swalwell at least as far back as 1696. Shield was first taught music by his father but, after both he and his mother died while Shield was still a child, he was apprenticed to a ship-builder in South Shields, continuing however to study music with Charles Avison in Newcastle upon Tyne.
He became a noted violinist in Newcastle's subscription concerts before moving to Scarborough to lead a theatre orchestra. In 1772, he was appointed by Felice de Giardini to play violin in the opera at Covent Garden (now the Royal Opera House), and from 1773 he was principal violist there.
Shield also worked as a composer for Covent Garden and, in that capacity, he met Joseph Haydn. In 1817, he was appointed Master of the King's Musick. Like Haydn, not to mention several other composers of his time, Shield was a great plunderer of folk tunes (in his case mostly from his native Northumbria).
Shield's works include a large number of operas and other stage works, including one on Robin Hood, as well as instrumental music, but he is principally known for his light English opera Rosina (1781). It was intended to be used as a light afterpiece to a more 'serious' work sung in Italian. Such works were common at the time, although Rosina is the only one that has survived in the form of a complete score.
Rosina has a number of features associated with later English comic opera, and even modern musical comedy - including the use of English, spoken dialogue, lightness of theme, and the use of folk and popular medodies. At least to that degree, it may be regarded as one of the ancestors of the musical, and Shield as one of the first composers of musicals.
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