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Performances conceived, delivered and heard during a state of crisis, or in its aftermath, can be hugely different from those that are not.

Szpilman's fellow musicians - whatever side they were on during the war - changed so much over the 1940s and after that the great masterpieces they performed seemed to rewrite themselves. How the current war will change what we hear remains to be, well, heard.

Inside his sitting room there are shelves of old books, a Bieder-meier secretaire, a polished parquet floor.

Black and white photographs of old friends stand in rows on the piano; prints and framed mementoes hang from the white walls.

Then, effortlessly, he moves from the familiar to the horrific. I found out later - this isn't in the book - that he was looking for toothpaste, but no matter.

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The academy "appreciated the fate that befell my father, the total degradation of a well-known artist under war conditions," said Andrzej Szpilman , a doctor who lives in Europe and who attended the Academy Award ceremony in Los Angeles.

In fact, it is merely one episode in an extraordinary story of survival, recently published in English as The Pianist.

Wladyslaw Szpilman, already a famous musician and composer when the war broke out - Poles of a certain generation still know the words to his popular songs - was rescued not only by a German but by a Jewish policeman, who pulled him out of a queue of people boarding trains for Treblinka; by his talent, which kept him alive in the starving Warsaw Ghetto; and by, in his own estimate, no less than 20 Poles who smuggled him out of the Ghetto and then hid him in their flats, knowing that they and their families could be sentenced to death for helping a Jew.

Polish pianism of that period is more about shade than light.

But anyone can understand that artistic expression, even the supposedly stationary world of classical music, cannot exist in a demilitarized zone, standing apart from world events.

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