Critics and artists are by no means natural enemies, even if the popular caricature would have us believe otherwise. After all, there were times when, like Hanslick and Brahms, they played the piano together four-handed. There is no reason at all to assume that these good old days are over, even if, in truth, the old days may not have been as good as we have been told. That is why it is all the more important that all those who care deeply about art and see themselves as its champions have to act in concert – together for art and indeed with a critical eye. In today’s music criticism, the business of public relations (portraits, home-stories, interviews) has largely prevailed over a critical discourse on musical works and their interpretations (reviews). In print media, layout and advertisement have replaced arguments, while on the internet, there is a great deal of argument by a great many participants, but a lot of empty talk as well. Which makes a critical institution like the Ranking of the Best, published quarterly by German Record Critics’ Award (“Preis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik”, PdSK) more important today than ever before.
In 1963, a small group of music critics joined together to initiate this award. Their aim was to install a reliable authority for quality control in a record market overlaid by advertisements, to give substantiated recommendations and thus promote the art of interpretation. Today, the association consists of 160 music critics from Germany, Austria and Switzerland. They work in 32 expert juries on a voluntary basis. Apart from the Rankings of the Best, they elect Annual and Honorary Awards each autumn. And occasionally, four of them get together to form a Quartet of Critics, to publicly discuss a musical work and to compare recordings of it.