Born: February 28, 1747; West Springfield, MA
Died: 1798; Randolph, VT
Although he was also a composer, legendary Vermonter Justin Morgan is most famous as the breeder of the original Morgan horse, Figure. All modern-day Morgan horses can be traced back to Figure, and as Figure outlived her breeder by about 25 years, even the horse herself earned the nickname "the Justin" in honor of him. Justin Morgan was born in West Springfield, MA, and ran a tavern there, bred horses, and, during the American Revolutionary War,Read more operated a cavalry depot. After the war he worked as a tax collector in the area, but as the burden of shortfall came upon the assessor according to early Massachusetts laws, Morgan sold his property and moved to Randolph, VT. Morgan established another tavern in Randolph and operated as the town clerk; although the tavern has burnt down, neatly inscribed civic records kept in Morgan's hand still survive.
Nine compositions -- fuguing tunes, plain tunes, an anthem, and a lament -- of Morgan's survive; the first eight appeared in a collection entitled The Federal Harmony (1790) and the last -- the lament Amanda (also known as "Despair") -- appeared separately. Amanda is by far and away Morgan's best-known work, with its use of unprepared dissonance and parallel fifths; it was written in 1791 as a memorial to Morgan's wife who had died in childbirth that year. During his lifetime and immediately after, however, Montgomery was Morgan's most famous work, being reprinted some 50 times in the two decades following its publication. All of Morgan's pieces are strikingly original; the Judgment Anthem modulates from E minor to E flat major and is an extraordinarily long piece. Like William Billings, Justin Morgan's rough-hewn music helped establish early on that American composition was going to be quite a different animal from what Europe commonly produced, a quality partly recognized when American composer Thomas Canning paid tribute to Amanda in his 1944 orchestral work Fantasy on a Hymn Tune by Justin Morgan. Read less