Dr. Francisco Xavier Beteta

Assistant Professor of Music

Words: Grace Kenyon ’22
Photos: Tony Hughes

Wheaton College music professor Francisco Xavier Beteta

Partway through his doctorate, Dr. Francisco Xavier Beteta was working on a cello piece with extended, or unconventional, techniques, but he had reached a wall. Something wasn’t working, and he realized that the piece didn’t have any substance to it.

“I was basically writing a piece for the sake of writing music, but it didn’t have revelation. It didn’t need to exist,” Beteta recalled.

He decided to abandon the piece and return to composing primarily for the piano using the method he had always used—improvisation. Even today, he never starts a composition away from the piano. For him, it’s important to let the music happen.

“I need to have physical contact with sound,” Beteta said. “I need to feel it in my hands.”

Originally from Guatemala City, Beteta began composing as a child. He would write small pieces based on whatever he was learning in his piano lessons, like Mozart sonatas and Bach inventions. Improvising always came naturally to him.

Many of Beteta’s pieces include religious themes and imagery, as well as the influence of Latin American history. His first piano concerto was based on paintings of the Passion of Jesus by 18th-century artist Tomás de Merlo. Three of these paintings were stolen in 2014 from the church in Guatemala known as El Calvario. The concerto was Beteta’s way of bringing them back.

An accomplished pianist as well as a composer, Beteta had the opportunity to premier this piano concerto at the auditorium of the National Conservatory in Guatemala City. The concert hall is adorned with paintings by Efraín Recinos, and it was meaningful to return to the place where he had taken piano lessons as a teenager.

As a Christian, not only does he explore religious images and themes in his music, but the composition process also has to have an element of inspiration, which he finds most readily through improvisation.

“Music needs to have that aspect of being revealed, of being given to you,” Beteta said. “If the music doesn’t have that, I just don’t compose the piece. I cannot continue.”

Later in the composition process, as he develops and fine-tunes his ideas, writing becomes more of an intellectual activity. However, he said the “original seed has to come from inspiration.”

“You don’t compose because you want to compose,” Beteta said, “but I think God gives you the music.”