Born in Swalwell-on-Tyne, County Durham, Shield was a boat builder in his early life. A violin player, he was a member of the King's Theatre, Haymarket, London at the age of 25. He composed approximately 30 operas beginning with The Flitch of Bacon in 1778. Although much of the music in his operas was original composition, Shield typically included several traditional Scottish and/or Irish folk tunes. He became quite an accomplished composer and was appointed Master of the King's Music in 1817.
An interesting and ongoing debate surrounds Robert Burns, William Shield and the composition of Auld Lang Syne. Similarities were notice between the tune and the last section of the overture in Shield's opera Rosina. The words, often sung on New Year's Eve, have been attributed to Scottish poet Robert Burns, although he himself wrote that he had merely recorded the lyrics of a traditional song. Read more about the controversy here.
Fuller and Shield were firm friends and the latter was a frequent guest at Fuller's musical evenings. In the first codicil of his will, dated 24 March 1827, Fuller bequeathed £ 100 to William Shield. Shield, however, died at the age of 81 on 25 January 1829 (ironically Robbie Burns Day), and predeceased Fuller by five years. William Shield willed his Stainer viola to King George IV and left 'To John Fuller, Cipriani's original drawing of Dr. Arne and a large prospect of the city of Rome'. Fuller's private carriage is among those noted in Shield's funeral procession.
Fuller commissioned sculptor Peter Rouw to make the plaque, pictured right. It reads:
Sacred to the memory of
William Shield Esquire
Master of His Majesty's Band of Music
who died January 25, 1829
Aged 80 years
and is buried in Westminster Abbey
This gentleman's name, independent
of his high character, and virtues,
in private life, has a claim, to be enroll'd
amongst this most eminent, musical
composers that have hitherto prov'd
an ornament to the British nation
John Fuller of Rose Hill Esqr
However, Dr John Ireland (1761-1842) the Dean of Westminster objected to the word 'gentleman' being used and refused to allow the plaque to be installed there. The Reverend John Burrell Hayley, rector of Brightling proved more sympathetic and so the plaque was ensconced there.
Dr. Thomas Augustine Arne (Composer, 1710-1778)
Arne was born in King Street, Covent Garden, London in March of 1710. His family wanted him to study law but Arne was destined for musical greatness. It is said that he learned the piano and violin in secret and would sneak away to the opera and sit in the servant's gallery. Once his parents became aware of his enormous talent for music they consented to allow him to receive formal training.
He enjoyed greater popularity and success than any other English composer of his day. Charles Burney in his General History of Music wrote "The melody of Arne at this time forms an era in English Music; it was so easy, natural and agreeable to the whole kingdom, that it had an effect upon our national taste".
Arne composed over 80 works for the stage as well as cantatas, odes, glees and chamber works. Rule Britannia is perhaps his best known composition. He was made a Doctor of Music by Oxford University in 1759. He died in London on 5 March 1778
Giovanni Battista Cipriani (Painter, 1727-1785)
Born in Florence, Italy in 1727, Cipriani, " was in Rome from 1750 to 1753, where he became acquainted with Sir William Chambers, the architect, and Joseph Wilton, the sculptor, whom he accompanied to England in August 1755." Encyclopedia Britannica, 1911.
He quickly gained a reputation for his Neo-Classical interiors and his work can be seen today at Somerset House and Buckingham Palace.
Cipriani received £315 for his eight side panels, with allegorical scenes reflecting England's greatness, that decorate the Gold State Coach designed by William Chambers for George III. (One panel is shown right) This coach is still in use by the Royal Family today.
Cipriani died on 14 December 1785 at Hammersmith and was buried in Chelsea.