According to legend St. Vitus was the Christian son of a pagan senator of Lucania, Italy. Vitus was known for his miracle-working, although his father tried to make him abandon his faith, through sometimes violent means. Vitus fled to Rome, where he was taken to exorcize the evil spirits from Emperor Diocletian’s possessed son. This he did, and yet, because he remained steadfast in the Christian faith, he was once more tortured along with his tutor Modestus and nurse Crescentia. By a miracle an angel brought back the martyrs to Lucania, where they died from the tortures they had endured.
Vitus reflects this narrative by setting out a steadfast, slowly modulating tetrachord in the strings and brass, which the woodwinds “torture” in sweeping moments of violent dissonance.
The central section suggests an episode of St Vitus Dance, also known as Sydenham’s Chorea and Rheumatic Chorea, a temporary disorder of the brain that manifests itself in continuous, involuntary jerking movements.