The "Dance Of Death" or "Danse Macabre" in french, was a medieval allegory on how death unites all people, regardless of age or social status. It was shown as a gruesome spectacle in which the Grim Reaper summons a host of dead spirits to dance along their graves.
Popular figures in this dance were a pope, emperor, king, youngster and laborer, chosen to remind the audience of the time that death was a truly universal concept and no man (or woman) was safe from its embrace, it was also used by the religious medieval people to highlight the foolishness of people who valued earthly possessions.
The "Danse Macabre" was represented on countless forms of arts first as theatre plays and poems, then numerous wall-paintings and drawings, mostly since the fifteenth century. In these times, the sheer number of death due to wars, famine and plagues, associated with three of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, made a strong impact on people's minds, causing many reflexion on the true value of life.
This medieval scene was also paralleled in a French superstition that stated that the Grim Reaper would rise every Halloween at a cemetery on the witching hour (midnight). Once there the entity would play a fiddle and summon the skeletons or ghosts of all the dead to dance until the rising sun forced them to retreat back to the grave. This legend was the inspiration for a poem by Henri Casalis also known as the "Danse Macabre," which was made into a musical piece by the French composer Camille Saint-Saëns in 1874. Saint-Saëns' friend Franz List later adapted it for piano alone.
The "Danse Macabre" music is now extremely famous worldwide and used in many death-themed works, being now used as a theme tune of some sort to the Grim Reaper and ghosts gatherings.