I think that you'll find that certain analytical theories, useful in their own right, were used (sometimes by their creators) as criteria for the worth of a work. Schenker and Hindemith both spring to mind.
Schenker's theories on Ursatz work quite well for music in a range from, say, Haydn to Brahms, which, coincidentally, was the range that Schenker considered to be the epitome of the art (he was something of a reactionary). Not surprisingly, he used his theories as a stick to beat on modern music.
Hindemith expounds his theories of harmony and counterpoint in Unterweisung im Tonsatz, which gives an interesting insight into how Hindemith saw his own music as working. However, in the appendices of Book 1, Hindemith uses his theory to analyse and judge a number of works from Gregorian chant to the music of his day: most are found wanting, and his analysis of Schoenberg's Op. 33a is in particular a travesty.
There are undoubtedly more theories than these that are used as criteria of worth, but these suffice to establish a pattern: people who use theories to establish the value of a piece of music almost always have a vested interest in the theories. That's to say that these "universal" theories agree with their authors' criteria, and may even (probably even) reflect those criteria in their formation, or, in other words, the authors' biases normally lead to the creation of the theory, which is then referenced as authoritative when evaluating musical works, a form of circular reasoning.
If I were inclined to do this, I would undoubtedly put a high premium on craftsmanship - people who know my music know that I am contrapuntal to the eye teeth, and that even works that I write for a soloist with accompaniment tend to imply duets, trios and other ensembles. So then, what happens when I apply my criteria to Punk? I admittedly don't like Punk, but its aesthetic and political purposes led to a quite sincere repudiation of my criteria, and it fulfilled those purposes well. We would be at theoretical loggerheads, no? We could argue about the aesthetic foundations of our respective musical criteria, but this would certainly emphasise that our "objective" criteria aren't (and Punk started from a foundation of subjectivity anyway).
So, to bring this back to the question:
- I know of at least a few noteworthy attempts to establish "objective" criteria (see above), and there are undoubtedly others that I don't know.
- There is a strong element of teleology in these theories, which tend to assume a movement toward "perfection", and, although purporting to be universal, tend also to exclude large swaths of music as diverging from this perfection.
- The use of these theories as criteria involves large doses of circular reasoning, as the biases of the authors are reflected in the formulation of the theories, but the theories are then applied as objectively authoritative.
- The theories can nevertheless be useful (as is the case for both Schenker and Hindemith). There are sometimes insights that can be adapted to understand music outside the theories' purview.
- The motivation of these theories is quite simple: people prefer to believe that they are right in what they are doing or believing, even in the face of evidence that they might not be quite that right.