Schoenberg the hero
Intellectually, I view Schoenberg as probably the most heroic—and perhaps tragic—figure in 20th-century music. Had Rand been as well-versed in music as she was in the other arts, I think she would have agreed.
To get an idea of Schoenberg’s sense of life, listen to his early work, Verklarte Nacht, composed in more of a late-Romantic idiom. As Schoenberg came of age, the tonal system on which Western music had been based for centuries was disintegrating. What was emerging was a much more primitive language largely influenced by dadaist principles that was utterly incapable of the sophisticated expressive range of the music that came before—and this was just fine with many composers of the day. To the superior intellect that Schoenberg indisputably possessed, however, it was a nightmare. Imagine, as some already have in this thread, if Shakespeare (or Hugo, or Rand herself) lived in a culture with a primitive language with only 500 words, or if Michelangelo had only mud and clay to work with.
Schoenberg agonized over this situation, although he didn’t put it in those terms. What he did was to single-handedly construct a sophisticated musical language in which he (and most importantly, others) could once again create complex, expressive works. The 12-tone system he devised enabled him to apply his intellect to his craft without self-consciously adopting a style that had such strong associations with the previous generation, a style that had been exhaustively mined at any rate.
Other composers who felt caught in the same trap adopted his compositional technique to suit their own purposes, creating radically different and stylistically coherent works of their own, truly qualifying Schoenberg’s system as a “language” in its own right. The 12-tone system soon became the standard musical language for academic music for most of the remainder of the century.
Unfortunately, the 12-tone system was based on an artifact of the even-tempered Western scale rather than on nature, resulting in music that failed to have the same direct emotional impact as earlier music, which relied on the brain’s perception of natural harmonies (i.e. closely associated frequency ratios) to achieve its effects. Also, the language was not easily mastered, and many subsequent composers corrupted the system by introducing randomness and other anti-rational elements until most listeners—and many composers—could not tell the difference, just as the uninitiated cannot tell the difference between a complex computer language and gibberish made to look as such.
Schoenberg’s heroicism lies in his refusal to accept the constraints of the primitive post-tonal language on his intellect, and in his largely successful efforts to forge from the chaos a language in which to once again express profound musical thoughts. His tragedy lies in the doomed condition of a language that does not correspond to nature, and in the failure of audiences and subsequent composers to appreciate what he managed to achieve.
In other words, Schoenberg was much closer to Howard Roark than to Lois Cook, though the same cannot be said of his successors.