Alan Turing, the oratorio – crack the silence here

Alan Turing, the oratorio – crack the silence here


norman lebrecht

March 03, 2014

Alan Turing was the genius who cracked the German Enigma code and helped to win the Second World War. He died by his own hand after persecution by the British authorities for his sexual activities. In this aspect, as in others, Turing was ahead of his time: he saw no issue or shame in being homosexual and took no measures to conceal his encounters which were, at the time, illegal. He was, and remains, by any definition – a hero.


alan turing

James McCarthy’s Codebreaker, sung by Hertfordshire Chorus with David Temple,  premieres at London’s Barbican Hall, Saturday 26th April. Watch, listen, reflect. Just as Turing did at Bletchley.


  • Also of interest is the one act PhD student opera “The Turing Test” by Julian Wagstaff:

    This played to full houses at the Edinburgh Fesetival Fringe 2007.

  • I would love to see this, but will be in Italy at that time. I hope it gets a second performance!

  • With all due respect, saying that he was persecuted “for his gay lifestyle” implies that it was a choice on his part.

    • Mikey says:

      @Jeffrey E. Salzburg

      thank-you for commenting.

      the word “lifestyle” should only apply to LGBT people when referring to their actual lifestyle choices. Their sexuality is NOT one of the things that falls under the heading “lifestyle”.

      Alan Turing was persecuted for his sexuality, for his identity, for who he was.

      He wasn’t persecuted for enjoying taking afternoons off to have tea at the club.

      He wasn’t persecuted for belonging to a bridge club.

      He wasn’t persecuted for choosing not to use deodorant.

      “Lifestyle”: something you choose to do, to apply to your everyday life.

      “Sexual identity”: immutable nature of your sexuality.

      The word “lifestyle” implies “choice”.

      Implying “choice” borders on the homophobic.

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      What do you mean by that? That he chose to be prosecuted?

    • timwalton3 says:

      Yes I agree.

      It should read ‘because he was gay’

      Norman please change it

    • It wasn’t until recently that Turing was granted a posthumous Royal Pardon for his “lifestyle choice”. There are moves afoot to have all such convictions pardoned, or better, quashed altogether.

    • William Safford says:

      But isn’t that the point? Isn’t that what would have been assumed by many of the people of the time? We know that that is balderdash, but isn’t it relevant to why he was treated so badly?

  • He was hounded for having sex with men, which was illegal in the UK at that time. ‘Being gay’ was not an offence. Being sexually active was.

    • The sex drive is strong enough, in any healthy adult, to make the two simultaneous in practice, if not in theory.

    • Mikey says:

      @Norman Lebrecht

      that’s quibbling with semantics.

      had he been in a monogamous relationship with one man, he would STILL have been prosecuted.

      He was prosecuted for being what he was: a gay man.

      Using the word “lifestyle” is incredibly insulting. Being LGBT is not a “lifestyle”. That implies that one chooses to be LGBT.

      • I agree. Your sexual orientation isn’t a ‘lifestyle’ you choose, like living near the beach or buying a fashionable new pair of shoes, it is the innate romantic attraction to another human being bestowed upon you by Nature at birth, and discovered by you at puberty, not chosen. The only choice Nature allows is in your partner, and the hope they want you with the same intensity you want them.

      • I doubt if Mr. Lebrecht meant any offense. Let’s keep it ratcheted down, OK?

        • timwalton3 says:

          I’m sure Norman didn’t mean to be offensive, BUT as a Gay person myself it is offensive to me & most other Gay people

          • Apologies. No offence was intended and no element of choice was suggested. Alan Turing was pursued by the authorities for having sex with men. That is the plain truth. It does not, however, adequately describe the underlying reasons or the reality of his persecution. I have written several times of the need to redress this ugly public misdeed.

          • Mikey says:

            the only problem is the word “lifestyle” which – good intentions or not – still demeans the existence of LGBT people and implies that they choose to be LGBT.

            when people who are allies to the LGBT community nevertheless continue using the wrong words when referring to the LGBT community, the slight is there. the sting is worse when it is from an ally, and worse yet when that ally refuses to acknowledge that they used an inappropriate word. it is not for heterosexual people to tell LGBT people which words are offensive or not. it is for our allies to understand how the simple choice of one word over another can turn a “supportive” phrase into one that continues to perpetuate a myth that LGBT people CHOOSE to be the way they are.

            I think a simple change in the original phrase is all that would be needed for the offense to be expunged. Alan Turing was prosecuted and imprisoned by the British government for his sexual orientation. It’s really as simple as that.

          • Screen name says:

            To my mind the correct expression to have used would have been ‘sexual orientation’. And by the way, the word then would have been ‘queer’.

  • There’s a play, which I lit many years ago, about Turing: “Breaking the Code”.

  • timwalton3 says:

    Apologies accepted Norman. Can you now please change the heading. Then, everyone will be a bit happier!